I call this meeting to order.
Good morning, everyone.
Welcome to meeting number 21 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, 2021. Committee members will participate in person or through the Zoom application. The proceedings will be posted on the House of Commons website. For your information, the webcast will always show the individual speaking rather than the entire committee.
For those participating virtually, there are just a few rules to follow.
You may speak in the official language of your choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. If interpretation is lost, please inform me immediately, and we will ensure that interpretation is properly restored before returning to the proceedings.
Please, before speaking, wait until I recognize you by name. All comments by members should be addressed through the chair. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you're not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
With regard to a speaking list, the committee clerk and I will do our best to maintain a consolidated order of speaking for all members.
We've put in the agenda for today some committee business that is related to our subcommittee report. What it does is lay out the scope for our next study, which is the military justice study.
If we wish to debate that or any other motion, I would suggest maybe we move that to the end of the proceedings so we have the maximum time available for our witness. Does anybody have an objection to that?
Go ahead, Mr. Bezan.
The witnesses were all invited. The plan for Friday is to have Madam Sherman, who has confirmed for next Friday, and Mr. Boland. We have not heard back from any other witnesses. Is that correct?
The clerk says that he is in discussion with one other witness from that list right now, so that's all we have for now.
As for the production of papers, they are in the possession of the law clerk at this present time.
Are there any other questions? All right. Then let's leave 20 minutes. Will that be enough at the end of the meeting to do the committee business?
Then let's carry on and we'll come back to these issues with 20 minutes left to go in the meeting.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, the committee is resuming its study to address 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 is Mr. Ray Novak, former chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper.
Thank you very much, Mr. Novak, for accepting our invitation. I would like to now invite you to make an opening statement. Please go ahead.
That's great. Thank you.
Madam Chair, I'll spend the next few minutes offering my recollection of the process used to replace the outgoing chief of the defence staff in 2015, in the hopes this can constructively contribute to improving these processes in the future.
In doing so, I must note for the committee that I am relying on recollections of this period six years ago and publicly available sources and dates. I do not have access to public service records of this period. Political notes and records, including the chief of staff and executive office files, were donated to Library and Archives Canada as part of the historical collection of former Prime Minister Harper's tenure.
The selection process for the chief of the defence staff was run by an ad hoc committee constituted for this purpose. I believe the committee was composed of the Clerk of the Privy Council; the national security adviser, which is a senior position in the Privy Council; the deputy minister of national defence; and the Minister of National Defence.
The Prime Minister's deputy chief of staff attended meetings of the ad hoc committee, as did the chief of staff to the Minister of National Defence. Operationally, PCO's national security adviser led the process.
My general understanding was that the ad hoc committee undertook its work by reviewing prospective candidates from the senior ranks, seeking input from the current CDS and others, and building a list of potential candidates for consideration. Prospective candidates were then interviewed and assessed by the committee, and at the conclusion of the process the views of committee members were consolidated into a written recommendation that was delivered to the Prime Minister via the Privy Council Office.
This same process was used to appoint General Natynczyk and General Lawson.
In early or mid-March 2015, the Prime Minister met with the Minister of National Defence to discuss the committee's recommendation. Prior to that meeting, the national security adviser briefed the Prime Minister on an issue relating to the leading candidate, General Vance. The NSA briefed that, while in Italy on a NATO deployment, the general was in a relationship with a U.S. officer who was subordinate to him though not in his chain of command, and that the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence had reviewed the matter and that there was no open investigation or reprimand against the general.
I believe we were also briefed that the U.S. Army review of their files indicated no reprimand of the other officer involved. In addition, we were informed that the U.S. officer in question was, by 2015, the fiancée of General Vance.
Following the Prime Minister's meeting with the Minister of National Defence, a meeting with General Vance was scheduled. I attended that meeting along with our deputy chief of staff. In the course of that meeting, the Prime Minister raised the issue of the general's time at NATO. He outlined the facts briefed to us by the Privy Council and asked if there was anything else he should know. I don't recall the general making any comment other than to state he and his fiancée were relieved that the matter had been reviewed and was behind them. The appointment was publicly announced in April 2015, and the change of command ceremony was planned to occur in mid-July.
Sometime in early July, two additional pieces of information were received.
First, the chief of staff to the Minister of Veterans Affairs contacted me to relay a rumour that General Vance had an inappropriate relationship and/or had improperly sought to further an officer's career during his time at CFB Gagetown, which I believe was in 2001. I advised the national security adviser about the call and asked him to investigate further.
Around the same time, the national security adviser briefed the Prime Minister's Office that an anonymous email had been received by a senior officer at the Department of National Defence. We were briefed that the email alleged an inappropriate relationship during the general's time at NATO but contained no new information. However, we were informed that receipt of the email triggered a further review of the matter by the Canadian Forces national investigation service.
In subsequent conversations among the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council Office and the minister's office, it was agreed that the change of command ceremony would be delayed, if needed, to allow sufficient time for further investigation and review.
In the course of the next week or so, the national security adviser briefed the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's Office that the NIS had found nothing further with respect to the general's time at NATO, and that their review of the matter was closed.
As for the Gagetown rumour, the national security adviser briefed the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's Office that there was nothing in DND's files, no record of a complaint and no current or former investigation.
The NSA also briefed that he had discussed the rumour directly with General Vance, who responded that he had been in a public relationship with the named individual at the time and that this person did not report to him. He denied improperly acting to further her career.
As the facts relating to the general's time at NATO had not changed, and with no other known issues, the change of command ceremony proceeded on July 17, 2015.
In conclusion, Madam Chair, I'd like to add a final comment.
