Ethical Scenario Commentary - The joy of giving

The Maple Leaf
May 2017

In the Joy of giving scenario published in March, Captain Smith is put in a difficult position. She was appointed the lead by her section head, Lieutenant-Colonel Brown, for the selecting, sourcing, and purchasing of a departure gift for their popular leader, Colonel Jones. In the end, LCol Brown intervened and endorsed a gift option different from Capt Smith’s recommendation, overriding the captain’s judgment and the results of her own survey of colleagues. As a result, significant out-of-pocket costs were incurred by Capt Smith and her immediate supervisor, Major Philpott.

Customs, and how they are handled, are integral to military life and have a significant influence on a team’s morale and sense of identity. A farewell gift is meant to reflect the importance placed on esprit de corps, and the idea of publicly honouring the departing officer is reinforced by giving something representative of the whole unit. If this custom works, it has a positive value, but if it is not working, it undermines the organization.

As many readers acknowledged, the practice of expensive farewell gifts for senior officers is not only an enduring tradition, but seems to be routine to the point that it’s expected.

The relevant Canadian Forces Administrative Order (CFAO) is 19-13, Testimonials and Gifts (note that it has not yet been replaced by a Defence Administrative Order and Directive). It states that the presentation of testimonials or gifts by officers or men to other officers is permissible. However, considering the financial burden that could be imposed on a member, the presentation of a gift or testimonial should be reserved for special cases and remain the exception rather than the rule. The CFAO also notes that commanding officers shall ensure that the practice of presenting testimonials or gifts is carefully monitored and controlled. A number of readers said this type of scenario is very common in their workplace.

Several readers blamed LCol Brown directly, noting that he had a duty under both the CFAO and more broadly, the DND-CAF Code of Values and Ethics, to ensure fair treatment of personnel and to be more engaged throughout the process. Given LCol Brown’s “dislike of internal communications” and his failure to offer a plan to help subsidize the extra cost, it is no surprise that Capt Smith felt uncomfortable explaining the difficulty.

Several readers commented that Capt Smith could have sought assistance with her predicament. Purchasing the gift before collecting the funds was a bad choice on her part. That being said, she should not be held to the same level of accountability as her commander for what is a self-imposed obligation. Capt Smith could have raised her concerns to Maj Philpott, who could have served as an intermediary before the gift was purchased.

Other readers suggested the only recourse for Capt Smith was to accept the financial loss and consider this a “lesson learned” and move on. Several people also noted that perhaps the major should ensure that this lesson learned is passed on to LCol Brown, so that he is more mindful of the lack of communication and the welfare of his subordinates. Another suggestion was that Capt Smith or Maj Philpott should send a department-wide email identifying the financial shortfall and once again soliciting donations. A better suggestion was for LCol Brown to realize his mistake and make the necessary correction without prompting.

Readers also commented that perhaps the practice of departure gifts should be changed, suggesting this fosters elitism within the CAF, as fundraising efforts and subsequent departure gifts are rarely (if ever) presented to junior CAF members upon a posting. By acknowledging the importance of tradition, perhaps the way this custom is practiced needs to be updated. While military institutions have never been democratic, traditions can evolve when they seem to undermine their own original intent.

Thank you to everyone who shared their ideas and contributed to the commentary for this scenario. Suggestions for future scenarios are always welcome.

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