I want to welcome everyone to meeting 22 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women.
I call the meeting to order. Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2021. The rules are as usual.
I remind members that they should address their comments through the chair. The interpretation will work very much like in all of our committee meetings. When you're speaking, please speak slowly and clearly, and when you're not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
I want to welcome our witnesses today.
Welcome to the Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, who is here along with Jody Thomas, the deputy minister, and Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre, the acting chief of the defence staff. We also have with us Rear-Admiral Geneviève Bernatchez, the judge advocate general for the Canadian Armed Forces, and Dr. Denise Preston, the executive director for the sexual misconduct response centre.
Each of you will have time to make your opening remarks. I assume that it will be the minister first, for five minutes.
Then we'll begin our rounds of questions.
Go ahead, Minister.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and members of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.
Sexual misconduct remains a serious issue in our military, and the recent allegations against senior military leaders are incredibly concerning. There are points that I hope all members of this committee agree upon. Sexual misconduct, sexual violence, assault and harassment are unacceptable. They are unacceptable in Canadian society. They are not acceptable in the Parliament of Canada. They are definitely not acceptable in the Canadian Armed Forces or the Department of National Defence.
I look forward to the recommendations of this committee to see what more we can do. I believe it is important for the committee to hear from experts such as Rear-Admiral Rebecca Patterson, Dr. Denise Preston, Professor Maya Eichler and Brigadier-General Atherton, all of whom would be able to provide their own expertise to help the committee develop strong, concrete recommendations.
Sexual misconduct, harassment and inappropriate behaviour are not acceptable. We must call them out for what they are: an abuse of power. Such behaviour is contrary to our values as Canadians and harmful to the Canadian Forces operational effectiveness. We want to prevent it. We want to be there for survivors and their support networks. We want to ensure that those who come forward feel safe, supported and confident that they will be heard when they report sexual misconduct and harassment.
Eliminating all forms of misconduct and abuse of power and creating a safe work environment for everyone in the defence team has always been a top priority for me as Minister of National Defence. However, recent media reports show that many members of the Canadian Armed Forces still do not feel safe to come forward. We know we must do more to make sure that every Canadian Armed Forces member feels safe to come forward and that we will be ready to support them when they do.
We are committed to addressing all allegations, no matter the rank and no matter the position, while also providing the best support possible to those who have been affected. That's why we must continue pressing forward with our mission to eliminate all forms of sexual misconduct in all ranks. It's why we're moving forward with an independent reporting structure to look at all allegations, as I noted earlier this month. We have put in place a wide range of services to support those who have been impacted, as well as a number of ways they can report incidents.
I'd like to tell you about some of the resources that are available now.
For both military and civilian members, we have services like the employee assistance program and the member assistance program, which provide 24/7 access to professional, short-term counselling for affected defence team members and their families. Additionally, the sexual misconduct response centre is a key resource for those in our organizations who are affected by sexual misconduct. It is independent from the military chain of command and reports directly to the deputy minister of national defence. Although its primary mandate is to serve Canadian Armed Forces members, the SMRC offers 24/7 confidential support and counselling services to anyone who reaches out.
Dr. Preston and her team help members navigate the various support services available to them, both inside and outside the department. They can help members access the right mechanisms to report incidents of sexual misconduct, including the military liaison team, which is made up of a military police liaison officer, a special military advisor and a military liaison officer.
Those who work at SMRC are dedicated to their work. They are experts in their field and can give members advice about how to make a complaint or about what is involved in an investigative process. They can facilitate reporting if the member chooses to do so. The SMRC can also assign a dedicated counsellor to support members through the process, including advocating for them, accompanying them to appointments and assisting them with workplace accommodations.
They are also working with affected members to develop new programs and create a national survivor support strategy. The SMRC offers crucial expert guidance and recommendations that shape the policies and programs that target sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. It advises us on how to evaluate and report on their effectiveness.
Beyond the SMRC, members can also reach out to chaplain services, military family resource centres, the employee assistance program, the family information line or anyone across the chain of command to get the help they need.
These resources are critical to supporting those affected by sexual misconduct, but they are just part of our larger efforts to build a safe and inclusive workplace for all members of our defence team. We're working to eliminate the toxic masculinity that forms part of our military culture and keeps us from moving forward, the outdated and toxic traditions that valorize toughness and aggression over emotional intelligence and co-operation, and any part of our culture that contributes to bullying, harassment and other inappropriate behaviours.
