When the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Lawson, entrusted me with the mandate of examining the Canadian armed forces policy on sexual harassment and sexual assault, he told me he wanted the point of view of a person from the outside.
My report is the fruit of some intense work. I met over 700 people. I did an exhaustive and thorough study of policies, and I reviewed what are currently considered the best practices in the area of sexual harassment and assault.
I will not comment on my report here, save for two points I wish to emphasize, which can be summarized in two words: victims, and trust.
I will begin by speaking about victims. Each one of the 10 recommendations in my report aims to improve conditions for members of the Canadian armed forces. The impact has to be felt at all levels, not only in daily life, but also in the support afforded to victims and the prevention of incidents.
Supporting victims means that the Canadian armed forces have to give priority to the needs of the victims. In discussing prevention I of course refer to training. The Canadian armed forces have to teach their members what professional behaviour is and what is not acceptable. Prevention also means deterring eventual offenders by promptly imposing sanctions that will make everyone understand that there will be no compromises.
We cannot underestimate the importance and attention that must be afforded victims. It is through them that the Canadian armed forces will be able to assess the evolution of change in their culture. These men and women will allow them to verify the level of respect for the dignity of persons and the professionalism of our armed forces.
The second point is a guiding principle underlying my recommendation. It is the need to rebuild the trust and confidence of the Canadian Forces members in their organization. This will require short-term, medium-term, and long-term measures to bring about real changes.
Such change will take time. The first step, however, is for the Canadian Forces leadership to demonstrate to members through their actions that they acknowledge that the problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the armed forces is real. But most important, the forces need to show that they will take all the necessary steps to tackle this issue, including adopting measures that are recognized as international and national best practices.
One of these practices on which I heavily relied corresponds to what many members and people who worked with victims told me they needed. It is the creation of an independent centre where victims can seek support and advice. It is critical that such a centre be truly independent of the armed forces in order to reassure victims that by reporting an incident of sexual harassment or sexual assault, they will be able to access support without triggering negative consequences for their careers or in their personal lives.
I took inspiration from models that various countries adopted. The American and Australian forces created their respective centres in 2005 and 2012. Last summer, in 2014, the French forces also implemented a centre called Cellule Thémis.
Based on my consultation with members and with persons who worked with victims of harassment and assault, I found that the creation of an independent centre to assist and support victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment is an essential step in rebuilding the confidence of members in their organization.
In my report, speaking about the process of investigating and prosecuting sexual assault, I mentioned that each country has developed their own response to their problems. The centre I recommend is not identical to any of the existing ones and I did not view my mandate as describing in minute detail the form that it should take.
However, the Canadian Forces should attempt to draw the best features from each existing model. In my view, the more independent the centre is, the better are the chances that the victims will seek support and fully report incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Reporting is fundamental not only because the victims need support, but also because the Canadian Forces need to know how members behave.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for the opportunity to appear before you today to provide an update on the progress the Canadian Armed Forces strategic response team is making in dealing with inappropriate sexual behaviour in the forces.
You will remember that the external review authority's report and the action plan developed by the Canadian Armed Forces to deal specifically with Madame Deschamps' 10 recommendations were released to the Canadian public on April 30, 2015.
Let me start by saying that the past 17 working days since the release of the action plan indeed have been very busy. As I stated at the time of the release, inappropriate sexual behaviour is a complex problem that defies quick fixes and band-aid solutions. To successfully address it, our approach centres on identifying and treating its fundamental root causes rather than simply addressing the symptoms. Madame Deschamps' insight and analysis is absolutely pivotal in this approach. So, what has transpired during the last two and a half weeks?
First, we have reaffirmed that the strategic response team's mission is to enhance the operational readiness of the Canadian Forces by eliminating incidents and impacts of inappropriate sexual behaviour to the extent possible.
The goal is a Canadian Armed Forces that upholds a culture of dignity and respect for all. These are core Canadian values that the institution exists to defend in Canada and around the globe. In other words, in the long term we will enhance the fundamental Canadian Armed Forces' culture to the point that inappropriate sexual behaviour will not be tolerated either by targets of such behaviour or by anyone who witnesses it.
In the short term, we will trigger positive shifts in behaviour through increased awareness of acceptable norms, expectations, responsibilities and accountabilities by engaging with both the chain of command and grassroots membership across the organization.
Additionally, the recently formed Canadian Armed Forces strategic response team on sexual misconduct, which I lead, continues to grow and mature. It is noteworthy that this is the first time in the Canadian Armed Forces' history that an entity has been formed for the sole purpose of addressing this important issue. I have assembled a highly capable, multidisciplinary team consisting of civilian personnel, military members and former military members with the appropriate combination of required skills and experience.
We have identified four major lines of effort critical to achieving the objective. As described in our action plan, the first is to understand the problem. The second is to respond effectively to incidents of inappropriate behaviour, including enhancing the process of reporting. The third is to better support victims throughout the process. The fourth is to prevent occurrences from taking place in the first place.
