Luis Castillo didn’t have to think very long when his commanding officer asked him if he would deploy as part of the Canadian Armed Forces’ mission to assist in the fight against COVID-19. The answer was clear to the Reserve soldier right away.
“I couldn’t say no; I had to do it,” said Castillo (pictured above), a Second Lieutenant in the 7th Toronto Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery. “You have to support the country when it’s required.”
As a reservist, or part-time soldier, Castillo normally spends one night a week and one weekend a month fulfilling his military duties. His day job is at Scotiabank, where he’s a Senior Manager, Data Enablement, Platform Services. Since April, he’s been working full-time with his regiment as a logistics officer, helping coordinate the movement of supplies and personal protective equipment.
Castillo and several other Scotiabank employees are among the more than 2,500 soldiers, regular and reserve, who have deployed as part of Operation Laser in Ontario, Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. Troops are assisting the Public Health Agency of Canada, delivering equipment and fulfilling other tasks, working in long-term care homes and assisting various communities in other ways.
As the pandemic struck and it became clear reservists were likely to be deployed, Scotiabank decided it needed to update its leave policy, which made provisions for the two weeks of training reservists are required to complete each year, but not for longer deployments like this one. That could be a disincentive to reservists to volunteer and make it more difficult for the Forces to get the skilled people they needed for the operation, according to Bob Bérubé, Vice President, Operations, at Scotiabank and Chair of the Scotiabank Veterans Network.
“We understood what the situation was going to be, that they were going to try to create a pool of reservists ready to deploy when the provinces or the government needed them,” said Bérubé, who retired from the Canadian Forces as a Lieutenant Colonel before joining the Bank. “We needed to put in better mechanisms for the bank and better support for reservists to actually participate in these operations.”
With help from Bérubé, the Scotiabank Veterans Network and its executive sponsor, Executive Vice President and Group Treasurer Tom McGuire, and Naomi Shaw, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, the Bank quickly devised a new policy. It allowed for automatic approval of leave for any reservist deployed in the COVID-19 crisis; paid leave for the first two weeks of deployment; continuation of their benefits while deployed; and a stipend to mitigate the financial loss a reservist might suffer (reservists also receive a salary from the Armed Forces).
The Bank also signed on to the Reservist Ready Campaign organized by Canada Company, a charity that provides support for Canadian troops and their families, such as scholarships for the children of fallen soldiers and other programs.
McGuire, who served with the U.S. Marine Corps for nine years, achieving the rank of major, said the Bank’s willingness to support reservist employees reflects its long history of support and respect for the military.
“There is a long and distinguished history at the Bank of supporting veteran employees, going back to the First World War,” McGuire said. “This policy is a demonstration of the Bank's eagerness to help and support employees who are likewise serving their country in times of need.”
“I think it's a real testament that the Bank is giving the reservists this type of recognition and flexibility to take on these sometimes dangerous tasks,” Bérubé added. “They’re actually putting something positive into action.
“The Bank is stepping up and saying, ‘We're here to serve the nation and make it a better place, and if our sacrifice is having to let a few employees take the time to help other Canadians where it's a higher priority, then that's what we should do right.’ “
That message of service is a sentiment Luis Castillo shares. He now lives in Toronto with his wife and three children, but he came to Canada 18 years ago from Colombia, where he had been a full-time member of the Colombian armed forces. Joining the Canadian Reserves was an act of solidarity with his adopted country.
“It’s a way to say ‘thank you’ to Canada for everything that this country has given to me,” he said.