I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting 16 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2020. Committee members are attending in person or remotely using the Zoom application.
The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.
The webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee.
We're all experienced at this. We know how this all works, so I'm going to move this ahead. I will quickly remind you that all comments by members should be addressed through the chair. When speaking, especially those who do not have a headset this morning, and answering questions, please speak very slowly and clearly. This will give our interpreters what they need in order to interpret what you're saying. Written statements are fine, because the interpreters were able to review them in advance, but when answering questions, if you're not wearing a headset, please slow down and speak clearly.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, the committee is resuming its study of addressing sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces, including the allegations against former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance.
With us today, by video conference, for the first hour and 15 minutes, we have the Honourable Marie Deschamps, former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who will join us shortly, and retired Colonel Michel Drapeau.
From the Department of National Defence, we have Brigadier-General Andrew Atherton, director general of professional military conduct, and Dr. Denise Preston, executive director of the sexual misconduct response centre.
Up to six minutes will be given for opening remarks, after which we will proceed with rounds of questions.
I welcome all of you. Thank you all for coming to the committee. We understand how valuable your time is and we appreciate that you are willing to spend some of it with us today.
I invite Dr. Denise Preston to begin with an opening statement of up to six minutes.
Good morning, Madam Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for the invitation to join you today.
My name is Dr. Denise Preston. I'm a forensic and clinical psychologist with over 30 years of experience dealing with harmful and criminal behaviour. I've been the executive director of the sexual misconduct response centre, or SMRC, since May 2017.
As many of you know from my past appearances, I report directly to the deputy minister of National Defence. As such, I am independent of the chain of command and do not speak on behalf of Operation Honour or the Canadian Armed Forces; however, my team and I work closely with the CAF to ensure we meet the needs of CAF members and the organization.
SMRC's mandate consists of three broad pillars: to provide support services to CAF members who are affected by sexual misconduct; to provide expert advice on all aspects of sexual misconduct in the CAF, including policy, prevention, reporting and research; and to monitor CAF's progress in addressing sexual misconduct. It's important to note that the counsellors who provide support are civilians who do not have the duty to report. As such, calls are confidential, and we do not require identifying information in order to provide assistance.
As part of the final settlement agreement related to sexual misconduct, SMRC is leading on the development of a restorative engagement program that will provide opportunities for class members to share their experiences of sexual misconduct with senior defence representatives. The goals of the program are to allow class members to be heard and acknowledged, to begin to restore relationships between class members and the CAF and to contribute to culture change.
SMRC has evolved significantly in the five years since its inception. Demand for our services and expertise has increased year after year, and we have helped shape Operation Honour policies and programs. Despite the work that has been done, there is undeniably more to do. Meaningful culture change is a top priority, because the sexualized culture observed by Madam Deschamps persists.
While reporting of sexual misconduct is an institutional priority, it is also a very personal decision. We cannot expect reporting to increase significantly when many barriers to reporting remain. The duty to report has been repeatedly identified as a significant barrier, because affected members lose autonomy over whether, when and how to report their experiences, and it can silence them from speaking to potential sources of support in the Canadian Armed Forces[. Retaliation and reprisal in response to reporting are frequently identified as barriers, and these are not well documented or addressed.
Finally, there's a need to collect analysis and reporting on sexual misconduct to enable better organizational understanding, response and accountability. SMRC will continue to press on these and other priorities going forward.
Thank you again for this opportunity. I look forward to your questions.
Good morning, Madam Chair and committee members. Thank you very much for the opportunity to discuss Operation Honour and our efforts to provide a safe and respectful environment for all.
I am the Director General of Professional Military Conduct. My organization leads the strategic level planning and coordination for the Canadian Armed Forces’ efforts to address sexual misconduct.
Our group engages with internal and external groups, such as subject matter experts, academics and advocacy groups, to discuss our approach, and solicit input, feedback and advice.
While Operation Honour remains very much a work in progress, the CAF has taken significant steps to address all forms of sexual misconduct in support of this crucial mission. We have implemented important foundational work in the areas of policy, procedures, training and education, and support for those affected. We acknowledge that there is much more work to do and I want to assure you that we are continually striving to enhance our approach.