We have already made considerable progress in several of these endeavours. In terms of understanding, my team has carefully examined Madame Deschamps' report and has begun considering how best to address each of her 10 recommendations.
For example, a key recommendation in Madame Deschamps' report was the creation of an independent centre to deal with inappropriate sexual behaviour. She provided us with several examples, including those established in the United States and Australian militaries.
The analysis of an independent centre will be the focal point of the strategic response team's planning and development in the coming weeks. Accordingly, my team and I recently met with American officials on their SAPRO model and Australian officials on their SeMPRO organization. Both consultations were very productive and provided the team with better insight into a field-tested, proven option with the potential to illustrate how a similar construct could be developed to fit the needs of the Canadian Armed Forces or the Department of National Defence.
In addition to these two visits, members of the strategic response team visited the Peel Regional Police and the Canadian Army Command and Staff College to open discussions about educational opportunities. They attended an international workshop in Geneva that brought together a broad spectrum of international experts on the core facets of sexual harassment and sexual assault in organizational environments. They attended a conference on gender-based analysis plus in security and defence operations held in Ottawa. They met with Ambassador Schuurman, the NATO secretary general's special representative for women, peace and security.
A key component of the behavioural and cultural change I alluded to earlier is connecting with the Canadian Armed Forces members at every level of the organization, including at the pointy end, to both increase awareness of the Canadian Armed Forces' response to Madame Deschamps' report, and to inspire open dialogue and personal reflection on the problem of inappropriate sexual behaviour in the forces. This is quite similar to the approach previously employed in shifting internal stigmas and behaviour surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder and operational stress injuries, which we largely succeeded in doing in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
With members of my team, I began connecting directly with the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces across Canada starting on May 1, the day after the release of the report. Through a series of town hall meetings, individual question and answer sessions, discussions with the local chain of command, as well as interactions with interested local and regional media, the strategic response team is reaching out to Canadian Armed Forces members and setting the conditions for ongoing dialogue.
I open each session with the acknowledgement that this is a serious problem within the Canadian Armed Forces and that al though no one wants to discuss inappropriate sexual behaviour, it is important to start the discussion. So far, we have been to six bases and wings where I have briefed approximately 5,300 military personnel at 16 general sessions. The questions, comments, concerns, and perspectives in these sessions have brought to light both positive and negative personal experience anecdotes and reinforced two realities: one, the problem is highly complex; and two, while there is a collective will to move the organization forward, there is little consensus as to the gravity of the existing problem.
In the next few months, I look forward to completing the town halls at all 33 bases and wings to ensure that the majority of Canadian Armed Forces members have an opportunity to hear and understand what the team is doing, ask questions and express opinions, and learn about the direction being taken by the Canadian Armed Forces.
Similarly, my team and I will continue our focused consultations with both domestic and international entities that are dealing with a problem similar to ours. This includes military, government, police, and other non-governmental organizations that are able to provide us with applicable insight on best practices and lessons learned.
One of the reasons the Canadian Armed Forces' response to the problem of inappropriate sexual behaviour will be more effective this time is the heightened emphasis on outcome measurement. Even the most elaborate plans and outputs mean little if they do not translate into tangible outcomes and results on the ground. To this end, my team is studying program evaluation methodologies to ensure we are able to measure how effective the changes we implement actually are in practice.
Reporting will go hand in hand with performance measurement. Starting in the fall, I will deliver to the Chief of the Defence Staff my first quarterly report on the Canadian Armed Forces' progress in responding to the problem of inappropriate sexual behaviour. The report will also be released to the Canadian public. We are fully committed to open, transparent dialogue with external stakeholders. Over the past 25 days we have interacted with a total of 88 different media agencies in group and individual engagements. My team and I are committed to standing up and being held to account on this crucial imperative and will continue to be actively engaged with the public, Parliament, and the media.
We have also begun to examine how we can improve the Canadian Armed Forces' approach to training and education in order to shift culture towards enhancing the level of dignity and respect. As well, the team, in conjunction with other Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence personnel, is reviewing existing policy to assess its clarity, coherence, appropriateness, and applicability. As part of this endeavour, all terminology and definitions pertaining to inappropriate sexual behaviour will be thoroughly examined.
Inappropriate sexual behaviour remains a complex problem, one that quick fixes will not solve substantively or sustainably. My team is focused on creating innovative, meaningful change tailored to the needs of the Canadian Armed Forces members and based on best practices and lessons learned from a wide range of sources. This is a no-fail mission for the Canadian Armed Forces that my team and I are completely and utterly committed to.
Thank you, Madame Deschamps and Major-General Whitecross, for joining us.
First, Madame Deschamps, I want to thank you for your report and your very thorough investigation. You have reported an alarming story of the situation in the military, confirming what was made public in 1998 by Maclean's and by L'actualité in 2014.
