DARTMOUTH – A Nova Scotia man is calling for an inquiry into racism in the Canadian Armed Forces.
For the past 11-years, Wallace Fowler has tried everything he can think of to get the attention of military and government officials, but nothing has worked.
Fowler joined the Canadian Military in 2000. He spent time at CFB Borden training, and was later had posted to Esquimalt, B.C., and Trenton, Ont. It’s alleged at all of these places, he or his family faced racism.
Fowler says he remembers one incident in particular when he was posted in Esquimalt, where he was one of the only black people on the base. “Marching up and down the streets, I remember standing out,” Fowler tells Global News. “There was little white girl that said ‘look mommy, there’s a ni—.’ I just sort of put my head down and the guy beside me said, don’t worry about it, they’re like that out here.”
Fowler says he dealt with racism from members within the armed forces that he worked alongside, as well as from people within the community on the armed forces bases. Fowler says he wasn’t the only one who suffered from the discrimination, his family was also targeted. He says military members used to throw bananas at his wife and call her a monkey, and his daughter also had someone spit in her hair.
“Almost from the day he enlisted, he and his family faced this racist behaviour,” said Ron Stockton, the lawyer representing Fowler.
Fowler moved from Esquimalt to Trenton in hopes of starting over, but the discrimination continued. His lawyer, who deals with a lot of labour and employment issues, says he has never heard of someone who was the victim of discrimination being the one who has to move around. “You deal with the problem, you don’t move the victim.”
Fowler says he repeatedly sought help and was told there was nothing the military could do. He filed police reports and even launched complaints, but says nothing was taken seriously. Stockton says his client, “faced a failure from the military to effectively and seriously address the issue of racism within its ranks.”
In 2003, Fowler was discharged for not being advantageously employable. At the time he was discharged, Fowler had not yet been diagnosed with PTSD and depression as a result of racism exhibited towards him and his family during his time in the military.
Since then, Fowler has been fighting to get an independent, public inquiry into racism with the Canadian Armed Forces. He says he has years of documentation and has been in contact with nearly 100 other current and former members of the military who have also been victims of discrimination. “He’s been attempting to get justice for a very long time,” said Stockton.
Fowler, his lawyer and a number of supporters say only an independent , public inquiry can show the problems in the military and address forms of discrimination.
“We know in the military there’s been a failure to deal with discrimination, it arose specifically in cases of sexism,” said Stockton. “Without addressing all forms of discrimination, the military, we don’t believe, can be successful in dealing with any of them.”
Former Staff Sgt. Rubin ‘Rocky’ Coward says he too suffered from racism during his years in the military, specifically at CFB Greenwood. Coward says just like bullying and sexism, racism has a measurable cost on an individual, and their family. “The military incessantly reports that they have a zero tolerance towards discrimination but I want to make it unequivocally clear, they have no policy to deal with racism whatsoever,” Coward tells Global News.
Denis Manuge, the lead plaintiff in a $887-million dollar lawsuit involving thousands of disabled veterans, has been working with Fowler for the past two years. Manuge says he has seen examples of racism himself when he was in the military. “Who says we have to settle for good?,” said Manuge. “You know, I think we can make things a lot more durable, tolerable, healthy for folks whether they’re female, male, black, Hispanic, whatever, just by having a look at what’s gone on in this situation.”
Fowler wants to make it clear, he is after change with a public inquiry, and has no plans to launch a lawsuit. “I’ve never once asked for money. Not once. I’ve asked for an inquiry to take place based on the people’s involved so this doesn’t happen to the next family, to go through what I went through,” he said. “We’re good enough to put on a uniform and die for this country if need be, but when it comes time to be treated like a normal person and treated with respect, we’re told we don’t count.”
“His complaint is not about money. His complaint is about dealing with racism in the military, that’s the issue he wants front and centre,” added Stockton.
Calls to the Department of National Defence were returned on Friday, but a department spokesperson said that because they are in “election mode,” the earliest they would be able to provide answers to the questions provided would be Tuesday.