Good morning and welcome, everyone.
I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 23 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence.
This is a very, let's say, unusual circumstance, something that we don't see very often. That's why late yesterday evening we sent you an email outlining what was given to the clerk yesterday so that everyone would be informed. We also promised that we would begin the meeting with an open dialogue about what the committee wants to do. I need to seek the guidance of the committee because this is an unusual circumstance.
I would like to open the floor. You've all read the email so you know what has been suggested. I would like to open the floor to anyone who would have comments they would like to bring forward, or options or suggestions. I'm in your hands. If anyone would like to begin, please put your hand up. We'll call on whoever puts their hand up first.
Mr. Bezan, go ahead.
I'm having a bit of a problem with the screen freezing this morning, so I apologize for that.
I'm happy to have the before us today on ministerial responsibility, because that's what we are actually studying here. I'm not happy that the government has chosen to ignore an order from the House, but I do think it gives us a opportunity to talk about the concept of ministerial responsibility with the minister. I'm quite happy to do so today.
I should note that the reason we were calling upon staff members and staff from the Privy Council Office is in fact that the pointed us to them in his testimony and said that it had nothing to do with him and we had to talk to these people. In fact, it's the minister who originally suggested that we should talk to staff people, who he is now saying should not be called before the committee.
I look forward to talking to him about the concept of ministerial responsibility and who actually is responsible for the fact that the and the failed to act to remove a chief of the defence staff when there was a substantiated complaint of sexual misconduct against him.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I agree with my Conservative and NDP colleagues.
I must say that I'm disappointed. I don't know whether I'm surprised, but I'm certainly disappointed. We don't often complain about meeting with the minister in the committee. I'm not complaining about that. It would be good if he were here more often, as is the case in most committees.
However, my concern is that the committee's wishes aren't being respected and that witnesses who were scheduled to appear are being excluded. I'm even wondering whether this is a way to prevent these people from speaking. Why shouldn't these people be allowed to speak? I'm told that they aren't the ones making the decisions and bearing the ultimate responsibility. However, they do know things. They know what's happening and what decisions are being made.
In the current situation, where we can see that the minister didn't take the proper steps, it seems appropriate to receive comments and information from the staff.
Madam Chair, thank you again for this opportunity to come speak with the committee once again.
I have with me my deputy minister, the acting chief of the defence staff, and the judge advocate general to answer questions.
I first want to clarify something, Madam Chair. I'm here because on our side of the House we have a deep respect for the traditions of Parliament. One of those traditions is the principle of ministerial accountability.
Our government believes that ministers of the cabinet are accountable to the House of Commons for the decisions of the government and for the actions of their political staff. We have been collaborative with members of Parliament and we have been accountable. It is our responsibility, and we have gladly fulfilled that responsibility.
I'm here today because, as a member of cabinet, I speak on behalf of the government and for those who work in it. Let me be clear: Unelected political staff members are accountable to members of the cabinet, and cabinet is accountable to Parliament.
The Conservatives believed in this core principle more than a decade ago, when they were in power under Prime Minister Harper. In fact, it was a Conservative foreign affairs minister, John Baird, who spoke at committee about why the Harper government was refusing to allow its staff members to testify at committee.
Mr. Baird said:
If you have a problem with my office, you come after me. You can't haul people before this committee in a hostile, partisan interrogation—people who can't fight back for themselves. If you have a problem with the government, it is ministers in our system.
They are accountable.
Or perhaps the opposition would like to hear from former prime minister Harper himself:
Mr. Speaker, our precedents and practices are very clear. It is ministers and the ministry at large who are responsible to the House and to its committees, not their staff members. The staff members are responsible to the ministers and the members for whom they work.
Prime Minister Harper and his government instructed their staff not to appear. Instead, cabinet ministers went in their place. Unfortunately, the Conservatives under —who, himself, is involved in this study, lest we forget—have changed their minds on the importance of this fundamental principle of ministerial accountability. What was so important to them when they were in government has been thrown out the window now that they are in opposition. That is regrettable and dangerous, because Canadians need to know that they can trust that the very traditions of their Parliament will not be abandoned simply out of political expediency by those seeking power.