Like all members of this committee, I have been deeply disturbed by allegations made in a number of recent interviews. Women in uniform, like all Canadians, have the right to a workplace free of harassment. Clearly, serious structural and cultural change is required so that female members of the Canadian Armed Forces are not only protected but also empowered to bring allegations forward to trusted independent investigative bodies.
I hope this committee's work contributes constructively to that process of change.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would note that in the case when was made aware of rumours, it was the very next day that PCO called in the former ombudsman and tried to do an investigation at that time. What I would like to know, though.... We've heard in this committee that it is really difficult. The system was not set up to deal with allegations against the highest-ranking military official, the chief of the defence staff, but when you were dealing with this, he was not yet the chief of the defence staff. Similarly, you had rumours. You had one allegation that you had already known had been investigated. You had another one that came to you through the office of , the Minister of Veterans Affairs at the time.
What is the threshold? Again, I go back to my initial statement. What kinds of things are rewarded and what kinds of behaviours are seen as not relevant or peripheral when you're making this kind of very important appointment? Why at the time did that not give you pause?
I think the threshold, when appointing someone, is very different from a threshold once they're there. You have to have a reason to be able to then remove them, but when you're vetting somebody, this would have been enough reason. If not you, was there anybody else on the political side—the minister, the Prime Minister—who raised concerns that maybe this wasn't the most appropriate person in terms of even just the questions being raised?
—to put forward those names.
I know we have our witnesses for Friday, as you mentioned this morning, and since there was a motion saying two maximum in two hours, that would fill up Friday.
I know we have two constituency weeks coming up after that. I would imagine there would be plenty of time for the steering committee to sit down and look at all the different names, and maybe some that other members are also interested in bringing, and then at that time it could see whether or not it's necessary to pursue this study further, or whether it's also possible to have more panellists per meeting. I think the steering committee could then report back to us on that.
I also would just like to say that, given everything that's happened, I am very eager to get started on the military justice study. I think if we look at what survivors are saying right now, there are a lot of questions about the military justice system and its ability to look at things like criminal sexual assault and other things. I think that's a very important study.
Obviously if we are to continue further with this study.... I think we had said four meetings, and we've already done one or two, I believe. You can correct me if I'm wrong, Madam Chair. We have one on Friday.
I think it would be good for the steering committee to get together and discuss exactly how many days are left, how much time we want to spend on different studies and which witnesses we want to bring. Again if we're going to be starting to add witnesses ad hoc, one by one, in individual meetings like this.... On this particular one, I see that there was no notice given. I just think that it's just not the best practice to be able to just say this witness and that witness. I think we need to look at the testimony today and at other testimony and see who might be the best people to bring in.
My preference, Madam Chair, would be that we would not vote on individual witnesses one by one—I've said this in this committee many times—but instead that we would have a steering committee meeting and have all of the witnesses discussed there.
Madam Chair, thank you very much.
I just wanted to echo the comments of my colleagues, Ms. Vandenbeld and Mr. Baker, with respect to the committee finding traction on a constructive way forward. We've heard from a range of witnesses. The most recent witness echoed the importance of having a serious look at the structural and cultural changes that are required.
I think we're coming to an area of agreement with respect to how the accountabilities flow, that it is not proper for a minister or a prime minister to launch an investigation. Mr. Novak was very clear in his testimony on that. He was equally clear, as have been other witnesses and the committee as a whole, that the well-being of members of the Canadian Armed Forces needs to be front and centre in this inquiry. This includes, most prominently, women who have had the courage to come forward, but equally, women and men who have not had the courage to come forward for reasons relating to the culture that's been described and the levels of seniority involved.
There is some important work ahead of us as parliamentarians, work that is beyond and in addition to the question of what happens with this former chief of the defence staff. That's where we should focus. I think your suggestion to use the subcommittee for a discussion of witness names as they come forward through these conversations is important. Equally, your suggestion to coordinate the committee's work with respect to crossovers and linkages to the military justice study is, I think, very important.
To deal with systemic change, we need to think about our study systemically and connect those thoughts to other areas of inquiry if we are to make sure we get to those hurdles, with respect to culture, that stand in the way. They have stood in the way, by all accounts, at least since the external review authority—which the previous witness just described—in 2015, if not for a long time before. We have some urgent work ahead and we really need to focus on overcoming these obstacles.
Madam Chair, I understand why Liberal members are very uncomfortable with continuing with the study, but we owe it to the Canadian Armed Forces, and especially the women who serve us, to get to the bottom of what's happened.
We had a new revelation today about the role of the national security adviser. To not call a national security adviser at that time would be a misjustice on our part and a missed opportunity to get more information and details on how that investigation took place.
We heard the minister say on multiple occasions that he handed this off to the proper authorities, and the PCO, as we've heard from Liberal members, was the proper authority. Let's talk to the person in the PCO who would have been in charge of the investigation, the national security adviser. To do otherwise would be short-sighted on our part.
Madam Chair, I know the Liberals are going to want to continue to talk this out and filibuster, but I can tell you that I am prepared to stay and debate this and other motions as we go forward.
Aside from the fact that we need to have a steering committee to look at our total, overall business, it is in order to suggest witnesses after hearing testimony. Based on the testimony we heard today about the role of the national security adviser, I think the former NSA, Daniel Jean, is a person of interest who this committee must hear from.
There's no question that what we have been studying is important. You're not going to hear me say that it's not. What I think is important for me to qualify is that, what to me is even more important is that we spend a proportionate amount of time in this committee dealing with—and when I say “proportionate”, I don't mean equal; I mean proportionate—the problem that's before us.
