Defence Team Champion for Visible Minorities Message: Black History Month

Defence Team Champion for Visible Minorities Message: Black History Month

By Commodore Jacques Olivier,
Defence Team Champion for Visible Minorities & Director General Professional Conduct and Development, Chief Professional Conduct and Culture

Happy Black History Month. I appreciate the opportunity to connect with you on this important occasion. This year’s celebration of the contributions of Black Canadians to the social fabric of Canada holds a deeper significance for me than usual. As the new Defence Team Champion for Visible Minorities, as a member of the Chief Professional Conduct and Culture team, as an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), and as a proud member of the Black community, I feel a range of emotions.

I feel reflective about the hurdles and obstacles many racialized Defence Team members have faced in the workplace over the years. I feel joyful that action has begun in earnest to break down those systemic barriers based in racism and discrimination. I feel the weight of the transformational evolution that is already underway to make the Defence Team truly inclusive. But, most importantly, I feel hope that we are all now willing and empowered to share our voices and have the courageous conversations that will lead to real and lasting systemic change in our organization.

As an immigrant with nearly 37 years of experience in the CAF, I have witnessed the micro-aggressions, unconscious biases and racism that has discouraged many Black Defence Team members from bringing their authentic selves to the workplace. Honouring the unique perspectives and lived experiences of all employees only enhances and supports a healthy, professional and vibrant environment that will ultimately improve our operational effectiveness and impact.

Culture evolution does not have an end-state, particularly in reference to culture. It’s ongoing, dynamic and fluid. But it does have a starting point, and that’s with all of us. We can all be ambassadors to improve our individual and collective racial literacy, humility and stamina. We recognize that everyone has a history that shapes them. We all have perspectives and biases that manifest in behaviours, and there is room for improvement for us. We need every member of the Defence Team to educate themselves on the experiences and challenges faced by Black colleagues and communities and to build empathy and compassion for their journey. As we celebrate the numerous accomplishments of Black Canadians, both civilian and military personnel, we ask that you take some time to reflect on your part in this journey.

There are several tools and organizations available to Defence Team members to guide this journey. The Defence Team Black Employee Network (accessible only on the National Defence network) and the Defence Visible Minority Advisory Group (accessible only on the National Defence network) are working hard to create a more equitable and positive work environment. The Director Anti-racism Implementation (DARI) will soon launch a website with an anti-racism toolkit that can help inform Defence Team member efforts to become effective allies. The web site will also be a great place to learn about other anti-racism initiatives.

How can you contribute to creating an environment where we can all flourish, succeed and grow as human beings? What part can you play in shaping the future we want? Every action, interaction, reaction affects us all and reflects on us all. Let’s ensure the reflection is what we aspire to be.