I call to order meeting number 20 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence.
Today's meeting is in hybrid format, pursuant to the motion adopted by the House on January 25, 2021. Committee members will be present in person or by connecting through Zoom.
The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. So you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking, rather than the entirety of the committee.
For those who are participating virtually, I will outline a few rules to follow. You may speak in the official language of your choice, and interpretation services are available for this meeting. If interpretation is lost, please inform me immediately and we will ensure that the interpretation is properly restored before we continue.
When speaking, and I say this as a reminder to me more than a reminder to you, please speak slowly and clearly in order to help the interpreters with us today do this challenging job. When you're not speaking, please put your mike on mute.
We will do our very best, between the clerk and I, to maintain a consolidated order of speaking for all members, whether they're participating virtually or in person.
Before we begin today, we have a couple of pieces of urgent business. It's something we've been putting off for about the last month, but we really have to address it. It should only take a couple of minutes.
We need to adopt the budget on the committee's study of the impacts of COVID-19 on CAF operations. You've all received the budget details by email. It includes witnesses' expenses, meals and telephone lines.
Do I have agreement to adopt the proposed budget in the amount of $3,000 for our study of access to mental health services within the Canadian Armed Forces?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Do I have agreement to adopt the proposed budget in the amount of $2,775 for the study of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadian Armed Forces operations?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you.
Madam Vandenbeld, go ahead.
Good day, Madam Chair and committee members. Thank you for your time to hear my testimony today.
I'd like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank all of my fellow current and former Canadian Armed Forces service members for their service to this great nation.
My name is Raymond Trotter, and I am a lieutenant-commander in the Royal Canadian Navy, stationed in CFB Esquimalt. I have 21 years of service in the navy. Outside of my naval service, I do have service with the army. I volunteered at the height of the Afghanistan conflict and served in Kandahar in 2008-09. From that, to this day, I still suffer from general anxiety disorder and severe depression from my time during that conflict.
It is my understanding that I have been summoned to this committee to answer questions and address my recent experiences with Operation Honour and sexual misconduct reporting in the Canadian Armed Forces. I will provide you with an opening statement that may address some of your questions.
As many within the Canadian Armed Forces, I was shaken when I learned about sexual misconduct allegations against General Vance, our former chief of the defence staff. Having worked so hard to progress in rooting out sexual harassment and misconduct in the military, it was a big blow to the Canadian Armed Forces.
Shortly after the allegations about General Vance became public, I had an interaction with a Canadian Armed Forces member on February 3, who related to me a traumatic incident that implicated the current chief of the defence staff, Admiral Art McDonald, in allegations of serious sexual misconduct.
The complainant was fearful about reporting the incident. When I advised that I was obligated to report the information, as it involved very serious allegations of misconduct by another member of the Canadian Armed Forces, she indicated that she understood but implored me to keep her name and information confidential.
I found myself in a very difficult position. I understood it was my legal and also ethical duty as an officer to report these serious allegations, but it was much less clear to me to whom I should report an allegation about the chief of the defence staff. The matter was further complicated by the complainant's fears and her request that her name be kept confidential.
That same day, I did inform my commanding officer of the matter. I indicated to my commander that a serious allegation against a senior officer had been reported to me, but that I needed to keep the details confidential. I informed my commander that I would take appropriate steps to report the sensitive matter and simply wanted him to be aware. I have the confidence of my commanding officer, and he indicated that he trusted me to do the right thing.
For the rest of that day, I weighed the appropriate course of action. There was no policy guidance in the Operation Honour directives for a situation like this. Normally, an allegation of sexual misconduct should be reported to the commanding officer of the respondent, but there was no military commanding officer in this case.
The chief of the defence staff is at the top. I also did not feel comfortable reporting the matter to the CF national investigation service as it is within the chain of command and ultimately reports to the chief of the defence staff. After considering the matter further, I decided that I should report it to the sexual misconduct response centre, or perhaps the office of the .
The next day, on Thursday, February 4, I called the sexual misconduct response centre, or SMRC, first thing in the morning. I explained that I wanted to report an incident of sexual misconduct involving a senior officer. I was advised by the intake officer that the SMRC is not a reporting tool, and that its role was to assist with counselling, guidance and support for complainants.
