Canadian Dilemma: Is There a Path from Systemic Racism Toward Employment Equity for Indigenous People in the Canadian Forces?

Carol Agocs


Indigenous peoples continue to be oppressed by racial discrimination enacted through legislation, policies and practices of the Canadian state, including the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).  Systemic racism, practiced through institutionalized policies and customary behaviour affecting people working in organizations, results in inequality for some groups and privileges for others. Since 2002 the CAF has been covered by the federal Employment Equity Act whose purpose is to address systemic discrimination by requiring employers to remove and prevent systemic barriers to equality for Indigenous people, women and “visible minorities” and to maintain a workforce that reflects the diversity of the Canadian population.  Aside from its legal obligation, it is in the interest of the CAF to recruit and retain Indigenous People because they are an essential part of Canada’s labour supply. However Indigenous members of the CAF comprise a small and marginalized minority within a rigid, bureaucratic and culturally foreign organization.

Implementing the Employment Equity Act could assist the CAF to address the Canadian state’s promise of reconciliation, fairness and equality for Indigenous people.  This chapter reviews available evidence bearing on the CAF’s employment equity record, which presents a pattern of resistance to the Act’s requirements and failure to progress toward a representative workforce.  In the absence of effective action to implement change, the CAF has yet to find a path from systemic racism toward employment equity for Indigenous People.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.