Unfortunately, we know that there are hundreds, thousands.... We don't know exactly how many, but we know there are many victims. We've had witnesses come forward and talk to us about the problems of culture in the Canadian Armed Forces. I think that these are issues that are really complex and require the time to study them. There is a great urgency to do that because if we do that and do it effectively and quickly, then the sooner we can tackle it. The sooner we tackle it, the sooner we're reducing the number of people who are being victimized and, hopefully someday, eliminating it.
I guess what I'm saying is that I think we've spent a significant amount of time investigating the events around General Vance. I'm not diminishing the importance of that. What I'm saying is that, to me, what is most important and should be ranked paramount are the people who've suffered and who are suffering right now. I think that we should apply proportionate time and energy to solving that problem, which is the one before us, both the government and the Canadian Armed Forces. That is critical.
When I think about the lives that are being.... I think it's important to remember, too, that members of the forces who have been victims are watching this. They're following this. I think about what they're thinking as they watch this. They're watching us, as elected officials, spend a lot of time on the circumstances that we've focused on—and again I'm not diminishing the importance of that—but I think what they would want, if they were here, would be for us to tackle the underlying issue that has made them victims and that has, in some cases, destroyed lives.
I would just suggest that we dedicate a proportionate amount of time to the problem that is before us and that is touching lives today. To me, that means moving to a phase where we're calling witnesses and focusing on finding the best solution so that we can actually shape the outcome.
It's not good enough for us, as politicians.... It's not appropriate for us to sit here on this committee and criticize whomever we want to criticize, saying “they didn't do this” and “they didn't do that”. Let's talk about what we are going to do. Let's start talking about solutions. Let's start understanding the problem. We've started a little bit. It's a complex problem. Perhaps there's more understanding that's needed. Then, let's tackle it. That, to me, is what we should be doing.
If I think about the people who've suffered and been victims, and if they're watching this at home, I'm confident that's where they would like us to apply our time. I'm urging us, as people who are focused on making the lives of other people better, to focus our energies there. That's why I suggest that, Madam Chair.
We need to be conscious of the fact that there is a status of women study as well. I think that there are two very different objectives that parliamentarians need to achieve.
This national defence committee, in my opinion, needs to be looking at holding the government—and, therefore, the processes, what happened, and how—to account. We can't fix something if we don't fully appreciate all the places where it fell down or where the ball was dropped.
We absolutely need to continue to hear from the national security adviser, Zita Astravas, Elder Marques and others we uncover who should have been involved in the process and weren't, or who were and didn't behave in accordance with the roles and responsibilities that they were entrusted with in that process.
The status of women committee should be looking at what we need to change structurally and organizationally, and at how we measure that.
Ultimately, the victims—and I've heard from a number of them in the military, and from women in the military in general—want, yes, to know that these types of things will be prevented in the future. They also do need to know that all of those senior officers—and anyone who is involved in sexual misconduct—are held accountable for their behaviour, and that, whether they were complicit through their silence or their actions, there is a process by which they will be held accountable. I think that's part of the role and responsibility that we on this committee need to fulfill.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
What I understand from the interventions of my colleagues, particularly those of the Liberal Party, is that their intention is not to debate the motion that has been tabled, but to close the study that has just been undertaken on the subject. This is a kind of headlong rush to avoid talking about this issue, which is very serious. It is of the utmost importance. We are talking about the chief of the defence staff of the Canadian Armed Forces, Madam Chair, so I am somewhat surprised by this attitude. I don't know what the government has to hide, but I think the events deserve a thorough review and we need to hear from the witnesses mentioned.
I understand the importance of addressing the issue of the culture in the Canadian military, particularly with respect to sexual assault. It is a very important topic. Yet I feel that my Liberal colleagues are trying to put that study at odds with the conduct of this one, when they are both intimately related. I am sure that any victim of sexual assault in the military would tell us that they want to know what happened that involved the chiefs of the defence staff. They would tell us to pursue this investigation, because the reality is that they are the bosses. To trust the institution, victims would also want to have an idea of what the top brass did.
Why would anyone want to hide what happened at the highest seat of power in the Canadian military? I find it disturbing, and I don't think it would contribute to a much-needed investigation into the culture in the Canadian military.
I would invite my Liberal colleagues to explain why they do not want us to pursue this study, but also why we should not vote.
Everyone has had a chance to speak, so I think it's time to take a vote, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair, thank you very much.
I just wanted to follow up on the previous comment and echo colleagues who have said that rather than anybody wanting to shut down the study, the idea is to focus our energies on those issues that matter most, those issues that have been long-standing and those issues that are echoed by witnesses and, most importantly, by female victims and their families and men who are allies on the issue of gender equality.
Madam Chair, just to refer you back briefly to a report that this very committee did in the last Parliament of June 2019, entitled “Improving Diversity and Inclusion in the Canadian Armed Forces”, it's a broader issue than the issues of sexual harassment and misconduct, but Mr. Bezan, Mr. Garrison, Ms. Gallant, Mr. Robillard and I were part of that committee. There were some great recommendations put forward with respect to leadership within the Canadian Forces on the issue of gender equality.
We should stay in that track and focus more specifically now on the issue of sexual misconduct and harassment and the systemic nature of it. It's not a question of shutting down the study. It's a question of directing it to what matters most.
My intervention, Madam Chair, really is aimed at supporting the comments of my colleague Ms. Vandenbeld to strategically use the subcommittee to identify those witnesses who will put us onto that track and take us forward.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
On what was said by my colleague opposite, we know how important this study is. We know that the study that's starting in the Status of Women committee is vitally important. We already have witnesses who we proposed many weeks ago, such as the current Canadian Armed Forces champion for women and others, who have tremendous recommendations to bring, and who, I'm sad to say, were rejected by all the opposition parties at the status of women committee when I brought them forward last week.