Any form of sexual misconduct is unacceptable. It harms our people, erodes team cohesion and jeopardizes our operational effectiveness. All CAF members have a duty to report all incidents to the chain of command. However, depending on the nature of the incident, it may be reported to the military police, Canadian Forces national investigation service, civilian police or the integrated conflict and complaint management service.
We acknowledge that reporting can be the source of significant stress for affected persons. When people come forward, we must ensure that they are heard, supported and that any allegations are referred to the appropriate authorities. For this reason, there are a number of options for individuals to seek care and support without submitting a formal report through to the chain of command, most notably through the sexual misconduct response centre, which operates independently from the CAF.
Our first concern is always with the well-being of our members. We never want the stress of reporting to prevent someone from getting the care and support that they need. That said, we know we need to do everything we can to reduce the barriers to reporting so that anyone who experiences or witnesses sexual misconduct feels safe and supported to come forward.
In her 2015 report on sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in the CAF, former Supreme Court justice, the Honourable Marie Deschamps made it clear that culture change is key to addressing sexual misconduct within our ranks. She was absolutely right.
Most recently, in the fall of 2020, we released a culture change strategy to guide and coordinate Operation Honour efforts across the CAF. The Path to Dignity and Respect includes a framework for addressing sexual misconduct through culture change, an implementation plan and a performance measurement framework.
This strategy is informed by, and very sensitive to, the experience of those who have been affected by sexual misconduct within the CAF. It also draws on research, evidence and recommendations from subject matter experts and stakeholders.
The strategy establishes a comprehensive, long-term approach for preventing and addressing sexual misconduct targeting culture. It is a significant step in the right direction but it is by no means the final version. We will continue to engage with experts, stakeholders and those who have been affected, to discuss the strategy, solicit feedback and refine our approach.
We know we have much more to do, and we will. In pursuit of the total culture change of which the has spoken, we know that we have much more to do, and we will. We will not stop until all CAF members can deliver operational excellence with the full support of an institution that fosters mutual trust, respect and dignity.
Madam Chair, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. I look forward to taking your questions.
Madam Chair, let me open by thanking members of the committee for giving me the honour to appear before the committee on a matter that is of interest to me as a former soldier and as an author and lawyer specializing in military law matters.
I have followed the discussion that has taken place in the public domain about the recent allegations against the former chief of the defence staff, who is also a Governor in Council appointment. Please know that I have also listened to the testimonies presented to your committee last Friday by the minister and deputy minister.
In my opening remarks, I will make three separate comments.
First, I understand that in 2018, the ombudsman received allegations of misconduct against the then chief of the defence staff. Acting in strict accord with the 2001 ministerial directives governing his role and function, the ombudsman reported these allegations to the Minister of National Defence because he lacked the authority to investigate these allegations. From that point onwards, the matter rested with the minister, who in my opinion had a duty to investigate.
In fact, the National Defence Act already provides for such an opportunity. I am referring here to section 45 of the National Defence Act, which reads as follows:
The Minister, and such other authorities as the Minister may prescribe or appoint for that purpose, may, where it is expedient that the Minister or any such other authority should be informed on any matter connected with the government, discipline, administration or functions of the Canadian Forces or affecting any officer or non-commissioned member, convene a board of inquiry for the purpose of investigating and reporting on that matter.
Furthermore, article 21.081 of the Queen's regulations and orders also empowers the minister to appoint a military judge as a board of inquiry. Under the circumstances, this is something that could have been done.
Let me now turn to my second point.
Over the past two decades, the Canadian Forces have received several warnings about the endemic sexual misconduct crisis within its ranks. Worse yet, in her 2016 report, Justice Marie Deschamps concluded that a high percentage of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases went unreported because victims were deeply suspicious that the Canadian Forces were not taking their complaints seriously and they feared repercussions that could harm their career advancement.
In her report, Justice Deschamps insisted that an independent centre for accountability for sexual misconduct be created outside the Canadian Forces. In response, the centre was placed under the control of the Department of National Defence and located at that department's headquarters in Ottawa. In my view, this is certainly not the kind of independence envisioned and desired by victims of sexual misconduct.
