The Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Bill Blair, issued the following statement today to recognize and observe the beginning of Black History Month:
“Today, we mark the beginning of Black History Month. Throughout February and all-year round, I encourage all Canadians to take the time to learn about Black history in Canada – including the contributions that Black Canadians and communities have made to our national security by serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, Department of National Defence, and Communications Security Establishment.
“Throughout our history and still today, Black Canadians have raised their hands and stepped up to protect Canada – but have often faced racism and discrimination before, during, and after their service. In 2022, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and my predecessor, Minister Anand, delivered an apology on behalf of the Government of Canada for the systemic anti-Black racism that members of No. 2 Construction Battalion endured before, during, and long after the First World War. The battalion was a segregated non-combatant unit, and the first and only all-Black battalion-sized formation in Canadian military history. Following the end of the war, the unit was officially disbanded on September 15, 1920, without ceremony or recognition for their service or sacrifices.
“We are committed to ensuring that more Canadians learn about No. 2 Construction Battalion, and the many contributions made by Black Canadians. For this reason, in November we committed $2.25 million of dedicated funding to enable us to commemorate No. 2 Construction Battalion. The dedicated funding will honour the members of No. 2 Construction Battalion who made invaluable contributions during the First World War but endured racism, discrimination, and prejudice in many forms. These funds will celebrate the legacy of Black military members for years to come through commemorative activities, educational materials, and community war memorials.
“As we honour our history, we are also working to establish and promote a culture of inclusion within National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces, and the Communications Security Establishment. This must be a collective and continuous effort. While we have made progress in addressing systemic racism and discrimination, there is much more work to do to eliminate systemic barriers and create safer spaces for Black employees to share their experiences. With the support of the Defence Visible Minority Advisory Group, the Directorate of Anti-Racism Implementation, and the Defence Team Black Employees Network, we hope to continue making marked and deliberate change, and remove barriers to fulsome participation that have existed at all levels of our organizations.
“I believe that diverse teams make better decisions. Building a diverse and inclusive institution that can attract and retain talented people from all segments of our society will strengthen our operational effectiveness and long-term success – and ultimately, bolster our national security. For this reason, we will continue to address the recommendations made by the Advisory Panel on Systemic Racism and Discrimination and the National Apology Advisory Committee (NAAC) which was convened to provide advice on the Government of Canada’s official apology to descendants of No. 2 Construction Battalion members in 2022.
“Today, I encourage all Canadians to reflect on everything that Black Canadians, Black public service members, and Black Canadian Armed Forces members have done and continue to do to keep Canada safe. Together, let us honour their contributions and lift up their voices so their stories that are heard not only this month but throughout the year.”