The facade of the headquarters of the Department of National Defence is pictured in Ottawa, on April 3, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The facade of the headquarters of the Department of National Defence is pictured in Ottawa, on April 3, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Veterans’ Affairs, National Defence employees say harassment complaints not taken seriously

When she stepped forward to report harassing behaviours by her male superior, the woman said she ‘stupidly assumed’ someone would help her

It has been nearly two years since a civilian employee at the Defence Department says she first lodged a workplace harassment complaint against one of her superiors and she says the bureaucratic stonewalling ever since has left her feeling defeated.

The woman, whom The Canadian Press agreed not to identify because she fears reprisal while she remains employed by the department, says it all started when she was asked to do work outside her job description, which she refused to do.

“As soon as I said, ‘No,’ there was a change in my entire work environment and how I was handled,” she said Tuesday in an interview.

When she stepped forward to report harassing behaviours by her male superior, the woman said she “stupidly assumed” someone would help her, given all the programs and services within the department aimed at addressing workplace violence and harassment.

Instead, she said she was labelled “sensitive” and her job — as a mental health support worker — was threatened by those who outranked her. She said the behaviours escalated with everything she tried to do to fix the situation.

“Basically at this point I feel I’ve already lost my career,” she said. “My confidence in the department is basically non-existent at this point because I know how many people have been affected.”

The woman’s experience is far from an isolated one, according to the unions that represent civilian employees at both the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. The unions arranged the interview with the unnamed complainant.

June Winger, national president of the Union of National Defence Employees, says civilian employees from every region are contacting union representatives with “horrific” tales of bullying and abuse, especially after recent high-profile allegations of sexual misconduct against top-ranking members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

“Harassment is alive and well at National Defence,” she said in an interview.

“There’s a common theme of harassment right throughout the department, and you can look at any section … It’s a common thread everywhere.”

Winger cited cases involving public servant firefighters working on military bases who have had their complaints of severe forms of harassment investigated and deemed “founded.”

She said there have been cases where complaints of severe harassment have been investigated and deemed to be “founded,” but recommendations that stem from these internal investigations are non-binding and often only superficially address concerns.

Often, these recommendations are simply ignored, she added, leaving employees with no further recourse except to go on stress leave, which she said is an increasing trend.

Virginia Vaillancourt, national president of the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees, says similar allegations, and treatment of complainants, is happening among a large number of her members too.

When the aggressors are not stopped, more people are victimized, she said.

“When you’re having repeat offenders and nothing is being done and departments are turning a blind eye to those situations, that’s where the systemic problems keep coming in,” Vaillancourt said.

“They don’t fix the situation, they blame the victim and they make the victim feel like they’re the ones that have done wrong in that whole process.”

The Trudeau government has faced mounting criticism of its handling of the issue of harassment in the military following recent allegations against former chief of defence staff general Jonathan Vance, and other high-ranking members of the military.

Vance has not responded to requests for comment by The Canadian Press, but Global News, which first reported the allegations in February, says that he has denied any inappropriate conduct. He is now being investigated by military police.

The Liberal government has tasked former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour with reviewing how the military handles sexual assault, harassment and other forms of misconduct. It marks the second review by a retired Supreme Court justice in about six years.

Daniel Minden, press secretary for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, said neither the department nor the military deem any form of harassment acceptable.

“Though important steps have been taken to address the overall health and well-being of the defence team, we clearly have much work to do to bring about enduring change,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

“Eliminating all forms of misconduct and abuse is a top priority for our government.”

He added that recent changes to the Canada Labour Code that came into effect this year will help government to be “better equipped to prevent, respond to and provide support to those affected by harassment and violence in the federal public service.”

Cameron McNeill, a spokesman for Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay, noted the minister has previously said harassment and discrimination have no place within the department.

“Ensuring a safe workplace for everyone remains one of his absolute top priorities,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Winger paused and laughed quietly to herself when asked if she thought the government’s recent efforts and newly launched review by Arbour would finally address the concerns of employees she represents.

“I’ll be the first one to be happily surprised, but too often it’s just a half measure,” she said.

“When it comes down to it, very little changes. People go back to where they’re comfortable.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

workplace harassment

Just Posted

Port Alberni court house (Alberni Valley News)
Coroners’ inquest into 2016 death of Port Alberni teen rescheduled for June 21

18-year-old Jocelyn George died of heart failure after spending time in jail cell

CELEBRATING IN STYLE
Members of the 2021 Alberni District Secondary School graduating class pose for a photo at McLean Mill National Historic Site on June 12. Graduates held their prom on Saturday, although things looked a little different due to COVID-19. See more on page A10. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Port Alberni 2021 grads celebrate prom with car cruise

Special event held at McLean Mill National Historic Site

The Port Alberni Bombers are one of the newest teams in the VIJHL. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Port Alberni Bombers to host first ID camp for roster spots

Roster spots for the Junior B team will be filled at the conclusion of the camp

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

There is an emergency shelter near the Golden Ears peaks. (Facebook/Special to The News)
Hiker fogged in on Golden Ears, spends 2 nights

Talon Helicopters, Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue bring him home Monday

Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada, speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul facing no-confidence motion from party brass

move follows months of internal strife and the defection of MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberals

Tulips bloom in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Thursday, May 10, 2018. Day two of a full week of scheduled hearings will be heard in Federal Court today on a case involving Indigenous children unnecessarily taken into foster care by what all parties call Canada’s “broken child welfare system.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
AFN slams Ottawa for ‘heartless’ legal challenge of First Nations child compensation

2019 decision awarded $40,000 to each Indigenous child removed before 2006

Rick Ruppenthal of Saltair will host a 12-hour talk-a-thon Friday, June 18 over Facebook live. (Photo submitted)
Talk-a-thon to focus on men’s mental health issues

Island man spearheading a campaign to generate more conversation during fundraiser

Ivy was thrown out of a moving vehicle in Kelowna. Her tail was severely injured and will be amputated. (BC SPCA)
Kitten thrown from moving vehicle, needs help: Kelowna SPCA

The seven-week-old kitten had severe tail and femur injuries

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre estimates that less than five per cent of mass-marketing fraud is ever reported.
Tips to avoid scams targeting Vancouver Island seniors

In most cases, fraudsters impersonate an individual, business or agency seniors recognize and trust

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Vancouver courthouse. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Man loses bid to appeal conviction for 1999 rape at Abbotsford music festival

James Redden, 53, formerly of Nanaimo, was found guilty in 2019 following six-day trial

Most Read