Canadian Forces Ombudsman finds housing, employment opportunities lacking for military families

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One group of Canadians is figuring prominently in the House of Commons this week as they demand rights people might more commonly associate with the labour movement -- they are the members of the Canadian Forces.

Amidst media reports that soldiers were purposefully discharged from duty early before they could claim their pensions, a new report released on Tuesday by Canadian Forces Ombudsman Pierre Daigle criticized the living conditions faced by the members of military families, from sub-standard living conditions on the base to the inability of military spouses to find meaningful employment.

Daigle didn’t mince words when he addressed the media following the release of On the Homefront Tuesday morning. "There is a palpable sense that [military member’s] children are paying a price for their service," he said.

The report is a result of a yearlong review triggered by an increase in the amount of complaints to the Ombudsman’s office. Daigle told reporters that for the military and their families, going to the Ombudsman is often a last resort after their other options have been exhausted.

Daigle noted that a third of on-base housing is considered substandard, with problems ranging from outdated design to serious health risks. "[One woman] every week was brushing the windows to get rid of the mold for the health of her children," he said.

At the Canadian Forces base in Cold Lake, Alberta, notices are affixed to certain walls asking residents not to disturb them because of probable presence of toxins inside.

Currently, military families pay market rate rent for on-base housing. Canadian Forces actively encourages families to purchase homes off base, though the report notes that this can be difficult given that soldiers may be reposted or deployed in Canada or elsewhere.

Moving frequently between bases also means it's difficult for spouses and other family members to keep steady jobs. Spouses make on average $15,000 less than their partners, and because of the strain of frequent moves and the removed location of bases, they’re often forced to take jobs well below their skill levels.

As well, as military families move from province to province, spouses with professional accreditation or degrees may find they no longer possess the qualifications necessary to do their job in their new home province.

Canadian Forces officials said that they are currently working with local bases to create priority hiring schemes in communities where there are bases and ensure there are on-base programs to keep job skills up for spouses.

On top of that, military families have also had trouble maintaining steady access to health care and childcare.

During question period in the House of Commons later that day, Minister of Defense Rob Nicholson simply stated that the Ombudsman reported that Canadian military families are receiving more support than ever.

However, "unfortunately, better does not mean sufficient," Daigle wrote in the report. He plans on following up with the progress made on his recommendations in a year or two.

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