We have those names already. We have a number of witnesses who have already been proposed and that the chair has invited. I think it is very reasonable that we would continue this study and make sure that we come up with the right recommendations for the , who has said very clearly that all options are on the table. He wants to hear from parliamentary committees on this.
Having said that, I really don't think that we want to be here all day. I have said before—and I will continue to say—that the practice of surprising people with names one by one and voting on one person at a time at meetings is not the best procedure in this committee. Having said that, I think we are probably prepared to vote on this one right away, because I note that it is one o'clock and, members, this committee meeting was supposed to end at one o'clock.
I know that there was a notice of motion. If we want to vote on that quickly, I just have one small note, which is that in those motions, if Mr. Bezan could clarify the timeline in the current one.... Because given that we have two constituency weeks coming, if you say “14 days”, it requires a meeting during that constituency break time. If we could make sure that both of those motions say “21 days” instead of “14 days”, so that it can be at the next meeting of the committee that's currently scheduled, then I think we're prepared to vote on both of those right away.
Just, please, as a practice.... I had names that came out of today that I would love to put forward as well, but I think we need to give each other the courtesy of having time to consult one another and to talk to each other about names and which ones are priorities, and how long we want to continue the study. I think these are all legitimate questions.
Madam Chair, if there's nobody else on the speaking list, I think we could proceed to a vote on this motion, presuming that it didn't have a timeline of 14 days. I just want to clarify that.
I really want to speak to this. I think what's important for me anyway, in my riding of Etobicoke Centre, is that, if I'm to do my job effectively as an MP, I need to also be able to spend that time with my constituents. That doesn't mean it's face to face. Whether it is face to face or over the phone is really secondary.
Right now the constituency work in my office.... I realize the pandemic has hit different parts of the country differently, and I respect that, but certainly in my community, a lot of folks are struggling and are reaching out to me for help, for guidance or for discussion about government policy, etc. I'm sure all the members on this committee are receiving a significant amount of that type of outreach from their constituents.
Whether I'm physically present or not, when it's a so-called Ottawa week right now during the pandemic, as I'm sure is the case for most of my colleagues here, my obligations as a legislator occupy almost all of my time, between committees and preparation for these discussions and the caucus meetings that allow us to advocate for whatever issues we believe are important for our constituents.
Those constituency weeks are really important blocks of time that are set aside for us to be able to serve our constituents. Of course, outside of pandemic time, that means we're physically in our ridings. It would make it impossible in those circumstances for the committee to meet unless under very unusual circumstances.
Madam Chair, first of all, we know that we've issued these invitations. As I mentioned last time, in the entire history of this defence committee, Mr. Walbourne was the first person we summoned. Mr. Trotter was the second person we summoned in the history of this committee.
This is something we really need to take very seriously, when invitations have gone out and you have the clerk reaching out to people. As I've said before, we have to be very careful using the power this committee has to summon people.
Having said that, you know that I've said many times that having one motion after another after another, one by one voting on people, is not the best way to conduct business in this committee. We have a steering committee. We have the ability to sit down together as members, prioritize those we want to invite, prioritize the amount of time we want to spend on each study and plan out our studies. That's traditionally the way things have been done on this committee.
Having a name thrown at us and having to quickly consult our colleagues and come to a consensus in the middle of a committee meeting isn't the best way to conduct business.
I appreciate Mr. Bezan's giving notice about the motion concerning Mr. Lick. I think that's a good practice in this committee, and I was okay with debating and voting on it, because we had a bit of notice.
One reason I felt originally that we could go to a vote on the two you brought up was that I thought, at that point we could adjourn. There has already been an agreement to have a steering committee meeting during the break, and at that point we can sit down and discuss as a committee.
There's a certain point at which throwing things out like this and asking for a vote and asking for a summons.... We have responsibilities here, as a parliamentary committee, to use our power in a responsible way. We have responsibilities to our colleagues, to each other, to make sure that we are giving each other advance notice of the things we want to debate in this committee.
This process of going one by one, throwing names out the way we have.... I don't know how many other names the member opposite might want to do. We know that this meeting was supposed to end at one o'clock.
We could do the same. I have a list of names of people that we submitted quite some time ago. I would say that some of the names that we submitted when this study first started, about six weeks ago, haven't been called yet. They haven't been brought to this committee.
I know that the chair was giving priority to some of the names coming from the opposition, but I'd love to hear from somebody like Rear-Admiral Rebecca Patterson. I would love to hear from some of the other names that we put in of people who really have lived this, who understand the issue and who want to talk about how we make it better.
I know that trying to find out who knew what when and pointing fingers back and forth is a legitimate thing, but when I talk to the women, talk to survivors, the message I'm getting from them is that we finally have a parliamentary committee looking at and studying this issue at a time when women, with great courage, are stepping up, stepping forward, believing that we as leaders are listening to them and genuinely want to make this better.
I want to hear from them. I think the status of women committee has a tremendous opportunity. I put forward a list of names that includes Dr. Preston, whom we heard from. It includes Professor Maya Eichler, who, by the way, when she came to this committee, gave her opening statement and had no time for questions, because there were motions and points of order and the same sort of thing that we're seeing today—just trying to put a name forward and have a vote, and should we summon, and should we....
Frankly, she never got a chance to answer any questions. She has spent her career as an academic, as an expert on sexual misconduct in the military, and she never got a chance to answer questions.