I then called the phone number for the office of the in Ottawa. I spoke to someone who I understood was a civilian employee, something like a switchboard. I identified myself and explained to the call taker that I wanted to speak to someone within the minister's office, as I wanted to report a serious sexual misconduct incident involving a high-ranking officer. I said I needed to protect the details until I spoke to someone with appropriate authority.
I was placed on hold and then another person came on the line, who I understood to be his supervisor. He asked me to confirm my rank, name and organization, which I did. He checked me against the Canadian Forces database, the defence-wide area network, and confirmed who I was.
I explained again that I needed to report a serious allegation of misconduct involving a high-ranking officer to the 's office and that the matter was sensitive. The supervisor took my phone number and said someone from the minister's office would be in contact with me.
A few hours later, on February 4, the SMRC intake officer called me back and explained that, after checking up several levels within her supervisory structure, she could confirm that the SMRC was not a reporting mechanism. It was recommended that I should report it to the 's office or the CFNIS.
I explained that I was uncomfortable with going to the CFNIS given that the respondent was very high-ranking and the CFNIS would be potentially in a conflict of interest. The call ended on that note.
Later that same day, I received a call from someone in the 's office. She identified herself as the chief of staff to the minister. At this point I believed I was in contact with an appropriate authority and I told her I needed to report allegations of sexual misconduct against the chief of the defence staff. She responded that allegations against General Vance were already reported in the press. I then clarified the allegations were about the current chief of the defence staff, Admiral Art McDonald. I recall that she was very surprised by this revelation.
The person who identified as the chief of staff directed me to report the incident to the SMRC. I advised that I had already done that and that the SMRC had already told me twice they were not the appropriate reporting mechanism. I said the SMRC had suggested that I should report the incident to the 's office as there was no one else senior to the chief of the defence staff. The chief of staff, as she described herself, told me she would look into it and get back to me.
Before I heard from her again, i.e., the 's office, I was called by a warrant officer with the Canadian Forces national investigation service in Ottawa. He inquired about the complaint that I was raising, and I understood he had learned about the matter from the SMRC. At this point I felt like I had been running in circles all day, and I said I was willing to talk about it. The warrant officer advised that I would be contacted by CFNIS, the Canadian Forces national investigation service, in Esquimalt, which is where I'm based.
My last call of the day was from the 's office again. The person who identified themselves as the chief of staff advised me she had spoken to a subject matter expert in the deputy minister's office and told me that it was their view that the SMRC was the appropriate reporting tool to respond to a complaint like this. I reiterated, in detail, my interactions with the SMRC and indicated that I felt the subject matter expert she consulted was wrong. She was surprised by this and said she would be bringing the allegation itself to the minister.
The following day, on February 5, I was contacted by the Canadian Forces national investigation service in Esquimalt. I was invited to attend an interview that day, and I did attend. I provided a statement. Nearly three weeks later, Admiral Art McDonald stepped away from his duties as chief of the defence staff.
This is very difficult for me as I was trying to do my duty to the Canadian Armed Forces and to the complainant. I wish there had been more guidance for me. There are many policies, but I am unsure if Operation Honour has been widely accepted within the Canadian Armed Forces yet.
I was involved in another sexual misconduct report later in February, i.e., the next week, and I was disappointed in that experience as well, as some senior personnel I interacted with minimized this other incident. In fact, I was berated in a very demeaning manner for following through on my reporting. I believe I was treated this way because the complaint was also about another senior officer. It was a very discouraging and disappointing experience.
In this environment, I can certainly understand why so many victims of sexual misconduct would be reluctant to come forward.
Thank you, Madam Chair. That concludes my opening statement.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to thank Lieutenant-Commander Trotter for his very brave coming forward. I really appreciate that.
You exemplify what we expect of all our members of the Canadian Armed Forces: truth, valour, bravery and honour. You're doing all the right things and standing up for those who were subjected to sexual misconduct. I applaud you for that.
I know that there are many more in the Canadian Armed Forces, men and women, who would do exactly the same thing, so you are leading by example.
We do know about, and you talked about, the call with Amelie Armstrong.
Madam Chair, this is an individual of interest now. I believe that we need to have her before the committee so that we can get her side of the story. Definitely, you felt that you were talking to the 's office. As someone who used to be the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of National Defence, I can tell you that the office of the chief of staff to the Department of National Defence is closer to the minister's office than the parliamentary secretary's office is.
