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A soldier's story of survival

Posted By -NO AUTHOR- On 11/18/1998 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

KAMLOOPS, BC — Paul Lagace’ and Amy Sam are survivors.

He survived the poverty of growing up in a dysfunctional French-Canadian
family in New Brunswick and she endured the residential school system in British Columbia.

All their lives they’ve been ordered around by the system and, most dramatically, by the Canadian Armed Forces.

Finally, in the late 1990s, the shackles have been loosened.

The son of a bootlegger, Lagace’ was a scrawny individual, who had become
an alcoholic in his late teens and early 20s. There was little hope for him, except an early death and another statistic for the booze heap.

Then Paul met Amy, the Native woman with a small son, Ken.

And as they say, “The rest is history.”

Lagace’ had disgraced himself with drinking around the globe and, particularly, at the various army bases in Canada.

The quiet-spoken Amy held a vow of silence that institutions such as the
residential school system teach its students, that they’re dumb and stupid.

The terrified girl had been raised on the Shulus Indian Reserve until she
was six. Then Amy’s life was traumatically changed. In the residential schools she was beaten with leather straps for not knowing how to speak, read or write English and even made to sit in the corner and had to wear a
dunce cap, and was given an ID — 603.

She was forced to give up her language, family ties, cultural heritage, all
that is the institutionalized school system. All that was left was the pain
which lived on in an emptiness that remained impossible to describe.

The pain, the guilt, the humiliation and the powerlessness of her situation
sometimes surfaces to this day.

However, when Lagace’ realized by the age of 23, he needed his confidence
built up as well as his body, he joined the Buck Hawk Pai Gung Fu school.

On Dec. 7, 1979, Paul and Amy went on their first date, to dinner, after corresponding with each other for some time.

Their friendship grew.

However, Amy decided they couldn’t be married since her son, Ken, would
definitely lose his Native privileges and could lose custody of him as well.

It was then that their love was more important than Canadian rules and they
began living together.

In 1982, a Roman Catholic padre and an Armed Forces Major, stirred Lagace’s passion.

“Why don’t you leave your Indian wife, send her and her son back to B.C.,
move back into the barracks — a nice Catholic boy like you can find a nice
Catholic girl — someone of your own kind,” he said.

After being denied access to family housing and family medical under Ontario Health Insurance Plan, Lagace’ was then denied access to career advancement programs because his family situation was rated “below average” by authorities.

By late 1983, a military redress of grievance and a complaint with the
Canadian Human Rights Commission seemed the only avenue to address the racial discrimination. The CHRC refused to address the racial criticisms against Lagace’s spouse, but agreed to process a complaint to address the
military’s non-recognition of common-law relationships. That complaint was
finally addressed at a Human Rights Tribunal in 1987. The Tribunal dismissed the complaint.

Military authorities were confident the ruling gave them the go-ahead to
exact punishment against Lagace’ and his family for having complained. His
commanding officer was allowed to go against regulations and refused to process Lagace’s fourth application for career advancement to officer training.

At that time Lagace’ had completed three years of University and was bilingual. A second complaint was filed after two officers explained to Lagace’ that his Native spouse wouldn’t be welcomed in the social circles
of officers’ clubs. Although military authorities defended their actions with the view that they didn’t recognize “common-law relationships,” the more covert practice was and continues to be racially motivated.

On appeal, in December 1988, the Federal Court overturned the tribunal
decision and ruled that common-law relationships represented a family status. Because military officials would only apply the Federal Court ruling to the provision of housing, Lagace’ found himself in the position
of having to make a third complaint to address matters of family medical,
dental and various other family services that military officials refused to
provide to this common-law couple.

Years went by while complaints 1, 2 and 3 were being processed.

Meanwhile, military officials took advantage of delay mechanisms to retaliate against Lagace’s career. By 1991, the Federal Court decision of
Dec. 20, 1988 was finally applied to its full intent that resolved two of Lagace’s three complaints. The career damage issue would go before a Human Rights Tribunal in November, 1992, over four years after the complaint was initiated.

During proceedings at tribunal hearings, it was discovered that the Chairman, Alfred Lynch-Staunton, was a retired Canadian Armed Forces Colonel. His penchant to defend military officials became obvious during the four days of hearings.