Let's be clear, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces are both stakeholders in this crisis. They work together on a daily basis, are interdependent and share the same headquarters at National Defence. For a victim of sexual harassment or assault, these two organizations are virtually identical, and neither can be considered external or independent.
My third point refers to the 1997 report of the commission of inquiry into the Somalia deployment, in which Justice Gilles Létourneau wrote:
Members of the armed forces who feel the need to initiate a complaint often feel they face two unpalatable choices—either to suffer in silence or to buck the system with all the perils such action entails. In my view, Canadians in uniform do require and deserve to have a dedicated and protected channel of communication to the Minister's office.
As a central piece of his report, Justice Létourneau went on to recommend the creation of a civilian inspector general, directly responsible to Parliament, as an essential part of the mechanism to oversee and control the Canadian Armed Forces. The inspector general would be appointed by the Governor in Council and be made accountable to Parliament, with broad authority to inspect, investigate and report on all aspects of national defence and the armed forces.
Most importantly, Justice Létourneau emphasized that any member of the Canadian Armed Forces and any public servant in DND would be permitted to approach the inspector general directly for whatever reason and without first seeking prior approval of the chain of command.
To conclude, things would have had a very different outcome in 2018 had an inspector of the armed forces been in existence, because this would have provided potential and actual complainants access to a trusted and independent office capable and skilled to investigate any allegations of misconduct. It would have provided the minister, DND, PCO and Parliament the assurance that any such complaint would have been properly investigated. In my considered opinion, the idea of such an appointment is as valid today as it was back in 1997.
This completes my opening remarks.
Madam Chair, ladies and gentlemen, thank you.
My presentation will be very brief. I have given you some notes, but this morning's headlines might make me change the order of the points in my presentation.
My report is already more than six years old, since I held my interviews in 2014. As I listen to the comments, I have the impression that today little has changed.
First, with respect to the allegations concerning General Vance, you won't be surprised to hear that I was completely unaware of them. I was in contact with General Vance on a number of occasions and, at first, I felt that he was not being given an accurate picture of the situation. However, there was a changing of the guard and afterwards I felt that the information he was receiving was a little more accurate. I know this is one of your committee's concerns.
The second concern relates to what is being done more generally in the Canadian Armed Forces regarding sexual misconduct. I have already read the strategy entitled “The Path to Dignity and Respect: The Canadian Forces Sexual Misconduct Response Strategy”. I have already shared my comments with those who have consulted me. I told them that I expected to find concrete measures in the document regarding its implementation. Unfortunately, I found none. I was told that they were in other, more tactical documents instead.
Today, I thought I would present you with some very concrete measures. I believe they should have been implemented over the past five years, but your committee could quite easily press for them. The first one I'm going to talk to you about was already among the topics I had thought of, but after reading the Global News headlines this morning, I changed the order of the points in my presentation, as I was telling you. When I read that Major Brennan did not know where to turn, I had a hard time understanding that. In fact, as early as 2015, with the creation of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, of which Ms. Preston is the executive director, I had indicated that the centre should have the mandate to be the primary authority for receiving reports. So when I read that Major Brennan did not know where to turn, I find it incredible that the centre has not yet been given that mandate.
I have seen the changes to the defence administrative orders and directives, and nowhere in them does it say that the centre has the authority to receive reports, let alone that it is the lead authority. As I see it, this could be implemented concretely and without delay.
The second point I want to present to you is very concrete, and one measure could be implemented as a priority. It is the issue of data.
You have already heard Ms. Preston indicate that data collection is her priority.
Again, in the mandate of the centre that I recommended be created in 2015, I indicated that it should be the lead authority for gathering data. By 2014, I had found that several databases existed, but that they were not communicating with each other. The data was not being collated in a consistent way.
Therefore, if you find a charge or prosecution for assault, the database will not indicate whether the charge is sexual assault. I mention that to give you an idea. I'm not going to teach you the importance of good data in assessing problems and finding solutions. It's fundamental if we want to hold people accountable.
Not only is the centre not the central authority, it does not even have direct access to the data. In my opinion, giving the centre this responsibility or at least giving it access to the data seems to me to be a priority.
I will stick to these two points because I want to give you time to ask your questions. I congratulate you in advance for the work you will be doing.
