Military looking to avoid a 'black eye' by stalling human rights complaint, lawyer says

The Canadian military is being accused of dragging its feet to prevent a human rights complaint from being heard regarding the case of a former naval officer who was told to choose between her child and her career.

Single mom Laura Nash says she was called on the carpet for having too many 'family issues'

Laura Nash takes a selfie with her seven-year-old son, Ronin. (CBC News)

The Canadian military is being accused of dragging its feet to prevent a human rights complaint from being heard regarding the case of a former naval officer who was told to choose between her child and her career.

The story of now-retired sub-lieutenant Laura Nash made headlines 18 months ago, before she was medically released in July 2017.

The single mother says that in late 2013, she was called into a meeting with two superior officers, both of them women, and told she had too many "family issues." She faced a training deadline to go to sea at the time and was given six weeks to decide between raising her child and her career as a warship navigator.

Her complaint before the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleges the military discriminates against single parents. It's being held up because a grievance, filed before she was forced out, is still pending.

Under the law, the commission cannot proceed with its investigation until all other administrative procedures have been exhausted.

Nash told CBC News she believes the military is trying to sabotage her complaint by keeping the file open — retribution, she said, for the embarrassment she caused it by taking her story public.

'It's not going to go away'

"I feel like (Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance) is just waiting for this case to go away, but it's not going to go away," Nash said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in on the case back in June. "It's very simple. The choice Laura had to make is not acceptable. It is not acceptable in Canada," he said.

Members of the military are allowed to file formal grievances when they believe they have been treated unjustly by the chain of command.

Nash — who served in the navy from 2010 to 2017 but did not complete her training as a maritime warfare officer — filed two grievances under the system.

Both were, for all intents and purposes, resolved before her plight became public.

But one of them was reopened by the military in the wake of the reports of two superior officers attempting to bully Nash into making a choice between being a single mother and staying in uniform.

At first, Nash said she saw the reopening of her grievance as good-faith gesture and held out hope it would lead to policy revisions.

Her attitude changed as the months passed after her release with no resolution.

"We knew that [it] had been sitting on (Vance's) desk for a year and a half now, and I think that that's ample time for him to do something about it, or let us know that he's been working on it," said Nash from her current home in Belleville, Ont.

The Department of Defence said that, for privacy reasons, it can't comment on the specifics of her case or say why the grievance has been held up.

The human rights commission, in its letter to Gen. Vance, gave the military until Friday to state clearly when her case will be resolved.

He responded this week, saying he would not be able to meet the deadline.

Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance speaks with The Canadian Press in his office in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Nash admitted her grievance is complicated and takes aim at several military policies she said discriminate against single parents.

But she said she proposed specific fixes.

"They are very, very simple, easy changes to make," she said. "There is nothing difficult. There is no undue hardship that will happen to the military for tweaking some of these policies."

The proposed policy changes Nash recommended include subsidized travel for single parents and improved access to on-base child care.

The delay in settling the grievance, said Nash's lawyer, looks intentional on the military's part — because a finding of discrimination by the human rights commission would be another embarrassment at a time when the military is still trying to clean up its image.

Military accused of slow-walking grievance

"It would be a huge black eye, obviously, given everything that's going on with respect to the various issues that we see almost on a daily basis arising in respect of sexual harassment (and) the manner in which women are treated in the military," said Natalie MacDonald.

Maj. Travis Smyth, a spokesman for the chief of military personnel, said there are a number of existing programs single parents can access now under the military's Family Care Assistance plan, which is designed to offset increases in child care costs due to extended absences. Other services are available through Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services, he said.

"They deliver a wide range of services and programs to support the physical, social, financial and mental wellbeing of the [Canadian Armed Forces] community," Smyth said in an email.

"The [Royal Canadian Navy] acknowledges that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, and that we may not have policies to address every unique case that may confront our sailors, however we are trying to make it easier for our sailors to pursue a career in the RCN while balancing family life."

About the Author

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.


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