Lagace’ provided a letter to CHRC legal counsel in which concerns for Lynch-Staunton’s bias were outlined. Commission counsel explained that apprehension of bias could only be addressed in appeal after the decision
is rendered.

On April 8, 1993, Lynch-Staunton rendered his decision. It was worse than
Lagace’ had expected. The chairman ruled that the complaint and complaint’s
statements were “preposterous.” Lagace’s own brother would have been less
biased. The Commission’s legal counsel explained to Lagace’ that the Chief
Commissioner, Maxwell Yalden, would have to decide whether or not to appeal the tribunal ruling before Lagace’ could make his appeal. Lagace’ had to rely on the Commission’s counsel and waited. The day before the deadline
for appeal, Yalden hadn’t yet made a decision.

On Friday, May 7 at 4 p.m. Ottawa time, Lagace’ was informed he could file his appeal. Time for appeal expired on Saturday, despite assurances from CHRC legal counsel that the appeal deadline wouldn’t take effect until
Monday. The appeal was launched early Monday morning, May 10, 1993.

Meanwhile, harassment and retaliation continued as Lagace’ was transferred
to North Bay, Ontario with only 10 months left in the military. Tired of uninterrupted harassment, the newly-promoted sergeant left the service career that would never be allowed to materialize and returned to Kamloops
upon completion of his term of service contract.

Conveniently, the Federal Court in 1994 denied the application for appeal
on the grounds that it was ONE day late. The bias of the earlier decision
now allows military authorities to punish anyone who successfully addresses
a discriminatory policy. Lagace’s first complaint prompted recognition of
common-law relationships in the military but it cost him his career. It’s
clear the Canadian Human Rights Commission played an important role in sabotaging the appeal of a seriously flawed tribunal decision. One might argue the CHRC legal branch sold Lagace’s complaint of career damages in
backroom negotiations with Justice Department officials. This man’s refusal
to “leave his Indian wife” served as grounds to destroy any hopes for career advancement.

Why was the Tribunal hearing Lagace’s complaint of career damages assigned to a retired military senior officer (colonel)?

Why did the Human Rights Commissioner, Maxwell Yalden, delay his decision on whether or not to appeal?

How is it that the CHRC legal branch waited for time to elapse before allowing
Lagace’ to appeal?

All these concerns can be answered with a simple reply: the CHRC sold Lagace’s career damage complaint to the Justice Department in order to plea bargain other complaints.

As it stands, Native women aren’t welcome among the wives of CF officers.
That point has been made very clear during the last dozen or more years it
took to address a very simple matter of racially motivated discrimination.
Nine generals, 17 colonels, 23 lieutenant colonels, 30 majors, and a variety of junior officers had directly written negative input into Lagace’s
internal redress of grievance.

How is it that so many can take interest in one redress of grievance while
maintaining a facade of fairness?

The Military Redress of Grievance procedure falls in line with the type of
justice displayed in the handling of various incidents within the Canadian
military.

Rank DOES have its privileges, doesn’t it?!?

Although Lagace’ had never spoken English prior to joining the CF, he graduated from Open University of British Columbia in 1990 and was the first to be awarded the Governor General’s Award for academic achievement
through that institution.

A year later, military officials refused to allow him to enter the competition in a commissioning program. Lagace’s case points to a very disturbing trend of bureaucratic bullying within government agencies such
as the CHRC and the Justice Department, both mandated to protect individual rights.

In 1989, with the help of a few others, a small network of lower-ranked
contacts began to collect evidence to undermine the corrupt pattern of behavior among senior ranks. If successful, senior ranks are in for a rough
ride at the top.

After a two-day review held in Kamloops, B.C. in July, 1996, the CHRC ordered the Canadian Armed Forces to pay Paul Lagace’ $3,500 in compensation.

Some compensation.

“It gave us a small taste of victory,” said Lagace’, who had to make all
the presentations on his own, for other agencies left him stranded in a cloud of dust.

Although the Canadian establishment tried to destroy Paul Lagace’, 44, and
the now 47-year-old Amy Sam’s union, the couple are still together.

After all, they’re survivors.

“Every incident has a history that needs to be examined objectively if the
pattern of events forming the background are to be understood. To focus on
the end result only narrows your field of vision and dilutes your credibility.”

– Major James Lucas, 1985


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