I'm curious to know whether the interpreters were able to grasp what I said.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and I want to thank all our witnesses for coming in today to speak about these very serious allegations.
I have to say that after seeing the interview with Major Kellie Brennan yesterday, I have to applaud her for her bravery and her candour. I'm more deeply disturbed now about these allegations than ever before.
Thinking back on the minister appearing at committee on Friday, just provided a bunch of non-answers. It upset me all weekend that he wouldn't address even the simplest thing, including confirming the meeting with former defence ombudsman Gary Walbourne. Either the minister was trying to protect himself, when really he should be worried about protecting members of the Canadian Armed Forces who, as our witnesses said so eloquently today, aren't sure where they even should be reporting to despite there being the sexual misconduct response centre, which has been established now for six years.... It is very disturbing.
Colonel Drapeau, you have made some comments in the media. I appreciate that you have that knowledge from serving in the Canadian Armed Forces as well as from being a lawyer who has specialized in the National Defence Act and military justice. Do you feel, based on what's transpired here over the last month, that properly exercised his authority and responsibilities to the Canadian Armed Forces as prescribed under the National Defence Act?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you all for being here.
Thank you to all of you for making time to be with the committee today and for offering your expertise and experience.
I want to start by coming back to something that was mentioned by Colonel Drapeau in his opening statement. He made the point that allegations of harassment were made in 2018, but I also believe I heard Mr. Drapeau just say he doesn't know the content of the conversation between the ombudsman and the minister.
I just want to clarify for the record that this committee has not heard that there were or were not allegations in 2018. I think all we know is that the Privy Council Office determined that there was not any actionable information.
My question is for Justice Deschamps and Dr. Preston. It's the same question for both.
I'll direct it to you, Justice Deschamps, and then, Dr. Preston, if you would also try to answer it, I'd appreciate it.
What is the process and what should be done when someone wants to bring forward concerns of sexual harassment but doesn't want to file an official complaint?
Perfect. I'll start again, in the second official language. Or the first, depending on how you look at it.
In 2014, victims—mostly women—who were not ready to file a complaint really had no recourse. I recommended that victims of harassment or assault have a place to go for support. Supporting victims is the primary concern. In my mind, it had to be clear where that place was, and it was the centre.
At that point, I also recommended that someone act as an advocate. I did not mention this in the concrete points I brought up earlier. This person could take charge of the case, talk to the victim and lead them to be sufficiently recovered and comfortable to lodge a complaint. The person acting as an advocate could support the victim and help them decide where they wanted to make a complaint.
In a few words, that was the recommendation I made in 2015.
Thank you very much for the question.
In practice, the way it happens is very similar to what Madam Deschamps has explained.
The centre is a confidential place for people to come and lay allegations, make complaints and discuss their experiences. Our counsellors will provide whatever services, whatever support they need. We don't require reporting. We don't force reporting. We very much take our cue based on what CAF members want to do. We will support them and provide them with options and choices.
We also have a service called the response and support coordination program, where we will assign a dedicated counsellor to the CAF members, if they so desire. That counsellor will fulfill all the roles that Madam Deschamps talked about—advocacy, accompaniment, support, helping negotiate the whole journey that they're going on—and really be a partner to them throughout the entire journey, if and when they decide to report.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
My thanks to all the witnesses for being here today. We are having some technical issues and I'm sorry for that, but the House staff are doing everything they can to make this meeting possible. I would like to commend and thank them for that.
My first question is for Mr. Drapeau. You said earlier that, under section 45 of the National Defence Act, the Minister has the power to step in.
Why do you feel he didn't step in at that time, since he had the power to do so?
I'll address your first question, which is about the lack of power of the centre.
It is true that the centre I run does not have accountability over CAF. We have no authority over CAF. At best, what is in our mandate is that we are to monitor CAF's efforts to implement Operation Honour. In order for us to be able to monitor their efforts, we need to have access to certain information and certain sets of data. That is not something right now that is well established. It's certainly a priority we're continuing to work on.
