Monday, August 20, 2007

Supporting the troops means meaning it.

This just shouldn't be happening. At all. Ever.
A "fair number" of military reservists report problems with their bosses when they ask for a leave of absence, and many more cases go unreported, says a group that acts as a buffer between the reserves and the people who employ its members.

The Canadian Forces Liaison Council, which lobbies businesses and post-secondary institutions to extend military leave to reservists, says about 40 cases are brought to its attention each year in which reserve soldiers have disputes with their employers.

"There's still a fair number of reservists who are having problems," said Leo Desmarteau, the council's executive director.

"To put a number on it is very tricky because I don't know . . . I suspect there could be more."

Some reservists may be hesitant to ask the council to intervene on their behalf, Desmarteau said, out of a fear of a backlash from their employers.

"I'm sure that there are cases out there, situations where the individual . . . does not want to have the department, or Ottawa . . . intervening."

Which means that those who do volunteer to perform a full-time national service option get penalized.

It is not mandatory for the military's primary reserve force to deploy overseas, although Desmarteau said reservists are "strongly encouraged" to do so because the war in Afghanistan has put a strain on the number of deployable Canadian Forces personnel.

"The problem that we have is that there's been a surge in need for reservists in terms of numbers," Desmarteau said.

"There's no doubt that they're going to be asked to deploy on operations, whereas before, a few years ago . . . there was practically no question of being deployed on international operations."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that would suggest, since the government has not declared an emergency, that the regular force is too small. While I had always maintained that reservists should be involved in contingency operations, even those of a deployed international nature, that is not their primary role. In fact, it isn't really their secondary role.

Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have passed laws requiring employers to keep jobs open for reservists who take military leave, but there is no federal law requiring other provinces to follow suit.

There have been talks between Ottawa and the provinces to decide on a single rule for military service that would apply everywhere, said Brig.-Gen. Linda Colwell, director general of the military's human resource policy and planning unit.

But forcing employers by law to take back employees is not an ideal solution, she added.

"We would far rather to continue to work through the liaison council and maintain the to-ing and fro-ing, the good relations that we have with most employers in Canada, rather than hit them on the head with legislation."

And it should be pointed out that most employers would recognize that a service member returning from an Afghanistan deployment or other full-time contingency operation, is probably going to be a much more developed individual. For what it's worth however, I have had a conversation with a business owner who objected to the idea of granting a "leave of absence" to an army reservist just so he could go off and "play cowboys and indians". (His words. Not mine.) Imagine my surprize when, after this encounter, I noticed the back of his truck had one of those nifty little magnetic ribbons emblazoned with "I support our troops" staring out at the world.

Fridge magnet/bumper-sticker support. But to actually make a sacrifice?

However, there are provisions in the Public Safety Act - drafted in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States - requiring employers to take back reservists called out in an emergency, defined as anything from an insurrection or riot to an invasion or all-out war.
Well, actually, that existed before Sept. 11, 2001, but why bring it up?

The truth is, if the Harper government really believed in and supported the troops, it would do more than play footsie with employers and businesses. Those that don't need to be hit over the head won't notice "returning service" legislation since they are already voluntarily compliant. Those who do need to be hit over the head need to be brought into line. Or would that piss of Harper's most secure constituency?

And then there is the irony of this incident:
Earlier this year, a New Brunswick reservist who had nominated his employer for an award for supporting the Canadian Forces made headlines when he quit his job at NB Power after the Crown corporation refused him a leave of absence to serve in Afghanistan.
It does not matter what position one takes on Canada's involvement in Afghanistan. The members of the regular force go where they're told, when they're told to go. Reservists have been given an opportunity to serve and should not be penalized for doing so.

This argument has been going on for decades. You'd think the Harperites, who claim to be so much more in favour with the military than any other political party in Canada might have addressed this problem early on in their government.

Makes you wonder what they're really all about, doesn't it?

H/T reader Cat

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