Identifying and eliminating these harmful cultural dynamics is a key feature of the path to dignity and respect, our culture change strategy designed to prevent and address sexual misconduct in the military. Sexual misconduct must never be minimized, ignored or excused. We must prevent it from happening in the first place. We must reduce the risks and threats to people, their health and their well-being. This is one important step in making our institution more progressive, welcoming and inclusive.
At the same time, we remain committed to increasing the number of women that we recruit, retain and promote in our ranks. Women belong at every level of our organization. I'm proud of the leadership we are seeing in both our institution and our operations. We know that having a diversity of voices at the table makes us more agile and effective.
We know we have to keep pushing forward. We still have a lot of work to do. We cannot rest, because as Canadian society evolves, the Canadian Armed Forces must evolve with it. We need to prevent any form of misconduct from occurring. This can only happen with true culture change. That means having more diversity in leadership roles. In 2015 the Canadian Armed Forces had six women general or flag officers. Now we have 14, and soon we will have the first woman vice-chief of the defence staff. Creating a pipeline for women leaders has been one of my top priorities, because this will make the change permanent, outlasting any government and outlasting any minister.
Madam Chair, real, concrete and important steps are being taken to eliminate sexual misconduct from all corners of our organization, but our efforts will not stop here. We must and we will do more. Trust has been broken, and it's going to take some serious work to rebuild it. We are focused on doing everything possible to prevent and eliminate sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. We will eliminate the culture of toxic masculinity that still exists. We will make sure those who have experienced misconduct feel safe and supported when they come forward. We will build a more inclusive, welcoming Canadian Armed Forces that better reflect and represent the Canadians they protect each and every day.
We know we must take bold action to provide everyone on the defence team with a safe and respectful work environment, one where dignity and respect for all is embraced by each person, and one that retains the positive aspects of the Canadian Armed Forces culture that we see today—a flexible, dedicated, professional force that is ready to help at a moment's notice, at home and abroad.
Madam Chair, thank you for your time. I look forward to your questions.
Good morning, Minister. Thank you for attending committee.
In 2019 our committee presented the following report to the House of Commons: “A Force for Change: Creating a Culture of Equality for Women in the Canadian Armed Forces”.
Within the report were a number of recommendations provided to the government on the path forward in addressing the sexual [Technical difficulty—Editor] culture, and measures that could be implemented to help eliminate discrimination, violence and harassment, including sexual harassment in the CAF.
Recommendations two and three were specifically about mandatory comprehensive sexual harassment and awareness training.
I have three questions, and I'll break them down.
What is the current training offered to members of the Canadian Armed Forces? Is it consistent across sectors and chains of command? Are you looking to review any current gaps or needed changes to make it more effective?
Madam Chair, sexual misconduct training is conducted annually for all members of the Canadian Armed Forces, but in my view annually is not enough, and there has to be a constant drumbeat to remind our members of what right looks like.
In terms of gaps in that training, as I rapidly find my feet in this job, some of the gaps are becoming apparent, such as those to do with power dynamics and understanding the use and abuse of power in a hierarchy like our own.
On some of the other training that's out there, bystander training is part of it, as is training on respect in the CAF, but I can give you a much more detailed list if I take this question on notice.
Madam Chair, this is one of the most important questions that we all need to answer.
To me, true culture change is, first of all, when every member—all Canadians, regardless of gender, skin colour or sexual orientation—can join the Canadian Armed Forces, proudly serve their country and, more importantly, reach their true potential and not be hindered in any way. Ultimately, this is not about the person who has joined. This is about the institution itself. Whatever gifts the individual brings, the Canadian Armed Forces will be far more operationally effective for it.
To achieve this, that's what we need to do. How we get there is something we have been aggressively working towards. The education that needs to be done is down at the lowest levels. When somebody joins, it is about making sure that, from the time of basic training to the unit they go to, they have that inclusive environment, and when there is something that happens, they have a place to go, to be able to be heard without retribution. That's what we continually need to work towards, but we know we have a lot more work to do on it.
Madam Chair, no politician should ever be involved in an investigation.
In the ombudsman's directives themselves, the ombudsman can go to—and it clearly states this—the judge advocate general, the CFNIS, or the military police. They can also go to the provost marshal. The former ombudsman did not take those options and came directly to me. In the directives, it doesn't state “go to the Minister of National Defence”.