With respect to the second part of your question about people not knowing about the centre, it is absolutely a critical priority for us to continue to raise awareness so that people are aware of the centre. Internal surveys do indicate that a large number of members are aware of the centre. They may or may not have actually used our services, but they are aware of it. However, we continue to conduct outreach on an ongoing basis. We travel across the country and visit bases and wings and do quite extensive outreach. However, clearly it's an indication that we need to do more.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Let me apologize if there are bandwidth problems. We have now lost Internet service to my house, so I'm tethered through my cellphone. Therefore, I have been in and out of the meeting and may have missed part of this discussion.
I want to start by thanking Major Brennan for her courage in coming forward over the weekend. I think the allegations she brought forward are extremely troubling, and I'm going to ask questions about whether Operation Honour and the Canadian forces can simply proceed as if nothing has happened here. I will not ask Dr. Preston or the brigadier-general those questions, because I believe that, as they are within the Department of National Defence or the Canadian Armed Forces, I would be putting them in a compromised position.
My first question is for Colonel Drapeau. It's a technical and legal question. Whether or not, as one of my colleagues suggested, we know if allegations were made to the , we do know allegations were made in 2018. That was confirmed by the Privy Council Office, whether or not they found them actionable.
In that circumstance, Colonel Drapeau, could the have removed the chief of the defence staff either from his position temporarily or at least from his position of being in charge of Operation Honour?
Okay, there you go. I'm sorry about that.
Mr. Drapeau, when the minister testified before committee, he said that he had always passed everything to the proper authority.
I just want to clarify from your testimony, in the case of possible allegations, whatever they may be, that the minister was, in fact, himself the proper authority and had not only the duty but the facility to act. The buck stops with him. Is that your testimony?
In a democracy, the trust and confidence in a standing military is fundamentally dependent on elected civilian oversight, i.e., a minister of national defence. Yet we understand the possibility, as a result of this minister's friendship, working relationship, long history, and possibly other compromising information between and former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance, that there may in fact be a conflict of interest with the minister hindering his ability to carry out his duties as a minister.
Could you provide some comment? As members of Parliament or Canadian citizens, how do we ensure that a minister of national defence is not compromised, not able to be leveraged or influenced, and is able to carry out his critical oversight as an elected official of a standing military that has the right to bear arms?
I would just like to caution that this committee needs to be very careful. When we start using words like “compromised” or “leveraged” and innuendo about relationships when referring to a minister, I really think there's a lot being said here that we really need to take a step back from. We need to be careful about things that are being alleged that have absolutely no bearing in fact.
That said, I also think there has been a lot of speculation in the media and there have been a lot of things said here that do not bear out when we look at the actual testimony. There has been nothing here that says there were any allegations in 2018. There's nothing here that says if there was anything raised, it was even the same as what was raised two weeks ago. All we know is that whatever was raised was referred. We have heard PCO say that there was nothing actionable.
I think we need to be very careful. There is a real concern here, which is why is it that if there were women who have experienced this who came forward, these women did not want to make official complaints?
I would like Madam Deschamps and Dr. Preston to talk about the fact that if somebody comes forward and says that something has happened but absolutely does not want that to go through a formal process, does not want that to be repeated and wants it held confidential, what is it that we can do in those circumstances? What is the proper process in those kinds of circumstances, and how can we improve that?
Madam Deschamps, could you please start by perhaps talking about some of the things that have been said in the testimony today about the 's responsibility and whether you agree with that?
First of all, I'm not sufficiently familiar with the statute to comment on what Colonel Drapeau has suggested.
However, as to your point on what someone who has suffered sexual abuse, sexual harassment or sexual misconduct can do, I think the first thing that should be done is to go to the root of why that person does not want to speak out, because not reporting will only compound the problem. This is where the expert advice and expert support of the centre is very important, because if we have too many unreported incidents, what we call in the jargon “restricted reports”, which are reports that are kept confidential, signalling disclosures that are kept confidential, we will not be achieving significant progress.
One of the key roles of the centre is to support the person and walk her or him through the process to ensure that the person, first of all, will not suffer retaliation but become strong enough to speak up.
Madam Chair and members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak today.
My name is Dr. Maya Eichler. I am an associate professor and Canada research chair at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. My research focuses on gender integration and sexual violence in the Canadian Armed Forces.