I know that Ms. Vandenbeld would agree with that. We have an office that's down across the floor but everybody is on the same floor. They're on the executive floor within the Department of National Defence, so there was nothing to say that she didn't walk down to the 's office, past the elevators, and have that conversation with the minister's staff. That's why we need to talk to Ms. Armstrong.
You mentioned, Commander, the special treatment that commanding officers seem to get and the exemptions that they're given through the claims of sexual misconduct. I don't know if you saw The Fifth Estate report last night. They were talking about the issues of.... Do we have bells or is that just the House closing?
I'm sorry about that.
That story, again, was about women being sexually assaulted and experiencing other forms of sexual misconduct. Through Operation Honour, rather than properly providing punitive penalties, all too often it is just administrative measures and the careers of these perpetrators have been able to continue up the path.
Would you agree, Commander, that there's not a harsh enough line being taken to change the culture within the Canadian Armed Forces when it comes to sexual misconduct?
Thank you, my dear friend.
Lieutenant-Commander Trotter, again, I want to go back to your conversation. I never heard of this. I will be honest with you. I just looked up Amelie Armstrong. Other friends of mine around this table have put forward their views on this sort of thing, but I have heard the term “chief of staff” in a political context only in relation to chief of staff to a minister so I certainly understand why you would have thought that. I have never heard of a chief of staff to a department before, but that is, apparently, Amelie Armstrong's role. I thank my colleague, Mr. Bezan, for suggesting she might be a witness.
When you contacted her, and she was responding to the news that you were actually speaking to her about a sexual misconduct complaint about the newly appointed chief of staff, you said she expressed surprise.
At that point, were you surprised it was only the next day, as I go through my notes, that you were called upon at the Esquimalt base to report to an interview at what you thought would be the wrong place to go, the Canadian Forces national investigation service, if I'm not mistaken. You showed up there and had your interview there.
In terms of the circumstances of how that was conducted, could you give us more details on that experience.
Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee.
I want to thank the committee for inviting me back for this two-hour session.
There are points that I hope all members in this committee agree upon. Sexual misconduct and harassment are unacceptable. They're not acceptable in Canadian society. They're not acceptable in the Parliament of Canada and they're definitely not acceptable in the Canadian Armed Forces or the Department of National Defence. We want to prevent it and we support their network. We want to ensure that those who come forward feel safe and confident when sexual misconduct and harassment are reported and investigated.
Eliminating all forms of misconduct and abuse of power and creating a safe work environment for everyone in the defence team has always been my top priority as Minister of National Defence. However, recent media reports show that still too many members of the Canadian Armed Forces do not feel safe to come forward.
I want to be clear that I had no knowledge of these allegations before they were reported. I know, we know, that 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 if they do.
I spent my lifetime serving Canadians, as a police detective, as a Canadian who served in uniform and as a member of Parliament. I know that perpetrators must be held accountable. I know that any organization, including the Canadian Armed Forces, must work hard to eliminate the toxic masculinity that creates an unacceptable culture. We have taken action to change this culture of toxic masculinity and it tackles sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, but we have more work to do and every option is on the table. We owe it to our members and to Canadians to get this right.
As I stated previously, I disagree with parts of Mr. Walbourne's testimony concerning our meeting in 2018. Last week, the former ombudsman presented his version of the facts. In my previous testimony I wanted to respect the confidential nature of my meetings with the former ombudsman, but in light of his testimony, there are issues I need to set straight.
I did meet with Mr. Walbourne on March 1. At the end of a regular meeting with staff, Mr. Walbourne asked to meet alone. The majority of this private meeting did not concern General Vance. Rather, in this private meeting, Mr. Walbourne spent the majority of his time focused on the investigation into claims of misconduct involving him and his office.
As I have said before, any investigation needs to run its course, no matter the rank, no matter the position of those involved. It must be free of political interference. That also applied to the investigation of the ombudsman's office, as I told him at that time. Politicians inserting themselves into an investigation is wrong.
At the very end of this private conversation, Mr. Walbourne brought up concerns of misconduct involving the former chief of the defence staff. He did not give me any details. I did not allow him to give me any details. I very purposely respected the investigative process to ensure that it remained independent.
Drawing an elected official, a politician, into the sequence of an investigation would have been wrong and dangerous. Politicizing any investigation threatens a just outcome for those who come forward. Given his position and experience, Mr. Walbourne should have known this. In our society, the last thing we want is for elected politicians to make decisions that investigators need to make independently.
