Friday, June 20, 2014

A carousel for military grievances

The Canadian military grievances system is rooted in pre-confederation British military law and our own colonial Militia Act, which is based on British tradition. One such tradition is the historic Right to Grieve given to soldiers, for the better governance of the armed forces. The right to grieve has its legislative origins in the Articles of War, published in 1717. Since then in Britain, Canada and elsewhere, the operation of a military grievances system has been taken as an indicator of the wider health and effectiveness of the military justice system.

A significant backlog in the number of grievances awaiting resolution, for example, may be symptomatic of a more general dysfunctionality of the military justice system, because the right to file a grievance, and have it dealt with expeditiously, is a significant element of an efficient military administration and the proper operation of a military justice system.

Maintenance of morale

Students of military history will understand that Maintenance of Morale is a dominant Principle of War which, to a large degree, is dependent on a military grievances system which not only works properly, but is seen and perceived to work correctly and, as importantly, in a timely manner.

Delays measured in years to resolve simple grievances would likely have long term deleterious effect on military morale and performance. It also impedes the realisation of a just and fair outcome to a valid grievance. For these reasons, to the degree possible, delays should be avoided at all costs, as low morale is a primary contributor to military failure.
A broken military grievances process

In 2003 whilst conducting a five-year review of the National Defence Act, then retired Justice Antonio Lamer assessed, inter alia, the performance of the Canadian military grievances system. The former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada concluded that significant systemic reforms were required to ensure that a soldier’s Right to Grieve be respected by the military bureaucracy.  

Soldiers are not second class citizens. They are entitled to be treated with respect, and in the case of the grievance process, in a procedurally fair manner. This is a fundamental principle that must not be lost in a bureaucratic process even a military one.

Given the title of this piece, the reader can only wonder: Have things changed over the past decade? Absolutely.  However, it changed for the worse.  Consider.

A 2010 investigation conducted by the Defence Department Ombudsman indicates that he was very concerned about the length of time that it is taking to process a grievance. The delays, he wrote, were having a negative financial impact on members who must wait a minimum of 12 months to have their grievances adjudicated at the very first level of the grievance process. The Ombudsman further warned that:

“These extended delays are not in line with the principles of procedural fairness and must be remedied as soon as possible.”

Two years later, the Military Grievances External Review Committee advised Parliament that:

 “A considerable number of grievance files reviewed by the Committee indicate that the Department is experiencing significant difficulty in responding to grievors within the 60 days provided for in the National Defence Act. Currently, it is taking anywhere from 10 to 20 months to adjudicate grievances at the initial level.”

So much so that: When a grievance is received, the grievor is informed of the backlog situation and is asked to grant a standard 12 month extension. 

Twilight Zone

The truth is that grievances currently grind through the Canadian military grievances system for years; it is quite common for many grievances to languish there between two to four years awaiting determination by the Final Authority.What should be alarming is that in spite of rumblings in the ranks it appears that there is no urging to address the multitude of problems plaguing the military grievances system.

Is Canada alone with such a systemic failure to address military grievances.

1 comment:

  1. United States military personnel can seek redress of wrongs under art. 138 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but these complaints rarely lead to meaningful relief. (The same is true of complaints sent to congressional offices.) The services also have civilian boards for the correction of records. These are supposed to act within ten months from the time the application is complete. Their decisions are subject to judicial review. For more information on these boards:


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