I will take this opportunity to reflect on the limitations of Operation Honour. I will argue that it is time to refocus our attention on military culture change and accountability through external oversight. I will highlight two limitations of Operation Honour. Operation Honour aimed to eliminate sexual misconduct, but it never asked why sexual misconduct happens or how institutions change. Let me explain.
Operation Honour never addressed the root causes of sexual misconduct. Most significantly, Operation Honour did not make the link between sexual misconduct and military culture, specifically, the role of gender and masculinity in it. The Canadian Armed Forces is a unique workplace that is designed around an unstated but institutionally assumed white heterosexual male norm. The culture of the military is the outcome of a long history of legally sanctioned sex and gender discrimination against those who don't fit that male norm. Legal discriminations have been removed against women and LGBTQ2 members, but those labelled as “other” for not fitting the preconceived norm of the Canadian soldier are often still treated like less than ideal soldiers.
This entrenched white heterosexual male norm of the Canadian soldier is at the very core of military culture. It is the perpetuation of that norm that enables gender-based violence, including sexual harassment, sexual assault and such other “isms” as racism. When we talk about root causes, we need to also keep in mind the unique nature of the military as a federally regulated workplace. The military makes exceptional demands on its workers, but it has weak workers' rights. The military gives number one priority to operational readiness, demanding from its workers unlimited liability, universality of service, total dedication to work, uniformity, hierarchy, obedience, as well as loyalty to the group and mission before self. Yet there is no union or independent oversight body to truly defend military members' rights or support their work-related concerns.
It is these exceptional demands of military work that have often been used in the past to justify the military as a—if not the—quintessentially male workplace. As such, it is simply astounding to me that Operation Honour documents routinely lack any reference to gender, masculinity, or men, or the unique dynamics of the military workplace. It will require a foundational shift in the military's culture, gender and workplace in order to address sexual misconduct in a meaningful way.
This brings me to the second limitation of Operation Honour, which is its incorrect and simplistic assumptions about how institutions change. Operation Honour assumed that change can come about by ordering everyone to stop engaging in sexual misconduct, that is, by changing individual behaviours. No one took steps to ensure that CAF members had the resources and supports they needed to implement Operation Honour. This situation was compounded by a generalized lack of institutional expertise on sexual misconduct, culture change or gender issues. CAF declared Operation Honour its top institutional priority, but its words did not match what people on the ground were seeing. This disconnect produced fatigue and resistance.
Perhaps even more importantly, the problem with Operation Honour was that it was about the military reforming itself. There is no evidence that such an approach can work and bring the necessary changes. This is especially the case considering the military showed reluctance, if not some resistance, towards following the recommendations of the Deschamps report. Rather than setting up the recommended independent external accountability centre, CAF chose to self-monitor. Time has proven that this type of approach—it did not address root causes, was reactive and inconsistent, and was based on self-monitoring—was too linear and simplistic to succeed and solve the complex problem it sought to address.
We have an opportunity right now to capture these lessons learned from Operation Honour, and to move forward towards culture change and accountability through external oversight.
I conclude with two key points. The CAF needs culture change. First, the CAF needs a comprehensive strategy that acknowledges its institutional role and responsibility in preventing sexual misconduct, along with all other forms of discrimination and violence in the military workplace. Second, the CAF needs oversight. Given the ongoing resistance to military culture change, long-term independent, external oversight is required. This is the only way to ensure true accountability, and the only way to ensure the health and well-being of all women and men in the Canadian military.
I was pleased to hear the minister acknowledge on Friday that toxic elements of masculinity exist within the Canadian Armed Forces, and that he recognizes the need for a complete and total culture change. To me, the important question today is: What are the next steps that your committee can take to move this process along in a way that provides clear direction to the minister, the department and the Canadian Armed Forces, including on creating some form of oversight?
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.
Madam Chair, I'm speaking to you from Toronto, the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Chippewa and the Wendat peoples.
My comments will be in English.
I have been engaged in issues of harassment in the CAF for over 40 years, and I see strengths and weaknesses in the current version of the movie.
Leaders at all levels are seeking to address issues and do the right thing. The supporting functions provided by the SMRC are helpful and the recent Path to Dignity and Respect has some promising ideas, but Operation Honour has not had the results intended. Why?