In Mr. Walbourne's testimony, he stated that he came to me for advice on what to do. I advised him exactly what to do. I said that Mr. Walbourne should use the already existing powers and processes to address the complaint. As Mr. Walbourne stated in his testimony, he knew the powers he had as ombudsman.
According to the directives that govern his office, in matters involving a potential criminal act or breach of code of service discipline, the ombudsman can report these complaints to the judge advocate general, the provost marshal or the military police complaints commission. To my knowledge, Mr. Walbourne did not take these complaints to any of these bodies.
I provided the advice that Mr. Walbourne said he sought. Investigations into complaints like this should start with proper investigative authority, not with an elected official.
To provide Mr. Walbourne with additional support, senior officials in the Privy Council Office were informed of the complaint regarding the former chief of the defence staff. By Mr. Walbourne's own admission, he was asked to provide details regarding this complaint to those appropriate authorities the very next day. Unfortunately, he did not do so. Mr. Walbourne said he sought top cover to show the complainant that we took this allegation seriously.
Madam, Chair, it is because I took this concern so seriously, as I would with any allegations of misconduct, that I raised it to the appropriate independent authority outside of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.
Mr. Walbourne suggested that if he had received feedback, he would have gone back to the complainant to see if they would provide specific information. We did, in fact, provide that feedback. At no time, according to Mr. Walbourne's testimony, did he say he went back to the complainant to ask if they were willing to make a formal complaint following his meeting with these senior officials. I've learned that at no time did the appropriate authorities receive information.
Finally, Mr. Walbourne stated that there was no follow-up. That is not true. Senior officials followed up. Actionable information was asked for. Information was not shared. At the core of our democratic and justice systems, at their very heart, is the belief that any investigation into potential wrongdoing should never come under the sway of political influence. Being involved can prejudice a just outcome for those who come forward. When any concerns or allegations are brought to my attention, I have always followed the proper processes. I would never want to be the reason that somebody who came forward did not get the just outcome they deserve.
As for the suggestion that the board of inquiry or summary investigation would be the appropriate venue, that suggestion is absolutely wrong. In fact, under the defence administrative orders and directives into boards of inquiry and summary investigations, we are prohibited from using a board of inquiry or summary investigation to seek evidence related to a potential breach of the code of service discipline or assign criminal responsibility.
Madam Chair, let me quote article 2.7 from directive 7002-0:
2.7 A [board of inquiry] or [a summary investigation] must not be conducted if any purpose of the [board of inquiry] or [summary investigation] is to:
a. obtain evidence relating to a potential breach of the Code of Service Discipline; or
b. assign criminal responsibility.
As well, the board of inquiry is prohibited from recommending that a charge be laid. These are critical points.
When individuals come forward, they rightfully expect that their complaints will be acted upon while respecting their wishes and, if warranted, the appropriate charges should be laid under either the code of service discipline or criminal charges. Any interference in this process, which is what has been suggested, puts into jeopardy a just outcome. That would mean a complainant, a survivor, could be denied the just outcome they deserve.
That is why it would have been extremely inappropriate and damaging to discuss any allegation with General Vance.
A just outcome is what those who come forward deserve, an outcome that Canadians, including Canadian Armed Forces members, expect, an outcome our society needs, an outcome that I—and our entire government—want. We have processes to investigate regardless of the rank or position of the person involved.
However, despite the cries from some of the members, investigations should not be politicized, not by a minister and not by anyone in political office. Any investigation should be conducted independently by the relevant and appropriate authorities. This is a fundamental part of our justice system, a principle some of the members seem to forget.
I have always insisted that we have more work to do to ensure that any member of the Canadian Armed Forces feels safe to come forward. Though we have made meaningful progress, we need to accelerate these changes. We need a complete and total culture change. We need to improve our policies and processes to prevent misconduct and to prevent abuses of power.
That is why we are moving forward with an independent external review, to ensure we can comprehensively address the fact that members still do not feel safe to come forward. As we have said, we'll be moving forward with an independent reporting structure to look at allegations of misconduct. All options are on the table. For those who have experienced misconduct, we will do everything possible to rebuild the confidence we have lost.
We're focused on doing everything possible to prevent and eliminate sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. We will have a complete and total culture change. We will eliminate the culture of toxic masculinity that still exists. We will make sure that those who have experienced misconduct feel safe and supported if and when they come forward. We will build a more inclusive Canadian Armed Forces that better reflects and represents the Canadians that they protect each and every day.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair, thank you very much for that question.