When we say that when it comes to any allegations, the ombudsman is independent of the chain of command, that's exactly what it means.
When he came to me, I gave the direct advice to go to those agencies. More importantly, we followed up with the independent agency, with the Privy Council, immediately, and they followed up the next day. The ombudsman did not provide the information.
I'm trying to get clarity on what you're trying to say about your responsibility. My concern is that we're trying to bring about a cultural shift. You keep bringing that up. You also bring up a lot about process, how you depend on a process. You don't want to bring clarity to that responsibility. You're just talking about process.
A shift in culture comes when we can transcend the process, when we recognize a responsibility. It was three years before General Vance was suspended. To me, that speaks volumes about abdication of responsibility.
Through this process, do you feel that you could have perceived this a little differently? Your answers consistently show that you're not owning up to the reality that you're not taking action to create a shift in the culture. The longer you continue to create confusion around responsibility—the longer you continue to dodge responsibility this way or that—it's not going to change. If it doesn't come from the top, if you can't just take the higher road, it's not going to happen.
If you keep repeating the same points—I'm just sensing you're still not owning up to this—how do you expect the culture to shift? Are you not making it more difficult for yourself to actually take action? You're continually defending the fact that you didn't take action. The reality is it was three years before General Vance was suspended.
I would like to hear from you as a genuine person who actually cares about women and this toxic masculinity culture and who wants that to shift. I would like to hear you speak from your heart about how you could proceed differently from this point forward. I want you to show us some authentic conviction that there will be a change. I'm not convinced. Talking about processes all day, it's not going to happen until we, as people and as leaders, and you, as Minister of National Defence, can actually take a step that transcends the process.
Culture change is something we're all committed to. I believe that in the committee here, there are some wonderful recommendations that can be provided, but also a need to look at changes that need to be made.
We need to make sure we just don't look at a report, look at a recommendation, sign off, and think it's done. For example, I can list off a whole bunch of things, but ultimately I'm always looking at what results we are creating on the ground.
When somebody is joining, are they in basic training and having a safe environment? If something comes up, whether it's a religious conversation, a gender issue, LGBTQ rights, or anything, we should immediately address it, because the Employment Equity Act states that we must.
Do we have the right action groups? Do they have the right governance structure? This is what the independent panel on systemic racism, gender bias and LGBTQ rights is currently doing: looking at where those issues are, digging deep inside the Canadian Armed Forces and looking at what changes are needed.
We need to create a much greater pipeline, and we've started that. I talked about the numbers, and right now, those aren't the metrics we want to judge ourselves by, but you know what? That's progress. It's not success. Going from six to 14 general officers is important, but the pipeline—when you look below that and when you create a greater pipeline—can never be stopped.
Why was it, with regard to the representation of women, that the percentages were obviously nothing to be proud of? If it was 15% women in the past, why didn't we have 15% women before? One of my goals was to immediately start making those changes, so when somebody had a complaint, they could come forward, regardless of retribution.
When I sign off on any general officers, I don't look at what their ability to command is; I trust they can do that. The question I ask is, “Are these persons leaders who can bring in cultural change?” If they are not, we don't want them being promoted, but if they are, we want to give them proper resources to do so.
We also need to make sure we have senior women at the table, so that we have proper representation. This is not the be-all and end-all, but it does make sure that we have the right people to put the right structures in place. We need to look at how the independent investigations are conducted. We need to take a look at whether we have the right resources in place, so that people are supported.
The one question I have for the judge advocate general is, if somebody has done something in the past, would it be acceptable for them to join the Canadian Armed Forces? If somebody does something inside the Canadian Armed Forces, why can't we get them out sooner? Those also have to go through proper legal checks and balances, because ultimately I can't make a decision on that. That's the law.
We have to follow the law, and if changes need to be made, we go through a parliamentary process to get those laws changed, so that we can create the proper changes. Ultimately, all of us—including this committee, and I look forward to your recommendations—need to be able to do the ripple effect of any recommendation to see how it can actually have that impact.
Too often in the past, what we have done and where we made some changes, they actually didn't achieve the outcomes we wanted. When I became minister, that was the last thing I wanted, giving out these speeches. I wanted to be focused on the metrics themselves and the changes we're making.
