The headline to this post is a touch inaccurate. You see, according to an Ottawa Citizen story, it’s only:
The Canadian Forces is requiring physically and mentally wounded soldiers to sign a form acknowledging they won’t criticize senior officers or discourage others in uniform with their comments on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The problem is that the Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU – a unit which is designed to help wounded soldiers) has been criticized publicly for its lack of resources and dysfunctional support centres, as well as poor leadership (military and government).
What’s amazing about this report is that the JPSU says it wasn’t designed to stifle criticism, just that the wounded veterans are told not to “write anything that might discourage others or make them dissatisfied with their conditions or their employment.” The implication is that they do not want their members to want anything to change. They might as well be saying “Shut up about your problems and of course everything will be okay. Don’t you trust us?” And if you didn’t trust them, well you should shut up anyway.
For me, an extra galling thing from the article was this:
The form, introduced in March, notes military personnel in JPSU will be held responsible for not only the content they post on social media outlets but also the content of their friends which they have “tagged” on various sites.
I have never been in any military, but I have a cousin-in-law who is. If we’re friends on Facebook and I go off on an angry peacenik rant about how shittily JPSU treats its members, he’s the one who gets in trouble. That’s not just an attack on his right to express himself but on who people are allowed to digitally associate with.
One of the people quoted in that Citizen article is retired Air Force officer Sean Bruyea, who you might remember from a couple of years ago when he criticized how the Canadian Forces was operating and officials dug up his private medical records to discredit him. That was an abuse of power and people involved have since been promoted. So even though there’s no one who’s been disciplined for speaking out in violation of this new JPSU agreement, the will to do so is out there.
Now, I am not a member of the military. There are a lot of things about military hierarchies and policies that I don’t understand and would hate to negotiate. But our soldiers are still citizens and this pattern of governmental silencing of critics (which we can also see in our federal government’s war on science, and the muzzling of librarians at Library and Archives Canada) is something that we should be fighting. This is what intellectual freedom is about, and it applies to people in uniform as well as those of us in cardigans (or whatever your favourite librarian wears).