Military ombudsman reports 10 vaccine-related complaints, no warrant investigation plans

OTTAWA — Canada’s military ombudsman says his office has received fewer than a dozen complaints from service members about the Armed Forces’ vaccination requirements and has found no issues with how it’s enforced.

Since December, the Canadian Armed Forces has required all soldiers to receive two shots of a recognized COVID-19 vaccine or face disciplinary proceedings, including forced withdrawal from the military.

While the vast majority of service members uncovered their weapons for shooting, more than 1,100 did not. Several hundred of them have since hung up their uniforms, voluntarily or involuntarily, and others are leaving.

Despite those numbers and the issues at stake, Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman Gregory Lick says only 10 of more than 1,800 individual complaints received by his office over the past year were related to the requirement for vaccines.

Of these, he added, none were deemed to have constituted an undue injustice to the member of the armed forces concerned.

« It’s not a huge sum, » he said in an interview. “Especially when we have looked at individual complaints and found that they have been handled quite well. … There does not appear to be a systemic problem in the application of the policy.

Created in 1998 following the Somalia scandal, the Military Ombudsman’s mandate is to assess whether government and military policies affecting Canadian troops are applied fairly and equitably.

Although the ombudsman has previously investigated systemic issues, with a study on access to mental health services for reservists underway, Lick said he has no plans to conduct a similar review. vaccine requirements.

« I’m not a medical expert, » he said. “But I am comfortable with the preponderance of medical research and advice supporting the use of vaccines to protect us from serious (diseases). Therefore, I am comfortable with the policies governing their use in the CAF.

Lick said the 10 complaints — and his office’s investigations into them — revolved around individual cases, with the majority involving troops facing deportation after their medical or religious exemption requests were denied.

In each case, he said, investigators found that the process was conducted fairly.

“Appropriate justification was provided in detail,” he said. “The one I remember watching individually was very detailed in terms of the rationale and why that person couldn’t receive an exemption.”

The ombudsman nevertheless urged members of the Armed Forces who feel they have been treated unfairly to file a complaint.

« If you have individual complaints, bring them forward, we want to hear about them, » he said. « It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 or 100, we treat every individual exactly the same. »

The military vaccine requirement has been the subject of significant legal and policy scrutiny in Canada.

A number of active members have unsuccessfully challenged the mandate in court, while some groups and individuals opposed to vaccination mandates, pandemic lockdowns and the Liberal government have used it as a rallying point for their grievances.

Frustration has only grown in some quarters with Defense Chief General Wayne Eyre’s refusal to lift the requirement even after the terms of most other federal officials were suspended in June.

One of the most prominent critics has been Warrant Officer James Topp, the army reservist from British Columbia who has been traveling across Canada since February to protest the army’s vaccine requirement.

Topp was accused of speaking out against the military mandate while wearing his uniform, and has since become a celebrity to some opponents of vaccines and vaccination mandates.

He publicly asked Lick to review the policy and encouraged attendees at some of his rallies across the country to write to the watchdog with a similar request.

However, the call to action does not appear to have received much attention, as the ombudsman’s office said most of the 10 letters it received were from non-military personnel.

Topp said he disagreed with Lick’s rationale for not looking more closely at the vaccine requirement, saying he planned to write another letter to the ombudsman outlining his concerns.

He also suggested that the reason there have not been more formal complaints from members of the Armed Forces is a lack of awareness.

« People I’ve met who have been released, many of them didn’t even know they had this legal option available to them, » he said, speaking from a roadside near Fredericton. « And I expect that as we move forward, they will get more. »

As for the lack of letters, Topp joked, « Wow, guess I should just pack up and go home. » On a more serious note, he said he remains fearless in trying to draw attention to what he sees as an injustice.

“I continue to do what I do and walk to bring this issue to the attention of the Canadian public,” he said. “If they’re going to write, they’re going to write. That’s the challenge we face here in the field, is to encourage people to get involved.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 11, 2022.


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