This is something we have taken to heart from day one: making sure that everybody who joins the Canadian Armed Forces, especially women, can have an inclusive environment to serve, to reach their full potential and ultimately to give that potential to the Canadian Armed Forces.
Through our conversations we have been having about processing stuff, what we haven't been discussing much are the women who have actually come forward and the courage that has taken. More work needs to be done.
What we have done is change the policies in place to make sure that people will be held to account. The military police have a special unit now that's designed to investigate situations of sexual misconduct such as this. We've also passed the declaration of victims rights bill, Bill , to make sure they have appropriate support.
Madam Chair, I think the most important thing coming out of this is that we need greater representation at all senior levels. Something I've been focused on from day one is creating a pipeline where more women can come to the senior levels. When I became Minister of National Defence, we had six female generals. Today we have 14. We need to grow that number still, because we know that once we have more women and increase our numbers, and more importantly, they're in senior, meaningful positions, culture change will happen because women will be at the table.
Madam Chair, let me answer this very directly.
Please do not allow any other member to define my experience or my service in the Canadian Armed Forces. I don't like other men telling me what my experience was like.
I can assure you, and I am sorry to get angry about this, that I would go after anybody, regardless of rank or position, if allegations were brought forward.
The reason...and you said the investigation was not started. I disagree. When the ombudsman receives a complaint, the process has started. For me to accept any information at that time is interference in the investigation.
I am sorry, Madam Chair, but please don't have this member define my experience in the Canadian Armed Forces or what it was like. I would not do it about what happened in your life either, okay? I'm sorry. I've had many people, many white men, trying to tell me what my experience is.
Right now, I want to talk about the women and what better we can do for them.
Please don't do that, Mr. Garrison, to me.
Mr. Garrison, with all due respect, there were many options available to the ombudsman, and more importantly, as it was, when it was passed on to PCO for the appropriate people to give the appropriate advice, they would have told him. There are many things that could have been done.
I'm not here to speculate. What I can only do is to make sure that any allegation that comes forward is immediately looked at, and that's exactly what we did.
I can assure you, for one thing, that I don't care about the position or the rank of any individual. I care about the people who have been impacted and I want to make sure that they get the just outcome.
That is why, when I was serving, it was my focus, while I was serving in the police, and why, right now, as Minister of National Defence, it has been my number one priority from day one.
When we put people as chapter one of the defence policy, the reason that was done was to focus on this, to tell the entire chain of command, the entire structure, that everything that you do must be focused on them: the change in policy, the resources and how you rout out this behaviour.
Here's the thing, though. I know how much you care and I've seen the passion you have, but you also know my passion as well. We want to improve our processes. We have a lot more work to do and we will get it done.
Thank you for your quick action on the same day or the next day. Thank you also for your sensitivity in making sure that you don't get technically involved and a perpetrator can't get off on a technicality.
The big study, the big problem we're looking at here—and I think all the committee members agree—is that we want women in the military to be comfortable, be able to come forward, be treated fairly, have the appropriate sentence for the perpetrator and not have it affect their careers.
I want you to speak to your passion about this in a minute, but I know that you've already done a lot—perhaps more than in history—with Bill , the creation of the SMRC, the path to dignity and respect strategy and the response and support coordination for CAF members. All that had been done before we even started our hearings over the year, but obviously, for everyone on the committee and for yourself—and you've stated this—it's not enough.
We need new answers. I think members from all parties have brought this up. The procedures need to be clarified, and most importantly—as all the experts have said—the culture needs to be changed.
I would like you to speak about your passion. I know the members of the committee from all parties have that passion. They can't imagine a woman having something terrible happen in her career and for her not to be comfortable to come forward under our present system, as we've seen in a lot of the documentation before this committee and in this committee.
Speak to your passion about getting this problem solved or moving it forward as much as we can. It is a passion that I know committee members share.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
With respect, Mr. Minister, your whole argument today seems to turn on the existence of what I would call a “unicorn”, and that's the magical, independent authority that exists to investigate claims of sexual misconduct against the chief of the defence staff.
When you cite the ombudsman's office, we know that the military ombudsman has no legislative authority. It was created by a directive from the minister and reports to the minister. The PCO, as I mentioned before, reports to the Prime Minister, and with regard to order in council appointments, really, does little more than assemble résumés and check references. It's not an investigative body in any way.
