Gander air force base ends relationships with faith-based charities, including Salvation Army9 Wing base commander cites LGBTQ members' concerns
With Gander's air force base deciding to review the list of charities it's raising money for this year, 9 Wing will no longer support faith-based charities, including the Happy Tree, organized by the Salvation Army.
According to base commander Lt.-Col. Lydia Evequoz, the review is a step toward aligning the actions of Royal Canadian Air Force members with their core values.
"We need to be an organization that is inclusive, that is welcoming to all and that we take action internally," said Evequoz. "Our involvement with charities is just one of the many policies that we've been looking at."
The policy review came as a result of concerns from RCAF members, said Evequoz, including families, volunteers and civilian military, over associations with charities that don't support LGBTQ and marginalized communities.
The Salvation Army has faced criticism, both within the province and across Canada and the U.S. for its history with the LGBTQ community. In May, Grand Falls-Windsor Pride said the Salvation Army asked that the group be uninvited from an event on church property.
Evequoz said the concerns aren't necessarily directed at charity work of the local community.
"It's more the bigger picture of how, for example, our LGBTQ members and their family, how they're feeling toward faith-based organizations in general," said Evequoz.
"We're putting them in an awkward situation if we're telling them, 'Hey, I know you're not comfortable with interacting with them.' I don't think it's it's fair for us to do that."
Evequoz adds the departure from faith-based charities will allow RCAF members to decide for themselves which charities they support.
"The view that we've taken is the fact that faith is an individual choice," said Evequoz. "What I want to make sure is that me as a representative of my organization of 9 Wing, I'm not imposing those choices on everybody because not everybody's going to be impacted by it the same way."
As for RCAF members in Gander who choose to continue to raise money or volunteer for charities like the Happy Tree, Evequoz says they will be fully supported.
"One hundred per cent in uniform, outside of uniform, as an individual, I want them to be very comfortable doing that," said Evequoz. "It is not only supported, but it's encouraged for them to stay true to their own value."
While the change of policy at 9 Wing Gander means the base will not be collecting toys for the Happy Tree, Evequoz stressed the decision is not aimed specifically at the Salvation Army.
"It's not an 'us versus them' at all. I think they do incredible work in the community. The Salvation Army, just like the Wing, is composed of individuals. So everybody has different views and I don't want to put them all in one basket," she said.
"I want to make sure I'm not telling volunteers and members of the church that they are bad people. That is absolutely not the case and and if anything they're doing amazing things for the right reason. So you know I want to make sure that that's very, very clear."
Evequoz says reaction to the policy change from the RCAF community has been positive but she has not heard from the Salvation Army itself, adding that she welcomes any dialogue and opportunity to explain her decision.
The Salvation Army declined an interview request from CBC News but in an emailed statement the organization thanked 9 Wing and all other community partners for their support.
"The Salvation Army strives to provide safe and supportive environments for all who come to us seeking assistance. Beyond meeting practical needs such as food, clothing and Christmas assistance," says the statement. "The Salvation Army provides supportive and transitional housing as well as programs that help people struggling with addictions."
Evequoz says 9 Wing Gander is looking forward to continuing its support of community-based charities, with a particular eye on food insecurity this year. Those charities include the Gander and Area Food Bank and the Kids Eat Smart Program. RCAF members in Gander will also help deliver toys to children at the Janeway Children's Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John's.