A policy analyst for the Department of National Defence said he was “surprised” to hear what the first ombudsman for the Canadian Forces once called a "systemic" racism problem within the Canadian Forces.

According to the DND, between 2001 and 2012 there were 290 cases of reported racism complaints within the Canadian Forces.

Maj. Patrick Hannon is a policy analyst on racial discrimination policy for the Department of National Defence.

“I was surprised because the policy on this in the Canadian Forces is zero-tolerance,” he told CBC’s Mainstreet Friday.

Last week, two Nova Scotian veterans spoke out, calling for an inquiry into a problem they say the government has known about for years.

Rubin Coward, a Royal Canadian Air Force veteran, said he developed post-traumatic stress disorder and had to leave the military in 1995 due to "constant" racial taunts and discrimination.

Wally Fowler, a Canadian Forces veteran, said eight years later, the same thing happened to him, his wife and children.

"I had base members driving by, giving my little girl the finger, destroying their property — it was just one thing after another," said Fowler.

Hannon said he disagrees with André Marin’s 2005 letter in which he calls racism a “systemic issue” within the forces.

He said there are about 100,000 regular and reservists in the Forces. Of the 290 complaints of racism between 2001 and 2012, only 124 of those were “deemed founded.”

Discrimination complaints taken seriously

Hannon, a white francophone, admits he has never experienced racism.

“On a personal note I’ve never experienced — in 25 years — racism or seen it. …That being said, we cannot cater to all cases of conflicts in the workplace, so from time to time there are discriminatory conduct incidents which we deal with,” he said.  

Hannon said the Canadian military treats discrimination complaints seriously.

He stressed the importance of coming forward and reporting incidents for those who feel discriminated against.

“If you are the victim of a racist incident, what I would say to them is please report it. We’ve got mechanisms to deal with it and we've got good justice and … measures to take care of it,” he said.

“I’m glad that they reported it and that they used the mechanism in place because there are several mechanisms that members can use to report discrimination or racism incidents.”

'Rotten apples' must be dealt with

After a report is made, Hannon said the commanding officer investigates. Once that is done, there are several options, depending on the gravity of the complaint.

“It can go from justice measures, court martials or summary trials and you can also have administrative measures that go right up upon the release from the Canadian Forces. Of course if the crime has been done outside of the base, [the person in question] can be held accountable in a civilian court for hate crimes,” he said.

Hannon said every recruit is required to participate in training courses, as well a sign a form acknowledging they will abide by the Canadian Forces code of conduct against harassment, and its zero-tolerance policy.

Every recruit is also required to take a training course regarding discrimination and harassment prevention, he said.

Hannon said maintaining a positive working environment is vital, especially in war zones.

“When I went 10 months in Afghanistan … you’re [spending] 24 hours a day with the same people, it’s 51 degrees Celsius — the last thing you want to do have is a conflict within your group, have someone harassed or discriminated against. It’s something that we can’t [have] because all our team work and the effectiveness of our mission depends on the team work. If there’s a rotten apple, if there’s something happening in the group, you have to address it,” he said.     

Hannon said Canada is a multicultural, diverse country and people need to put away their biases and “work together.”