July 13, 2024

An incident at 5th Division Support Base Gagetown’s medical centre in Oromocto last week that led to criminal charges against a soldier has highlighted the need for more protective measures for staff at military medical clinics across the country, says the head of the national union.

A master corporal with the Canadian Armed Forces has been charged with forcible confinement, assault with a weapon and mischief causing property damage in connection with the incident March 12 involving a “health-care professional” at 42 Canadian Forces Health Services Centre Gagetown.

Defence Department spokesperson Andrée-Anne Poulin declined to say whether the alleged victim is a man or a woman, or whether they are known to the 27-year-old accused, who has been posted at the base for about eight years.

“No one was injured during the incident,” Poulin said in an email.

But it prompted the clinic at the second largest military base in Canada to close for the rest of the week.

“To ensure the safety of patients and personnel,” some routine primary care and physiotherapy appointments were rescheduled for a few days, some of which were dealt with virtually on March 18, said Poulin.

“As of March 19, the clinic has reopened as per normal and is functioning full operations.”

Clinic staff are ‘fearful for their safety’

According to June Winger, national president of the Union of National Defence Employees, which represents about 18,000 public- and private-sector workers at DND locations across Canada, including administrative staff at the medical centre, the reason it remained closed is that staff refused to go to work.

“Members are fearful for their safety,” and it’s been an ongoing concern, she said.

“They want to have protections put in place to ensure that their safety is maintained while still being able to provide their very valuable service to the Canadian Armed Force members.”

Winger disputes the notion no one was injured during the incident, which she alleges involved a knife and an attempted attack on a female nurse. 

“Maybe nobody has a broken bone or a scar out of this, but there’s certainly been an injury,” she said.

“So certainly we are quite insistent that more needs to happen, that there needs to be security measures implemented to ensure that everybody can stay safe at the workplace.”

Union seeks swipe-card access, metal detectors

Some of the measures the union is calling for include swipe-card access to medical centres, as many other buildings on bases have; metal detection equipment to ensure no one’s carrying a weapon; designated staff-only washrooms, and plexiglass barriers at reception desks.

A woman in a suit jacket stands in a park.
June Winger, president of the Union of National Defence Employees, says many buildings on military bases require swipe-card access to keep information safe, so at medical centres, ‘we should certainly be providing at least, at the bare minimum, the same level of security for our personnel.’ (CBC News)

In addition, the union wants a formalized process to flag high-risk patients and “immediate followup,” a zero tolerance policy and appropriate staffing levels, said Winger. She could not immediately provide staffing levels for the Gagetown medical centre.

“These are all simple measures,” Winger said. “They’re entirely achievable. It just has to have some foresight and be willing to do it.”

‘Problematic across the country’

Winger contends added security measures were supposed to be in place at the Gagetown medical centre before it moved into its new building in the past year — although the specifics of the contract have been “very difficult to track.”

Poulin did not respond to a request for details.

“This was a needless, tragic event that could have been prevented,” said Winger.

We will continue to work with National Defence and if we need to, engage [Employment and Social Development Canada, which enforces the Canada Labour Code] to make sure that members’ rights are being protected and that their safety is paramount.– June Winger, union president

“And I mean it’s not restricted to this location. This is problematic across the country.”

Winger and other union representatives expected to meet Thursday with the national health and safety policy committee at National Defence to discuss the situation.

“We have also engaged with the head of the health services, and we’re asking them to make sure that appropriate steps are implemented,” she said.

“We will continue to work with National Defence, and if we need to, engage [Employment and Social Development Canada, which enforces the Canada Labour Code] to make sure that members’ rights are being protected and that their safety is paramount, as it should be at all workplaces.”

Accused released on conditions

The accused, who was arrested by the military police and held in an RCMP cell pending a bail hearing, was released on conditions on March 14 and is scheduled to return to court on April 4.

“This case will now proceed through the civilian justice system and no further information can be released,” said Poulin.

A sign that says "Justice Building | Court of Appeal | Court of King's Bench | Provincial Court"
The accused is scheduled to appear in Fredericton provincial court on April 4. (Pat Richard/CBC)

She said base leadership is following the matter closely to ensure professional support, including mental health support, is provided, and proper administrative or disciplinary action is taken in accordance with Canadian Armed Forces policy.

“The CAF holds its members to a high standard of conduct and performance,” Poulin said. “Canadians have a clear expectation that their Armed Forces remain disciplined at all times, while reflecting Canadian values and ethics.”


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