Canadian Forces unites with cultural leaders in Halifax

Some members of Halifax's Indo-Canadian community say they hope that more diverse faces are inspired to enlist after Harjit Sajjan was named the minister of defence.

Event at Pier 21 marks International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Dr. Sid Sodhi says he hopes more minorities consider a future in the Canadian Forces. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Some members of Halifax's Indo-Canadian community say they hope that people from more diverse backgrounds are inspired to enlist after Harjit Sajjan was named Canada's minister of defence. 

They shared their views at an event held at Pier 21 to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The Canadian Forces organized a series of presentations, and invited a long list of members from multicultural groups in the province. 

"The Sikh being the defence minister of Canada, it has really awakened the interest of all the minorities and this set up is really relevant," said Dr. Sid Sodhi, who is a psychologist who works with soldiers who have PTSD. 

He says many Indo-Canadians in particular didn't see a job in uniform as an option until now.

"When it comes to the RCMP, defence, they seem to shy away because they are not even aware of what the potential is," he said.

Bigger picture

Recruitment is one of many aspects the military was trying to tackle through the event. 

Leaders also dropped the formalities and gathered on stage to participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

"We're pulled out of our office, we're pulled out of our ships, our warehouses, ship repair units, and we're told to think and reflect," said Rear Admiral John Newton, commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic and Joint Task Force Atlantic.

"Abandon the power relationship and listen with empathy," he encouraged members of the audience. 

Rear Admiral John Newton says cultural programming helps leaders with the Canadian Forces communicate with their staff, and break through old barriers. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Newton says he has deep respect for immigrants who arrive in Canada and struggle to learn the culture. He says the military needs to be leaders in helping them with the transition. 

"All I have to do is think of my mother's experience of childhood, the bias against the Italian community in Canada in wartime," he said. "We can't let whole generations struggle."

The event also featured musical performances and dancing. 

"It's a great initiative for sure," said Gerald Bermundo, president of the Filipino Association of Nova Scotia. "The more that we learn between each other, the better."

Capt. Chris Sutherland, the base commander for CFB Halifax, says this isn't just a one day Band-Aid to say diversity is a priority. It's now a constant conversation. 

"We try to generate routine and awareness by holding events once a month and as much as possible."

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