The reason has been an incomplete understanding of the issues, which has led to incomplete solutions. As heard, this is underpinned by unwillingness to critically assess certain aspects of CAF identity and culture. Six years ago, General Lawson said that CAF culture and behaviours had improved from the 1990s. While he was correct, the CAF had not been attending to evolutions across society. Expectations around the standard of workplace conduct have continued to rise. People are no longer prepared to ignore, endure or accept behaviours that may not have been called out in the past.
So while there has been some progress in the last five years, the gap has likely grown yet again. I'll note that two years ago senior leaders said they didn't know what the root causes are. External experts said they did, but weren't being listened to. The problem is that the issue has been framed as about sexual misconduct. The description of the term puts the emphasis on the first word: describing it as sexual advances, sexual overtones, flirting. There are CAF members who annoy people with overtures, but the key issue is not about sex. If I hit you with a shovel, you wouldn't call it inappropriate gardening.
It's about power. It's using sexually and racially coded language to create and police social hierarchies about who is important and who is not. And it's about the death by a thousand cuts of an individual's self-worth, identity and sense of belonging. That's what's getting broken, not people feeling uncomfortable seeing an explicit picture or hearing an off-colour joke.
The Path starts to expand the framing of the problem. It's taken 40 years, but it's a good first step. It acknowledges that there are cultural factors that can increase incidents of sexual misconduct, but the door is only opened very slightly. There are a couple of carefully worded statements that gender stereotypes, outdated conceptions of the warrior, and a male-dominated workforce can create harmful cultural dynamics, but nothing more, and nothing of substance in the rest of the document to address even those.
The key omission is the continued reluctance to name power and militarized masculinities. This requires a careful and critical analysis of how the military constructs the soldier, sailor and aviator and, equally, the leader and the commander. We need to examine the institutionalized and systemic processes that shape military identity, and ask: How much of one's identity do they have to give up in order to be successful in the CAF?
Most of those leading have not had to think about this. Left-handed people know they live in a right-handed world, but right-handed people don't. It isn't apparent to us when the world is constructed to fit us. The CAF was a good fit for most seniors and we still have some who don't realize or can't see why it isn't a good fit for others. They continue to use terms and narratives that they believe resonate with all, but actually serve to accentuate the dominant identity, hence increasing the social hierarchies and leaving some feeling isolated, ignored or not valued for who they are.
The Path indicates that work will be done to update professional development and enhance leadership capacities. Both are needed, but should be informed by analyses of CAF identity and the practices of militarized masculinities, which the minister alluded to. As part of this, I would identify a 2016 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report that identified 12 factors that increase the risk of workplace harassment. The CAF has 10 of these and is at the high end on six: significant power disparities, encouraging alcohol consumption, a young workforce, use of coarse language, single-gender dominated culture, and a homogeneous workforce. Only two are reflected in the Path.
Proper considerations of the institutional and systemic factors that create the conditions where sexualized language is used to diminish others requires the CAF to shift away from the current focus on the weak individual. Harassment incidents and lack of reporting are not because people haven't read the definition or don't know how to file a report. There are strong social factors that are intentionally created by the CAF that set these conditions. Major Brennan addressed some of these.
Addressing these factors means challenging some central tenets of the profession, facets that are key to success but also create unhealthy conditions. Obedience to authority, normative conformity and group loyalty are essential. They also create intense social pressure to fit in, to conform and, above all, to stay silent. Power and hierarchies are critical to effective command, but signal that it's acceptable for individuals to use social power against others.
Members need to know their buddy will have their back when the brown stuff hits the rotating object, but this means people are constantly judging others to see if they measure up. Outdated stereotypes continue to put women under the microscope to constantly be tested and forced to prove they can do the job.
My comments lead to a key issue. The first objective of Operation Honour is leadership-driven culture change. There is still no clarity on which aspects of the CAF culture are to be changed and which are allowed to remain the same. The central question for this committee is if that is a decision CAF leaders make on their own.
I look forward to your questions.
Unfortunately, if we are going to reserve 15 minutes for the motion brought up earlier, we'll have to suspend here and allow our witnesses to sign off because it's now quarter to one.