I brought her name forward to come the status of women committee, and all the opposition parties combined voted against her. I brought a name like Julie Lalonde, who is an expert on culture change within institutions. She is a feminist who has even been consulted by the military at the Royal Military College. She has a lot to say on this, and her name was rejected by the opposition in the status of women committee.
Many of these names are on the list that we've provided to the chair. I'm not going to go through them one by one and name individual private citizens and put them on the spot so that they would then have to turn around and explain publicly why they did or did not accept an invitation to this committee, but I have to say that, in terms of collegiality and process and in terms of parliamentary courtesy, this idea that all we're doing here is throwing another name, another name of somebody to see if we can maybe try to score points needs to stop, frankly.
We need to hear from the women. I think we need to hear from the veterans, from the serving women in the Canadian Armed Forces whose roles and responsibilities are to do exactly this. We have a minister who came to this committee and said that every option is on the table. He wants to change things. He wants to make a difference, and he wants this committee to come up with recommendations.
I'm going to just ask one more time for all members of this committee to step back from this kind of let's summon and let's.... Let's step back from that. We have a meeting on Friday. We've agreed to a steering committee meeting over the two constituency weeks. We've also agreed to a meeting over the constituency weeks with Mr. Lick and possibly some of the others we've asked for.
We should perhaps agree to just adjourn the debate right now, wait until we have that steering committee meeting and discuss how we want to proceed with this study. Frankly, let's listen to what the women are saying—and men—what survivors and those impacted are saying. They are saying that all of this pointing of fingers between one party and another party is not helping them. It is demotivating them. What they want to see is this committee come up with recommendations and hear from the people who understand. The answers are out there. People understand what is needed. Everybody knows what needs to be done. We need to be listening, and we need to be hearing from those people.
I would love to sit down, have a steering committee meeting and put together a list of people who can give us excellent recommendations about what we're going to do to fix this problem. It can't continue. You heard the minister say that the time for patience is over, but I think that, in terms of the way in which this committee functions, we really need to go back to the courtesy where we work together, where we sit down and look at names, and we don't start using this power to summon in a way that has historically never been done in the House of Commons.
If you look at the annotated Standing Orders, at the bottom of the Standing Orders there's a footnote with a handful of names over the history of the Parliament of Canada of people who've been summoned to come here. We summoned Gary Walbourne. I don't think we needed to. I think he would have come. The clerk is currently in discussion with one of those witnesses who has said that, yes, he is willing to come. I would like to give the clerk a little bit more time to go back and forth with some of these people and give them a chance to come of their own volition.
Honestly, Madam Chair, I'll hear from colleagues on this, but I think that sitting here all day today and debating something like this, after the time of this committee has already formally supposed to have ended, doesn't help the women. I don't think that helps the women of the Canadian Armed Forces. I don't think that helps the men and women who are victims. I don't think that helps change the culture. I think all it does is tell them that the people who are watching are just playing politics. Frankly, that is not what I came here as a member of Parliament to do. I'm here because I want to make sure we do right by the people who serve our country.
I would very much encourage our colleagues to adjourn today, come back next week in a steering committee meeting and really put forward the names of people who are going to be able to move this file forward.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
We just heard from the chief of staff for the former prime minister for two hours. We had fulsome questioning the entire two hours. There were not politics being played. The opposition is not simply throwing out names or “playing politics”.
I thought we all committed to getting to the bottom of this very serious issue. Just throwing it off to another committee that is not that for which the defence committee is intended, and to follow through on our previous studies, is just a distraction. We owe it to the women, as we've talked about, as well as men, to get to the bottom of this. By just passing it off to another committee that has a different take on things and is not necessarily going down the military avenue....
Madam Deschamps did her best and made the recommendations. They were not implemented.
As we heard today, the national investigative service did not, for whatever reason, do its part. Whether they had nothing to go on or whether or not there was evidence that was not accessible to them is not known.
We have a number of avenues that we still have yet to investigate, and it is not to play politics. It is to set right, once and for all, what is terribly wrong and is missing in this military. Also, if we ever hope to get to your 's 25% of women in the military, we have to address this very serious problem now.
I want to pick up on where Madam Gallant left off. That's the crux of this. Madam Gallant spoke about the need to address this problem now. The debate we're having here really centres around what the problem is that we're trying to solve.
I think the problem that is impeding increasing numbers of women, minorities and other equity-seeking groups in the armed forces is the issue of.... There's an issue of culture, which we've heard about, and issues of sexual harassment and of assault. Those issues are not the ones we are tackling with this type of motion. This motion doesn't help us address those issues. This motion is not designed to address those issues. This motion is designed to further study what happened when.... I won't put words in Mr. Bezan's mouth, but it's meant to study things that won't help us to address the underlying problem that is preventing us from attracting the best and brightest of all backgrounds to the Canadian Armed Forces, and retaining the best and brightest of all backgrounds.
We've recently seen someone, a very high-profile person, a woman, leave the armed forces, citing some of these very things, and we're not, as a committee.... We're the defence committee. We talk about how big of a problem it is, and then we're not passing motions that would allow us to actually address those problems.
That is the underlying concern I have around the direction. The types of witnesses we're calling aren't helping us to solve the problems that the survivors, the minorities and the women have asked us to solve. I've heard from women who are survivors, and they are begging us to tackle the issue of the culture of toxic masculinity. They're asking us to address sexual assault and sexual violence in the armed forces much more. By continuing to pursue motions like this, we're not doing that. That is the underlying reality.
In regard to the change to the motion that Mr. Bezan has proposed, which is to say “summon” versus “invite”, I have concerns with that. This committee, and committees in the House of Commons, operate on the basis of invitation. I don't think that is necessary.
