Sailor aims to effect positive change at CFB Halifax in new role

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Navy News / September 14, 2021

By Joanie Veitch

A Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT) sailor based in Halifax is making a positive impact in combatting racism.

After experiencing racism during a recent boarding party course, Sailor 2nd Class (S2) Saif Morsy took action by sharing his concerns with his chain of command and senior leadership, with the hope of effecting change. Not only did his actions make a difference for that course going forward, the experience led S2 Morsy to volunteer with the MARLANT Defence Visible Minority Advisory Group (DVMAG) where after just one year he was named as the new co-chair of the group.

On June 4, 2021, during an online meeting held to mark the occasion, S2 Morsy was named the group’s military co-chair, taking over from Lieutenant-Commander (LCdr) Paul Smith. René Gannon, interim Base Employment Equity Officer, is the civilian co-chair.

“This is the first time I’ve been involved in something like this. I experienced racism growing up but I never felt before that I had an avenue to effectively deal with it… when I found DVMAG and learned about the opportunity to get involved I took it on,” S2 Morsy said, acknowledging the encouragement and support he received from both the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Halifax Base Commander and the group co-chairs along the way.

S2 Morsy, who has Egyptian heritage, says he dealt with racism growing up in Oakville, Ont., but not since joining the Navy in 2017 as a Weapons Engineering Technician, until the eye-opening incident last year.

As a result of S2 Morsy’s efforts, all Naval Tactical Operation Group Naval Boarding Party courses now include racial bias briefings.

Taking that situation up the chain of command in the hopes of resolution has taught him a lot about how personal stories can become a vehicle for change — lessons he plans to bring to his role as co-chair.

“I want to help encourage others to have the agency to take care of situations that either they personally go through or have witnessed,” he said. “The more avenues you can provide people to deal with situations, the better it will be for everyone.”

Ms. Gannon, DVMAG civilian co-chair, said she’s looking forward to working with S2 Morsy. Having volunteered with the group for six years, she said she has learned to celebrate “wins” and commended S2 Morsy for his tenacity.

“At DVMAG, many of the issues we deal with are systemic and not easily resolved, so at times it can look like there isn’t much progress,” she said. “Saif brought an issue to us and he had a solution as well.”

Under the umbrella of MARLANT Defence Advisory Groups, DVMAG is a volunteer group with a mandate to provide advice to Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces leadership on issues affecting visible minorities — especially in the effective implementation of employment equity — by assisting in policy development related to recruitment, retention and training, identifying systemic employment barriers and recommending concrete solutions.

CFB Halifax Base Commander Captain (Navy) Sean Williams is the Champion of the MARLANT DVMAG.

While the past year has been a challenging one in many ways, Ms. Gannon said, the Black Lives Matter movement and ongoing discussion of Indigenous issues has brought focused attention to the reality of racial discrimination and the need for anti-racist action.

To that end, DVMAG initiated a town hall last fall to create a platform for military members and civilians “who have lived experiences of racism” to share their personal stories, Ms. Gannon said.

“The meeting was in person and online, but we made sure to make it a safe space for people to tell their own stories of racism and how it has affected them both personally and in their work,” she explained, adding that the group has discussed plans to host a similar event, but one that asks people to share their solutions to problems they see and share ideas for change.

“That’s how change happens… person to person and taking the time to listen to each other,” she said.

For the first time at CFB Halifax – the Pan-African flag was raised on July 30 to commemorate the newly designated Emancipation Day, August 1.

“In some ways it’s a small thing, but it’s an important step and it will be good to see,” Ms. Gannon said.