We have made progress, and we're proud of that progress, but obviously, this is not enough. I'm deeply hurt that we couldn't move forward, and I wish we had a magic wand to make all this go away, but we don't. At the same time, I didn't quit before, when I was serving to support the people, and I'm not going to quit now.
I'm committed to our Canadian Armed Forces and to ensuring we create an inclusive environment, because there are people in Canada right now who want to serve their country. They deserve to have a harassment-free workplace so they can reach their true potential. We're not going to stop until we achieve that, regardless of how long it takes.
Madam Chair, I don't have prepared remarks per se, but I will give you a few comments.
First of all, thank you for the opportunity to address this committee.
I will say up front that the current circumstances have shaken us, and I believe the armed forces are at an inflection point—an inflection point that we have to seize as an opportunity to come out better and make it a better place to serve all Canadians.
We don't pretend to have all the answers. I certainly don't, and we have to be very open to ideas coming from the grassroots level, from outside experts. At the same time, we have to ensure that victims are supported in coming out, telling their stories, and bringing up allegations in whatever form they take.
We're in the process of rapidly developing a plan to go forward, but it has to be informed by the experts and by our grassroots, and that's what I hope to accomplish here. We are here to listen, and also to learn from you.
We have to learn why previous approaches did not work, learn from that and incorporate those lessons into our plan going forward.
As we go forward, I see us moving forward on two streams. The first stream is that any external review that looks at our organization we have to embrace and fully support with the realization that we don't have all the answers. Then we have to look at and embrace any recommendations that come out of that, including, if necessary, an independent reporting chain to give all our members the confidence—or to restore the confidence—that their allegations will be properly looked into.
Second, and of more urgency, are the internal actions we need to take. I have talked about listening and learning. Ensuring that victim support is in place is an immediate priority. We have to respect due process for the ongoing investigations.
With regard to Op Honour in particular, I believe—and I have heard from many—that perhaps this operation has culminated and that we need to harvest what has worked from there, learn from what hasn't, and go forward with a deliberate change plan, a deliberate plan that includes not only members of the Canadian Armed Forces but also our public servant colleagues as well.
We need to align our internal organizations, because we have disparate pockets that are focused on this problem, and perhaps better alignment is required amongst the different organizations.
We have to continue to implement the provisions of Bill and then Bill and, along with that, the restorative engagement that comes with the final settlement.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
It's a pleasure to continue the discussion. I hope that my connection is better than it was in the first hour. I want to apologize to all the committee members and witnesses.
Mr. Eyre and Ms. Allen, it's truly an honour to have you here today. I'd like to make a few comments before I ask my question.
The figures are alarming: 4.3% of women in the regular force and 7% of women in the reserve force reported that they had been sexually assaulted in the context of the military workplace. The figures are 1.1% to 1.2% for men. There's also the issue of the higher prevalence of sexual assault in the military workplace among certain groups of women: indigenous women, women who are members of a visible minority, women who are junior non-commissioned members and other women. In addition, 28% of women in the regular force and 34% of women in the reserve force have experienced sexual or discriminatory behaviour, compared to 13% of men.
I'm sharing this information because I've recently been attending various United Nations meetings that clearly show that the issue of violence is directly related to the concept of equity and equality between men and women. To ensure that more women feel that they belong in the military, follow in Ms. Allen's footsteps, and hold senior positions in the institution, the key is to build their confidence.
I want to hear your thoughts on this matter before I continue with my questions.
That is a very important question because whoever we select for leader positions, the first considerations are setting both the individual and the institution up for success. It's having the skills, the attributes and the experience to be able to be successful in that position.
I could tell you from my previous job as the army commander that we have an unprecedented number of women as commanding officers of combat arms units. This is very non-traditional, but they were selected not because they're women, but because they're good. As we take a look around the world today, a number of our missions are being commanded by these very same leaders, who are doing exceptional work.
One of the challenges we face is our system. How long does it take to get a general officer with 25 or 30 years of experience? It takes 25 or 30 years. We have a tremendous crop at the lieutenant-colonel commander level that is coming up through the system now. They will have the operational experience, the skills and the credibility to really lead this institution, but it's going to take some time.
In the meantime, every general officer we appoint is on my recommendation and is someone who I am absolutely confident has the skills, the attributes and the experience to succeed.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you so much, General Eyre and General Allen, for your service and also for your ideas and thoughtful comments about how to move forward.