We invite people to come. We make sure that we follow up with them. It takes time. I don't know the background on the communication, I really don't, but generally speaking, sometimes we are responded to quickly as a committee, and sometimes we're not responded to quickly. Just because we don't get a response quickly, we don't go out there and summon every time. That's not the way committees work. They haven't worked that way in the past, and I think this is an unprecedented step that sets dangerous and unhelpful precedents for future studies, including this one.
On the substance of adding the word “summon” or altering the motion to the word “summon”, I have a concern.
I also want to speak to something that Mrs. Vandenbeld spoke to earlier, which is the way in which we work together. My background, prior to this, was as a member of provincial parliament in Ontario. Perhaps the culture there is different. I don't know. However, I was not accustomed at that level or at the federal level, until very recently in this committee, to just springing motions on each other left and right. I think that if we want to make thoughtful decisions about how we vote, we need time to consider what is being proposed and the implications of what is being proposed, and to discuss it with each other and to hear each other out, and to do it in a thoughtful way. I think the approach of surprising folks with motion after motion after motion is not helpful for us to come to the best list of witnesses to study what we want to study.
I know we're disagreeing on what we should study. Some of us are saying, let's focus on addressing the underlying problems, let's focus on understanding what is causing this culture of toxic masculinity and let's figure out how to solve it. Some of us are arguing, no, let's talk about other things. That's a separate issue.
Again, I urge us to focus on the victims and their needs, and on how we solve the underlying problems that have made them victims. That said, I also think that, in working together, springing motions on each other is not helpful, and I think that the summons is unnecessary. I see no evidence to believe that it is necessary.
We have a series of scheduled meetings already. We have a series of witnesses coming. We've agreed to that. Let's move forward with that.
I think that should be our immediate next step.
It was brought up by the clerk that Ms. Astravas has not denied the invitation. Normally, we use a summons when people refuse to appear. As far as I know, it has not been a refusal. I think it's also.... Summoning someone sets a very high precedent, really, and I'm not sure.... Is this something that we can talk about in the steering committee meeting? We can decide if there are certain criteria—I don't know—by which people decide to make it a summons instead of an invitation.
The clerk wanted to make sure. He's still, as I said, in conversation with somebody else. It sometimes takes a little longer than people would like to admit, but if there has not been a refusal, do we actually want to go ahead and do a summons? It's something that we can definitely talk about. I think it would be totally appropriate to discuss this matter in the steering committee and actually come up with a consolidated way forward. How are we actually going to deal with issues of this nature and the issue of things like summonses?
I would like to have a steering committee very much in the near future.... This is also one of those things that we could discuss at that time, plus what the ongoing scope and focus of this study will be. Those are just a couple of points for your consideration.
We'll go to Mr. Baker and then to Madam Gallant.
I was going to speak to that very issue and ask whether Ms. Astravas had declined. To me, it's at that point that committees decide whether they want to summon or not. It's not when we have a delay in a response, for whatever reason.
I think that's a dangerous precedent to set. I think we need to give the time for those.... Whatever the outreach is, the scheduling, we don't know what's happening, what Ms. Astravas is dealing with. We don't know about the communication issue and why she hasn't responded. We don't know. A summons is a very harsh tool. It's not justified when someone hasn't refused to testify and just hasn't responded.
I think that's the precedent that's been set. It's a precedent that's been set by MPs of all parties going back decades. We should realize that precedent was set, that MPs of all parties, whether it was majority governments or minority governments, have operated that way for a reason. I think one of the reasons is that, for the most part—not always perhaps, but for the most part—we get the best content and insight from our witnesses when we invite them rather than when we summon them. That's one of the reasons.
The other reason is that I don't think it's necessary. It's not required in this case. It's not necessary to ask Ms. Astravas to.... It's understandable that we want to invite her. We've extended the invitation. I think we should give a reasonable period of time for that invitation to be heard and responded to. We don't know what's causing that delay in response. There's a lot going on right now, including a pandemic. I'd ask us to respect that and not set a new precedent that we will regret.
I want to follow up on a couple things that Madam Gallant said.
One was that Ms. Gallant made mention that it's not the chair's role to decide anything. For the record, I don't think that the chair was trying to decide anything. I think the chair is trying to contribute to a constructive solution to the questions that are being raised, and I think that it's completely within the chair's role to do so.
The other point that Madam Gallant made that I have concerns about is that she said the government members don't want Ms. Astravas to appear. That's not at all true. It's very clear that we've voted already on a motion to invite Ms. Astravas to appear. It's the will of the committee that she appear. That includes the members of the Liberal caucus who are on this committee. That's not what's up for debate here at all.
What's up for debate here is whether a summons is required. I think that the summons is unnecessary for a few reasons. One is that this study, as we've just voted and agreed on, has time left in it. We still have time to discuss what we need to do as a committee to make sure that we hear from all the people we want to hear from. We're looking at another two weeks at least, if I'm not mistaken. I could be corrected—it could be longer—but it's at least two weeks for this study. If that's the case, then we have further meetings where this particular issue can be debated and discussed, but I think we should exhaust the option of inviting Ms. Astravas before we summon her. I think there are a lot of good reasons for that. There are the precedents that we've talked about. There's making sure that we get the best possible testimony and insight.
I think there are a lot of reasons why someone may not have responded. It's not for us to speculate what those are, but I think it is for us to follow precedent. As the clerk has pointed out, usually you don't summon someone unless they have refused to appear, and that's not the case in this case. I just think we should give time to hear back from Ms. Astravas for that reason.
Madam Chair, thanks very much. I had to sub out for a bit. I'm just getting my bearings here in the discussion, but I think there are a couple of points that are important.