One of the fundamental concerns shows that there's a fundamental lack of trust in the military justice system and in the military police's ability to deal with it, so much so that, as you report, the overwhelming majority of victims do not report incidents, so we really don't have a full handle on the extent of the problem.
One of the concerns I have, and which we even see in the name of the report, which is referred to as a report on sexual misconduct and sexual harassment, is that we're using various terms and definitions, as you point out. Of course, sexual assault is a criminal act and in the civilian criminal system is prosecuted as such. There seems to be a more amorphous treatment of criminal behaviour in the military, perhaps based on some of the definitions that we have.
Can you tell us, first of all, why it is that in the military the military police officers have the ability and discretion to not lay a charge, or if they want to lay a charge, why they have to have the consent of the chain of command? Why don't I see anything where this might change?
But we do have a serious and ongoing problem. We heard a story last week about a sexual harassment prevention officer attending the Royal Military College and herself being, in her own words, harassed by the cadets who were there who clearly didn't understand, or perhaps didn't know anything about, the notion of sexual harassment or the kinds of things that were being described.
I need to be able to say, and I think Canadians want to know, is it still, is it yet, safe for women in the military? I have to conclude, based on this report, that this is not the case.
How are you and your CDS and the minister—I know they're not here, but they were invited—going to be able to assure people that their sons or daughters and those already serving will be safe from criminal acts and harassment, and that complaints will be taken seriously? I don't need to read all of what Madam Justice Deschamps wrote. I mean, it's pretty clear that the reason things aren't reported, they're not taken seriously, they don't do a proper investigation.... The military police don't even know what “consent” is in many cases. We have a very serious problem from bottom to top.
Is there a crisis recognized? I think you said there's no consensus on how serious this is, but I think the alarm bells are going off in a lot of people's minds.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and through you to our witnesses.
I want to first thank both of you for the work you're doing on this very difficult file.
I appreciate the report that you prepared, Madame Deschamps.
General Whitecross, I'm glad you mentioned that you're proud of your military career, because I want to thank you for everything that you've been doing throughout your career. This probably is one of those very challenging assignments that you've received, and I know that you're going to do wonderfully in setting up the independent centre and carrying through with the strategic response team, dealing with all 10 recommendations.
Madame Deschamps, I like how you started your presentation. You talked about two things: victims and trust. Part of the trust falls into this issue of the culture that we have within the Canadian Armed Forces. As you said, it's very sexualized. How do we start changing that culture? I think the first step has been done by your providing this report, and General Whitecross with the strategic response team. I should point out that they are meeting with our men and women in uniform right across this country.
The first part of dealing with this issue is awareness, and then comes education. I'm asking both of you to talk to how you visualize having the new independent centre be that place where people can come, feel comfortable, and have trust that there's going to be an outcome, both from the standpoint of their rights as a victim and—as I know from some of the reading I've done, looking at the U.S. model, the Australian model and others—in the work that they can do in improving education and awareness within the military so that the whole dynamic within the culture can start to shift.
Your question goes to the culture and to how the centre can be linked to the culture.
The culture is a notion that's much broader than the centre.
The centre goes to the support of the victims and to the re-establishment of their confidence. They know there will be no consequences if they report. For example, if they were to file a restricted report, the kind of report where the person seeks only support, then what I describe in my report as the effet boule de neige, the snowball effect, which destroyed confidence because of a story being told to the others of the bad consequences, could be stopped. You could stop this reaction.
The centre in a way is one of the elements of the puzzle, of the whole strategy to reinstate the confidence in the organization, because victims will know that if they seek support, they will not suffer any negative consequences.
The change of culture requires much more than the centre. It requires the involvement of the leadership. It requires putting a lot of effort into training. The change of culture is a process that involves resources to be put at every level.
Madame Deschamps, perhaps you could help me with this. You would have learned a lot about military culture. One of things you would have learned about, of course, is the chain of command and how important that is to the military leadership, but also to those at the very bottom. Part of that culture is that you don't go outside the chain of command with your complaints. You deal with them inside.
Yet, as you report, the vast majority of interviewees who did take the step of discussing their complaint—most did not—with their supervisor, the complaint was not taken seriously. Responses ranged from warning the complainant about the negative consequence to their careers if they continued with the complaint, to openly disbelieving the victim. Ironically, warning about the negative consequences to their career may be fairly accurate, given the experience of a lot of the people who have reported publicly on their experience.
I agree with you that a centre fully independent of the chain of command needs to exist. How does a person who wants to complain—and I think you mentioned it in your opening remarks—get help without triggering a formal complaint and without triggering negative consequences for their career or life?
Can you help me with this? If you go to the independent board or centre to make your complaint and say you just need help, that you're not going to make a complaint because you know you might get kicked out of the military, how does that give justice where what you really want is to be able to pursue a complaint and have a guarantee that you're not going to be victimized and kicked out of the military, your career stopped, or you're going to be treated with disdain by your fellow soldiers, or by the chain of command around you? How does that work?