My final proof that this body doesn't exist is that in her report on sexual misconduct in the Canadian military, in April 2015, Madam Justice Deschamps called for the creation of an independent authority, and for that independent authority to be given responsibility for services to victims, responsibility for taking complaints and responsibility for investigations.
Nearly six years ago we had a recommendation that such an independent authority be created. Today you're trying to say it already exists when, if it did, why did Madam Deschamps make this recommendation? Of course, if it doesn't, why haven't we followed up on her recommendation six years later?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for being here today.
Minister, we know that you've spent your entire career protecting people and serving, serving our country and our people, and your dedication to equality and inclusion is something that has run throughout your career. It's evident today that you took every effort possible to make sure that this investigation was not politicized and that the proper processes were followed.
At the end of the day, when you have somebody who doesn't want to go through a formal investigation and complaint, what it does tell us is that—and we've heard this from other places—there is an issue in the Canadian Armed Forces of people who, for whatever reason, are afraid to come forward. They're afraid of reprisal. They're afraid of what it will do to their careers. I know that you talked about all options being on the table and of making sure that we continue to do the important work to fix this problem.
You mentioned in your opening remarks an independent external review. You also mentioned independent reporting structures. Are there other things? For instance, we know that peer support is very important. We know that sometimes what women need is to just talk to other people who have been through the same thing, because it can feel very difficult when you feel like you're the only one. I know that some very brave volunteers have been doing this kind of peer support.
Is there anything in the works that would help to provide either funding or support to these kinds of groups similar to what combat trauma experiences would be? Is there anything you're working on to make sure that happens?
This is the heart of everything that we should be focused on: How can we make the lives of our women and men in the Canadian Armed Forces, especially women who have dealt with such horrible situations....?
Even though we have made great progress, for example, in having great representation and creating a pipeline of more women to go into those positions. I sign off on general officer promotions. We started with six general officers and now we have fourteen, and we are going to have a vice-chief of the defence staff who will be a female.
My goal was to make sure that the pipeline goes throughout the Canadian Armed Forces so that you have greater representation, but we also need to deal with what is in front of us. We need to have a place where people don't get bounced around and we have empowering stories like this where they know exactly where to go to get to a place where they can have their stories heard and be empowered to know that they can go forward, and if they don't want to, that they can get the right support when they need it, and more importantly, get the legal advice and get the police connection too if it's needed. One place, that's what we are working towards.
We also need to look at the independence. We're seeing more often now, and through the most recent examples, that people felt that there were going to be reprisals. Even though we have very aggressively dealt with this, we clearly have much more work to do on this. We have an independent military justice review that is currently ongoing, but ultimately, I feel that total culture change is going to happen when we have more women who are well-supported inside the Canadian Armed Forces, so that this cannot continue. If it does, they will know that every single one of them has the ability—so they cannot ever be told they can't say anything—to come forward and know that actions will be taken. If somebody doesn't listen to them seriously, there will be consequences for anybody who interferes with that.
That's where we need to get to. It is actually happening now, but obviously, it is not happening to the extent that we want.
Ultimately, when I'm talking.... I know that women members of the Canadian Armed Forces are probably watching this right now, and they see men arguing with one another, when what we should be doing is talking about how we're going to make their lives better.
From day one, when I came into this role, my whole thing was about how we can make things better. One of the first aspects of doing this was putting people first in our defence policy, and members of the committee contributed to this. We made changes. We learned things about policies put in place.
Imagine this: Under previous governments, when women wanted to have a family and went on maternity leave, they got it but it wasn't included as part of their service. They had to serve longer for the months they were pregnant. They had to add that time to their service. That's ridiculous. We changed that.
There are many things we could talk about, but ultimately it's not about what we did in the past. We have to talk about what we're going to do now and into the future to create a culture change for all women.
The courage of the women who have come forward should be the impetus for everyone in the Canadian Armed Forces to see how seriously we all take this. Every survivor who has had any type of inappropriate conduct happen to them should feel they can come forward, they will be heard, the police force will investigate and they will be protected. If they don't want to come forward at this time, they're going to get the right support for this.
We want to give them back the power in this case, but ultimately we want to bring a whole culture change so that when anybody joins the Canadian Armed Forces, they know that they're going to be protected and will be able to advance.