The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) does not reflect the diversity of the country – and the proportion of blacks illustrates this well, show statistics obtained by La Presse. Just 1.6% of Regular Force and Primary Reserve members identify as Black, almost three times less than the general population (4.3%).
The Regular Force is 1.5% Black and the Primary Reserve is 1.9%.
The CAF was reluctant to provide these statistics to La Presse, due to the voluntary nature associated with them. Because, as required by the Employment Equity Act, the military asks its members to “voluntarily” self-identify (they are not required to answer these questions) as Indigenous, visible minority or person with a disability.
Normally, only the statistics relating to these three categories are made public. They are found in the annual reports. Added to this are the figures for the number of women in the ranks. Indeed, in their initial response to our query about Black ranks, the CAF indicated that they “do not compile this statistic”, while adding that 11.1% of Regular Force and First reserve identified as visible minorities as of January 1, 2023.
Black statistics were released to us when La Presse told the CAF that it had in its possession a military self-identification form, which included sub-questions on membership in racialized groups. These were accompanied by a caveat that the figures may not reflect the exact reality, again due to the voluntary nature of the answers.
Very good. But the Forces had a high critical mass of respondents. In fact, 80% of CAF members completed the part of the questionnaire where they self-identify as Aboriginal people, members of visible minorities and persons with disabilities. And of these, 98.2% answered the sub-questions relating to their group.
Response options for the “Describe your visible minority or background” sub-question were: Black, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, South Asian/East Indian, Southeast Asian, West Asian Non-White, Non-White Latino, Person of Mixed Descent, and Other Visible Minority.
What good is this data on racialized groups, if it is not openly shared? “They may be used for internal CAF research purposes to help inform future CAF policies related to employment equity programs,” responds Andrée-Anne Poulin of Forces Media Relations.
The fact that 11.1% of CAF members are members of visible minorities is close to the desired objective of 11.8% by 2026. In addition, the representation of visible minorities has increased by one point, 10.1% to 11.1%, in one year.
“We anticipate that as the overall representation of visible minorities increases in the CAF, the total number of Black members will also increase,” it is believed.
However, we are far from the Canadian reality, notes Grace Scoppio, professor of defense studies at the Royal Military College of Canada and in the department of political studies at Queens University.
On the other hand, the fact that the CAF announced, on December 5, 2022, to open the ranks to permanent residents could significantly increase the number of members of visible minorities, believes Ms. Scoppio.
“The vast majority of immigrants coming to Canada are from minority backgrounds,” she says. However, it will be necessary to see how well the CAF recruitment system will adjust to this influx. »
The CAF did not respond to a request from La Presse to find out how many black people there were among officers, non-commissioned officers and non-commissioned members. Once again, we were limited to giving us figures on visible minorities, namely 12.6% of officers and 9.3% of non-commissioned members who identify with them.
According to Angelo Dos Santos Soares, professor in the department of organization and human resources at UQAM, this type of reference is “too simple”. “Where are the black people in the military? Probably at the bottom of the scale, “believes the latter, an expert in racism at work, but who says he does not have expertise in the military field. “Look at the senior management of Quebec companies. It is very rare to find black people there. Yes, there is improvement, but the changes are slow. »
Grace Scoppio also believes that more precise data on racialized groups is needed. “The CAF says we need to look at the experience of black people, but how can we do that if we don’t know who they are? she says. How many blacks are recruited? Advance through the ranks? Leaving the organization too soon? Complain? Numbers are needed to meet the needs. »
The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) urges the federal government to refine the collection and analysis of data on visible minorities, to have a more accurate portrait of racialized groups among its employees. This is according to a survey of PSAC members in 2022, as part of the review of the Employment Equity Act. “The law should be amended to provide for the collection and analysis of disaggregated data for each of the designated equity groups,” the document reads. It will be necessary to break down each of the designated groups (e.g. Black, South Asian, Chinese, Arab) to determine the barriers that certain communities face in order to eliminate them. »
One of the main concerns of people of African descent working in the Canadian Armed Forces is the possibility of advancement. Some feel like they are at a disadvantage compared to their white colleagues when it comes time to take on a new position or move up in rank.
That’s the sentiment expressed by members of the Black Defense Team Employees Network (RENED), which currently has 45 people and is part of the Interdepartmental Network of Black Federal Public Service Employees.
“Some members feel like they’re being held back in their careers and that’s associated with their race,” said Major Christopher Stobbs, RENED’s military co-chair, in a phone interview. Whether in recognition of the work accomplished, promotions or promotions, colleagues tell us that they have the impression of doing the same work as their counterparts, but without receiving the same recognition and above all without having the same rate of progress. in their career. »
Joining the CAF in January 2004, Major Stobbs is now an Information Management Officer in the Directorate of Land Command Systems Program Administration. He hopes to spend his whole career there.
Joined in Edmonton, he says he is proud of his work, of serving his country, of helping people. The 43-year-old father of three is nevertheless aware of the road ahead.
The Black CAF Employee Network was created in 2020, following the death of George Floyd in the United States, which sparked a global wave of anti-racism protests.
“Employees, military and civilian, of the Forces felt the need to speak up and discuss what had happened,” recalls Major Stobbs. They wanted to express their feelings. I was not a member of this group at the time, but I felt the same way. »
According to him, the best tool available to the army to increase the number of black people in its ranks is to call on the Afro-descendant soldiers already enlisted. “We’re the best spokespersons to talk about engagement,” he says. I often go to schools and participate in public events to encourage young people who express a desire to join the CAF. »
Since 2021, at least three reports exploring issues of equity, diversity, visible minorities and systemic racism within the CAF have been released. Of the three, the final report of the Minister of National Defense’s Advisory Panel on Systemic Racism and Discrimination, released in January 2022, is the most incisive.
It states, among other things, that “representation inequalities persist in all areas of the Defense Team” and that “the gap between Canada’s diversity and the representation of that diversity within the Defense Team appears to be widening,” threatening the inclusion progress already made.
The group defined 13 areas for improvement and made 43 recommendations. Where are we 15 months later? The CAF responds that this report “guides [its] current and future work,” with the goal of eliminating racism and discrimination.
Some measures have already been taken, including the annual celebration of Black History Month (in February), the inclusion of an Indigenous advisor and an anti-racism and discrimination advisor among chaplains , the creation of a mentorship and alliance pilot program among Black, Indigenous and other racialized civilian members, etc.
Going forward, the CAF would like to create a Directorate of Anti-Racism Implementation, a Defense Advisory Group Secretariat to strengthen their presence in the organization and expand anti-racism resources.