My question, General Eyre—and I'll ask General Allen too—is this: We want to focus here on victims, on the survivors and on moving forward. Because you have been in the job only a few weeks, you referred earlier to looking at closure versus legal steps, and the challenges with that. You say you want to learn more.
What can we, as a committee, do to help you as to suggestions on how to gather that information? Can you expand a bit on that?
I'd like to hear General Allen, too, to see how you can expand to be listening more to the CAF members who are looking for closure.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank Lieutenant-General Eyre and Lieutenant-General Allen once again for joining us today.
Yes, Mr. Eyre, I was referring to Bill . I know that you're looking at workplace harassment and Bill , which amends the National Defence Act and makes related changes. I gather that work will be done once the bills have been implemented. If you want to add anything, you can do so.
When I was talking about an external oversight committee, I was referring to a recommendation in Marie Deschamps' report, which dates back to 2015 and which recommended the creation of an independent body to handle reports of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.
According to a March 9, 2021, article in the Globe and Mail, the Government of Canada was looking at creating an independent body to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct, racism and discrimination. The article talked about current cases of sexual misconduct that affected various communities, including indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities, along with racialized women.
What structure is currently in place to handle reports of sexual misconduct and what's the reporting relationship between this structure and the Canadian Armed Forces?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would concur with the CDS, in the sense that yes, absolutely, our rank structure requires that junior members listen to and obey the direction of senior members. However, as the CDS said, there is a context that is associated with that.
Certainly, in the execution of activities and operations that are under way, this type of a structure is quite critical to the execution of military operations in a safe and effective way. That being said, there needs to be a way in which individuals, if they are concerned they are being asked to engage or undertake an activity that they have concerns about, can go to their chain of command and identify concerns.
Again, it's finding this line between what is necessary for immediate, effective operations and an opportunity for individuals to reflect and consult on the best way forward in this. It's a bit of a knife's edge to walk along. However, I think we can create an environment in which this dichotomy between directly following rules and orders and being allowed to question and propose alternatives can coexist within the Canadian Forces.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you very much. It's nice to be subbing at this committee, which I participated in earlier in my parliamentary career. There's good work that this committee can do in terms of recommendations.
I also welcome and congratulate our two guests we have today. This is the first time General Eyre is appearing before this committee as the acting chief of the defence staff. I congratulate General Allen on her appointment as the first female vice-chief of the defence staff. Your careers have been incredible. You're incredibly qualified. These are incredibly meritorious. General Allen, in looking at your career history, you have served our country very nobly. I am very pleased to welcome both of you here.
I have a question for both of you, and would ask that you both respond. In the discussions, and when we're listening to survivors, we often hear there are policies and processes that we put in place that are very well intentioned. We've put a number of those in place since 2015, but sometimes they can have unintended consequences, so there's a need to constantly evolve and review.
I noticed, General Eyre, you mentioned the duty to report. We all struggle with the concept of bystanders and the obligations of bystanders. I also know that taking consent away from a person, taking agency and power from a person regarding where they want to go and whether they want to have an investigation.... Many people need to go through processes first. They need to start with counselling, peer support, discussing options, and then, once they get to the point of comfort, they may actually proceed with a formal complaint and an investigation. It doesn't always happen that somebody would jump right from zero to “I want to make a formal complaint”.
What are the processes in place that would give survivors and those impacted, who we know are men and women and non-binary, the opportunity to seek out for themselves what they need and what they want to have happen? How do they keep that agency and power over what the end result will be? If you could both please answer that, it would be great.
I would add that it is very much that sensitivity to allowing people to have agency over how they wish to share that information, and what they want done with that information as it goes forward. That speaks to the benefit of the SMRC, and that it is separate from the Canadian Forces, where members can seek advice and support.
As Dr. Preston described to the committee before, part of the process is to always be ready to guide the member if working towards reporting is something they wish to do, to help them look at what their options are and how they might wish to go forward with that, and to help people forward.
Certainly, the SMRC fulfills a good role. There are probably more options, and you've seen that through the programs that Dr. Preston has been looking to put in place, which will allow people to even seek support outside of the SMRC itself, through civilian entities that may be nearby.
The point that was raised is absolutely correct. We have to keep thinking about those types of issues as we are developing our solutions base moving forward.