Canadian Forces ombudsman to review Canadian Rangers program
Review will take 6 to 9 months to complete and will look at entire northern patrol program
By Kristen Everson, CBC News, Oct 27, 2015
The Canadian Forces ombudsman will conduct a full review of the Canadian Rangers program, CBC News has learned, following stories about deaths among members of the military’s northern patrol units.
The military ombudsman is finalizing the scope of the investigation, but it will include health care, fitness and the reporting of injuries.
Jamie Robertson, spokesman for the ombudsman’s office, told CBC News the review is expected to be launched within the next 90 days and will take six to nine months to complete.
CBC News reported earlier this year that 49 Canadian Rangers and Junior Rangers have died since January 2011, a trend the military chaplain responsible for the North called “significant” and raised as a concern in a report for the chief of the defence staff and chief of military personnel in early 2014.
According to the Department of Defence, one of those 49 deaths was service related, while the rest can be attributed “to health and hazard issues common in the larger population of the communities in which they live — such as accidents like drowning and health-related causes like heart disease and diabetes.”
The military noted that unlike regular Canadian Forces members, Rangers do not have a compulsory retirement age and therefore may be dying of natural causes.
The review of the Rangers comes as the ombudsman releases a series of investigations over the next few months that focus specifically on Canadian Forces reservists, the part-time soldiers who are called upon for domestic operations or to augment and support the military’s regular force.
‘Eyes and ears’ of the North
The Canadian Rangers are part of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve, but are not considered reservists. Generally they are part-time volunteers from the remote communities where they serve. Rangers are responsible for reporting unusual activities, collecting data to support military operations and conducting surveillance when required.
They have been integral to Canada’s Arctic sovereignty strategy and are often referred to as “the eyes and ears” of Canada’s North.
Many of Canada’s Rangers are aboriginal. They do not have the same access to services, including medical services, as regular Forces members and reservists — unless they are injured on active duty, in which case they would have access to benefits provided by the Canadian Forces.
The military has also been criticized for providing Rangers with decades-old weapons to use. The majority of the force is still carrying the Lee-Enfield rifle that dates back to when the organization was created in 1947. The military is in the process of providing newer rifles being made by Colt Canada.
There are currently about 5,000 Rangers who serve in more than 200 communities. The largest unit is the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, with 3,400 members. It covers Nunavut, Yukon, Northwest Territories and the community of Atlin, B.C., which make up about 40 per cent of Canada’s land mass.