‘Beginning of your journey’
Defence minister tells RMC grads incoming defence policy will ‘hold up its end of the bargain’
The Chancellor of Royal Military College and Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan took the opportunity during his address to the graduating class of 2017 to point out how the military has failed its members in the past, but an incoming defence policy hopes to change that.
“This is the beginning of your journey as leaders of the Canadian Armed Forces,” Sajjan said during his speech. “It is an exciting time, but I also want to acknowledge that the journey to get here has been difficult.”
Without naming Harrison Kelertas, 22, Brett Cameron, 20, and Matthew Sullivan, 19, whose deaths are being probed by a board of inquiry due out any day now, Sajjan said tragedy had touched the RMC community.
“There are no simple answers to how we deal with these challenges,” Sajjan said. “There is no single cause we can eradicate overnight. If there was, we would do exactly that.”
Sajjan said that after their commissioning on Friday, the class will have subordinates that will follow them loyally, therefore the “single greatest responsibility” will be to them.
“No matter where you are deployed, what setbacks you overcome or what victories you celebrate, caring for those serving with you is the most important thing you will do while wearing the uniform,” Sajjan said.
“This is a responsibility and a privilege. You will have the honour to lead your charges in representing Canada on the global stage. You will demonstrate, in word and in deed, what makes Canada a great nation.”
Sajjan acknowledged the challenges RMC students face during their time at the college, but said overcoming those challenges has made them who they are today.
“Your values, your courage and your strength to step up and do what is difficult is what makes you leaders,” Sajjan said. “You were challenged by this institution, by your peers and by life itself sometimes, and you succeeded.
“I am proud of you. Your family members and friends are proud of you. All Canadians will be proud of you.”
The minister then pointed out that “successive governments” haven’t always taken care of the Canadian Forces. This is where Sajjan pointed out that his new long-term defence policy will be released on June 7. He said the policy is an opportunity for the government to hold up its end of the bargain.
“In order to do that, we must have an honest and open assessment of where we’re starting from. Our people have done the best they can with the resources available,” Sajjan said. “But the fact is that our whole approach to care is insufficient to meet the challenges of a modern military and the needs of our women and men who serve.”
He talked about how it has been difficult for veterans to access the services they need to reintegrate into civilian life through “frustrations and red tape.” He said the military health-care system has also been too “one size fits all” and military health-care professionals need more resources.
“This is not the message of gratitude government should be sending troops at the end of their military careers. We need a new approach,” Sajjan said.
“Canada’s new defence policy must put those who serve at its core. It must do more than pay lip service to the fact that our people are our most important capability.”
After announcing it to the media an hour prior, Sajjan then told the audience of the new federal tax exemptions for those deployed on named international operations, to which those gathered applauded.
“After June 7, I hope you will feel that the government will be making the changes necessary to hold up its end of the bargain. Because we have no more important objective than caring for you and your families in the years to come,” Sajjan said.
“Graduates, the work you do at home and abroad will positively impact the lives of Canadians and people around the world in important ways. Your brothers and sisters in the profession of arms are already doing so today, and you will join them.”
Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan gives the chancellor’s address at Royal Military College’s convocation on Thursday.