I just want to say thank you to the witnesses. I apologize for the technological challenges we've had today. I think you've brought quite a lot to this discussion, which was very important, about how these things happen and how we make it so they don't happen. On behalf of all of the members of the committee, we appreciate your joining us and your time.
Thank you very much.
We're going to suspend for a couple of minutes, and then we'll reconvene and bring a motion to the floor.
We're going to resume this meeting. Thank you, everyone, for your patience.
All the committee members will have received an email—and please raise your hand if you have not—which included the information that I think is important when it comes to this discussion. The clerk is not allowed to disclose this information in public, and that's why we took the step of sending you an email—so now you do understand.
I also need to remind everyone that when a witness declines an invitation, we can go back to that witness and escalate it and say that it's very important that this happen, but I don't believe we as a committee can compel that witness to appear, just so you understand that. If you wish, what the clerk can do is write a letter to the witness and explain the reasons it's so important for him or her to appear.
We cannot discuss what was sent to you in an email. That is considered to be confidential.
Madam Gallant has her hand up. Does anyone else want to speak to this?
We have Madam Gallant and then Mr. Bezan. Go ahead.
I actually wrote to the law clerk asking for advice. As we all know, witnesses enjoy the same privileges as MPs do at committee and in the House. They cite a number of examples. I'd circulate this, but it's only in English. Unfortunately, what you've just circulated from the clerk was only in English, and I just caution that we shouldn't be doing that.
Despite the fact that he received legal counsel, he may not have received the best legal counsel on whether or not to appear. The law clerk pointed out to me that witnesses who appear before committees are also protected from arrest and molestation as are members of Parliament, and that the legal proceedings up until this point in time have not been able to be inserted into a court of law.
In particular, the law clerk made mention of the sponsorship scandal and testimony provided by former minister Alfonso Gagliano. In that situation, the Quebec Superior Court actually struck any use of testimony from committee in legal proceedings. If Mr. Walbourne does appear because we've passed a formal motion to summon him, then he would be afforded the same protections that each and every one of us are afforded.
I would also just add that we're talking about whether or not we can force a witness to appear. I believe the rule on that is that the committee could go the next step after issuing a summons based upon a motion from the committee that was transcribed into a letter from the clerk to Mr. Walbourne, if we wanted to. If he still declines it and if we decide to want to go one step further, we could then pass a motion to take to the House and to the Speaker to ultimately subpoena him to appear.
I'll make the argument that, based upon all the reporting that has gone on, it seems that a meeting took place in March 2018 that first raised the spectre of sexual misconduct on behalf of the former chief of the defence staff. obfuscated when he was at committee on Friday over whether or not that meeting took place. I think we need to have Mr. Walbourne appear at this committee.
I encourage colleagues to support this motion, so that we can get down to the bottom of this and ultimately, without tainting the investigation on General Vance that is taking place right now, start setting the processes in motion to change the way sexual misconduct is reported and how organizations within the Canadian Armed Forces and National Defence operate. We can make the place more protected and safer for all members of the Canadian Armed Forces, so that they can operate in a respectful and welcoming manner.
Madam Chair, we wouldn't be in this unfortunate situation if the had been more forthcoming. No one has asked him to talk about the specifics of allegations, but we are asking whether he had knowledge of allegations. It's not about whether he took action to investigate those, although we heard testimony today that he clearly could have. It's the fact that he took no action to protect serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces against very serious allegations, which have gotten a lot more serious over the weekend.
If the military ombudsman does appear, there may in fact be things that he believes he cannot say. He is free to do that before the committee.
This also illustrates a second problem that we've dealt with for a long time, which is that the military ombudsman is not an officer of Parliament, but in fact reports to the . That creates the situation we're in today. I've long called for the military ombudsman to be an officer of Parliament. We wouldn't be in this situation if he had that independence.
I think it is necessary for us to proceed, but again, I would stress it could be precluded by action from the to provide the information that he failed to provide in our last meeting.
Are there any other further points that people would like to bring up at this time?
Let's see if we can get this through by unanimous consent.
Is there unanimous consent?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: I'm sorry, because we're doing this virtually, does anyone not give their consent to this motion? No.
(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: This has been passed by unanimous consent. Thank you very much. You made that easy.
We're a little bit late, so I'm going to adjourn the meeting.