I think the most important is, of course, the question before us, which is how we change the culture in the Canadian Forces with respect to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. Pretty much every witness who's been in front of us has said that, and members across party lines on the committee have echoed that. That's where the committee's energies should go.
With respect to witness selection, just about an hour ago, I think a very important point was made, which was that we have the mechanism of a subcommittee to talk about witnesses and to reach agreements, which would keep the committee's time focused on what matters most.
With respect to the exercise of a summons, I understand there's very strong precedent to not issue a summons if somebody has not specifically declined an invitation. As my colleague just mentioned, Ms. Astravas is willing to come, or has indicated willingness. The committee has indicated willingness to hear her. There has been no rejection on her part. For that reason, I think that channel needs to be open and worked through.
Again, in the last few sessions, the committee's attention has been in large part on the allegations against the former chief of the defence staff, the investigation. There are important questions that flow from that, which the committee has heard and needs to hear for accountability reasons, but the bigger question is no longer an elephant in the room. A very open question, certainly since the ERA in 2015, has been the culture in the Canadian Forces, and that it's not only very disparately affecting women who are serving today but equally discouraging women and men from considering the Canadian Forces as a career choice. That really, I think, in the last Parliament and in this Parliament, has been the attention of the committee and needs to remain so.
Let's use our strategic tools. Let's be thoughtful about this. Let's get the right people into the room. Let's move the yardstick. I think there's a lot of goodwill across party lines to do that. The most recent witness we had in front of us earlier today was also quite emphatic with respect to the structural and cultural changes that need to happen. It was good to hear, from a former chief of staff to a former prime minister, words that really echo, almost to the word, the commitment of the current .
I'll put it back to you, Madam Chair. I think we should move forward in an efficient and expeditious manner and solve the questions before us.
Thanks very much, Chair.
I want to pick up where Mr. Bagnell left off.
He's right. We have a meeting on Friday. We can discuss this at the Friday meeting, the meeting after that or the meeting after that. We have a number of meetings scheduled. I think we have lots of time. This is not to consider this, but at this point, I think it's too early and it's unfair. We should all pause and think about what precedent we're setting and what this does if we just start summoning when we don't hear from witnesses at committee. I think it's dangerous to our work, to the partisanship on committees and to getting things done in general.
Mr. Ruff said something that I think is interesting. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but he kind of offered to help the clerk track down a person we're trying to reach out to. That's the spirit of what we should be focused on in my view. How do we reach Ms. Astravas, make sure she's being contacted at the appropriate place and make sure something isn't happening that's causing her not to respond? I don't know. I think approaching it that way is more constructive and useful. It allows us to make sure we exhaust the invitation option. We haven't exhausted that. Ms. Astravas hasn't refused to appear. We don't know what's happening or why she hasn't responded.
I think we just need to give that invitation time to play out. A summons is incredibly harsh and unnecessary under these circumstances. We—committees in this Parliament and past Parliaments—have not used the summons like this. We all know that. I think it's unfair to the individual and to future committees for which the precedent will have been set that if someone doesn't respond within a relatively brief period of time, we start summoning people. That has incredibly damaging effects—reputational and otherwise—that are unnecessary.
Let's just take stock of the impact this is going to have if we keep doing this to people. If somebody refuses to come, it's fair game to have that discussion. If someone has not refused to come, I don't think that's fair to the person.
I'm sure there's still hope to reach Ms. Astravas. Mr. Ruff proposed some solutions. I'm not sure if those are the right ones or not. I'm not going to pretend to know. The point is that we try to do what we can to reach her and hear back from her. That's the issue at play here. Nobody said she shouldn't testify or doesn't want to. The members of this committee, certainly on the government side, have been supportive of having her present to testify.
Let's not go the route of the summons. I think that's extreme at this juncture and has damaging effects.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Again, I apologize for having missed probably a 30-minute segment of the committee's discussion, for having to sub out. I think when I came back there was just the tail end of an exchange involving my colleague Mr. Ruff and the clerk's desk.
I would like to echo the comments of my colleague Mr. Baker. I think a summons is heavy-handed. It's the strongest tool at our disposal with respect to making somebody appear. Also, in the exercise of it, the committee is signalling that it has a perception that there is unwillingness on the part of that particular witness to appear. That willingness, so far, has not been expressed. If anything, there's no evidence with respect to Ms. Astravas's unwillingness to appear.
In the meantime, I think it's important that the committee continue to direct its energies in parallel to that effort of solving this question in a constructive way. I don't believe the summons, at this stage, would be appropriate. I'd like to hear from the clerk on this in terms of past practice and history.
I think it is important that the committee keep its eye and its mind tuned to the utility of other witnesses who could come here in the interim and continue to inform the committee on their views with respect to the question of culture. To my mind we've heard testimony on it, but I don't think we have any sense yet of how to resolve this. We really need some recommendations and some advice. The has indicated that he's open to all options.
We need to hear what this committee, in 2021, should recommend to the Government of Canada with respect to changing the culture in the armed forces. There are negative elements to the culture that we've heard descriptions of. There are also positive elements with respect to the commitment to excellence, to service and to the obligation to look out for one's teammate, one's fellow serving member of the Canadian Forces.
These discussions, to my mind, have not led to our having a level of detail or to [Technical difficulty—Editor] the ability to make recommendations to the government. I think that even if we answer the procedural questions, of the kind that are in front of the committee now with respect to the misconduct allegations, if we fail on the big questions, we'll have done a disservice to Canadians and to serving members and their families.
I would urge the committee to continue to not drop the ball on these parallel discussions. Again, I would not be supportive.
Madam Chair, through you, maybe we can hear briefly from the clerk on past practice. Given what I've heard now, though, I'm not supportive of the exercise of a summons under these circumstances.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I thought Mr. Bagnell had his hand up first, but I'm happy to go if he'll relinquish his spot in the speaking order.
Mr. Spengemann really, I think, raised an important point, which is helping us to understand what the implications of a summons are. He spoke to some of those implications, which I think we can all understand. Mr. Spengemann very clearly indicated that this is signalling publicly that we believe the witness is unwilling to appear. We have no evidence to support that belief. To do that, I think, would be damaging and unfair.
Let's think longer term here, beyond this particular committee, this particular hearing or even this particular study [Technical difficulty—Editor]. We've invited her. That signals that we want to hear from her. Let's think longer term about, if we begin summoning people left and right, what that's going to do.
I agree with Mr. Spengemann. It would be great to hear from the law clerk on that issue so that we could fully understand what we're voting on here, because we're sort of in unprecedented territory just using a summons when we have no evidence to suggest that someone doesn't want to appear.
I want to second that suggestion and urge us to really consider that before voting on this.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I have listened carefully to the debate so far. I have held back from speaking to fully understand all the ins and outs of a summons to appear before the committee, as it is a procedure with which I am less familiar. I do not have 30 or 40 years of committee experience. However, to the best of my knowledge, this procedure can still be implemented by a committee, if necessary.
I have a little difficulty understanding the logic and the arguments that a witness could not be summoned to testify because the witness did not refuse to come to the committee. I find this surprising, because, following this logic, as long as someone does not respond, we do not have the right to summon them to testify. In the end, if you don't want to testify, all you have to do is not answer. Since we did not refuse, we cannot be summoned to testify. The logic is a bit hard to follow.
I would even add that it's not like we were looking for someone like Ms. Astravas, who disappeared into the mist and we are unable to find. If this is indeed the case, there is a problem, because as far as I know, she is still a government official. If the government is unable to find its officials to testify, there are serious questions to be asked.
For that reason, I would invite everyone to finish this round of questions and proceed to the vote. Everyone may not have had a chance to speak, but I think there are several people who have spoken a few times and have already had a chance to make their point. I wouldn't want them to exhaust themselves repeating the same arguments.
Madam Chair, thank you very much.
One of the very important points of discussion of this committee has been the question of accountability, and adjunct to that question, the idea of investigative independence. We've heard from witnesses of all stripes, including the witness today who testified that it's not appropriate for a minister or a political entity to be involved in driving, leading or being part of an investigation.
The witness who is under discussion now, potential witness Ms. Astravas, would be part of that political apparatus. As far as I understand, I think the committee has come to a landing on the question with respect to accountability. Investigative processes need to be independent. We have some very clear testimony that was given earlier today in an exchange with my colleague Mr. Baker that makes that point very precisely.
Just to contextualize the interests on the part of members of the committee to hear from this particular witness, it would be in that question of accountability and political independence from an investigation. That is one aspect of the committee's work. It's an important aspect that shouldn't be slighted, as colleagues have pointed out, but it forms a part of a much bigger whole, and the bigger whole has been left unanswered almost in its entirety since 2015, even though initiatives have been undertaken.
We have a minister at the moment who came to this committee twice with tremendous openness to look at all options, and I think the committee now has a mandate to find those options. Going forward, what do we need to do to break down the barriers, to restore the confidence of women, men and Canadians of non-binary gender identity and expression serving in the Canadian Forces today, and equally importantly, who seek to serve in the Canadian Forces tomorrow and in years to come?
When the Canadian public looks at this committee, I think it will have a high level of expectation of achieving a substantive outcome beyond quibbling over what witness should appear under what procedural tack. Again, my view is strongly that maybe there's even an opportunity, Madam Chair, through you, to hear from our clerk. I don't know if it has to go through the law clerk, but maybe there is some experience that would be useful in terms of the frequency of summons being applied in the last Parliament before this committee.
Some of my colleagues today were members of that committee. I do not recall the committee exercising its power to summons. There may have been discussion on that exercise, but if there was, they would have been left with the conclusion that this is really a last resort measure, and again, it has implications with respect to the perceptions that it generates. If there's unwillingness to appear on behalf of a witness who has important, salient information to offer, then it may be a tool that is applied, but as a last resort.
Madam Chair, through you, is there any information, any helpful counsel from the clerk currently in the room today with respect to the exercise of summons, the discretionary powers and how they should be applied by the committee that we could gather? If not, you mentioned the law clerk. That's fine. I think that would be a more comprehensive and probably more legal briefing, but just in terms of precedence and use in the past across committees, it's my sense that this mechanism is used extremely rarely and may, in many committees, have never been used.
Thanks, Madam Chair.
Thanks very much, Chair.
I would like to comment on what Mr. Barsalou-Duval said. In his speech, he said that we only summon a witness when it is necessary. That is exactly what he said, and I do not think that it is necessary in this case. I think it is only necessary when a person refuses to testify or when there is reason to believe that he or she will not appear before the committee. I don't know exactly how much time has passed in this case. I think it has been about 10 days since we invited Ms. Astravas. The chair can correct me if I am wrong. In my opinion, the fact that 10 days have passed does not justify summoning someone.
In the last year, since the last election, many witnesses have taken much longer than 10 days to respond to an invitation, not only to this committee, but to other committees as well. We're not going to start summoning everybody. That's why I don't think it's necessary, at this point.
On the other hand, we have time. It does not hurt our study to wait a little while for the answer. Summoning a witness after only 10 days could set a serious precedent, and such a practice could damage people's reputation.
Again, I am of the opinion that this is not necessary yet. We should only use this tool when it is absolutely necessary.