Madam Chair, the argument put forward by Mr. Baird and Mr. Harper was correct. It was the right thing to do then, and it is the right thing to do now.
Now to the very important issue at hand.
Let's start by stating my position in the clearest possible terms. I do not and will not accept any form of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence from anyone, regardless of rank or position. I am committed to ensuring that affected persons have access to a range of supports and are treated fairly and compassionately. I firmly believe in the independence of investigations. These have been my guiding principles on this issue since I became Minister of National Defence.
We must take care of our people and provide them with a workplace free from harassment and discrimination. It is written into our defence policy. It is written into my mandate letter. It is also my personal belief system.
Sexual misconduct is harmful beyond measure. Our government has worked hard by responding to retired Justice Deschamps' report. We put measures in place focused on understanding the issue, preventing harm from occurring, addressing incidents when they happen and providing support to those affected.
We created the sexual misconduct response centre, completely independent from the military chain of command. We launched new mandatory training and education. We partnered with Statistics Canada to conduct surveys so we could better understand the scope of the problem. We reviewed 179 old cases that had been categorized as unfounded. We created new specialized teams within our military police and our prosecution service to address sexual misconduct. We sought out experts' external advice, and we implemented new programs and policies. Last year, we released a culture change strategy. All of this work was essential and foundational.
It is clear that Operation Honour, as we know it, has run its course. It has become clear that it has limitations. It is extremely clear that we have a lot more work to do. We will learn from what has and hasn't worked, and develop a deliberate plan to go forward.
We need to make it easy and accessible for anyone at any level to report an incident, and they need to have confidence in the reporting mechanisms. That is why we will be developing an independent reporting structure to look at all allegations. As the and I have stated, all options are on the table. We will continue to be guided by fairness and respect for the rule of law. [Technical difficulty—Editor] be upheld, because no one should ever have undue influence on an investigation. That jeopardizes the ability to achieve a just outcome.
Madam Chair, there can be no denying it. Sexual misconduct is a serious, systemic problem in the Canadian Armed Forces. We must take bold action to establish a culture where sexual misconduct is never minimized, ignored or excused. For far too long, people in the Canadian Armed Forces have been negatively affected by a culture that is influenced by outdated conceptions of what it means to be a warrior, a culture shaped by hypermasculinity—one that rewards assertiveness, aggression and competitiveness; one that sustains stereotypical gender roles and excludes people who do not fit the mould. This ideal permeates military cultures around the world. It is evident in accounts of hazing and initiations, and we see it in the continued occurrences of sexual misconduct. It was not okay in the past, and it's not okay now.
We know we must change our culture so that we can prevent sexual misconduct from happening in the first place. We must align all behaviours and attitudes with our core value: respect and dignity for all persons. Change will not happen on its own. It requires a persistent, methodical and holistic approach. People all across the organization must be invested in it.
Over the past two months, Canadian Armed Forces members and civilians across the defence team have been having important conversations about the issues that persist in our organizations. These conversations have been motivated and informed by those who have come forward and shared their experiences, but the responsibility to address sexual misconduct does not rest on the shoulders of those who have been affected. It rests on all of us.
It rests on leaders across the defence team to establish a culture where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. It rests on commanding officers to protect their people from retaliation and reprisal, and it rests on every person in our organization to intervene as bystanders and support one another. We must continue building trust in each other and in our organizations—trust that must be earned, not taken for granted.
Enough with the politics. We have to focus on the survivors and those who are coming forward. Now we must take action and change the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you once again.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you for being here, Minister, and thank you to all the other witnesses as well.
One of the members has mentioned that there are proven serious allegations against a senior member, but it's inappropriate to prejudge. Investigations are under way, and they will decide what are proven allegations.
Minister, I was delighted that you spent most of your time talking about the changes that need to be made, and my questions after this round will totally be on that. The hundreds of people who are affected, especially women who want protection, really would want committee members to be working on that. That's the biggest outcome of this committee. That's a responsibility for all of us. We really have to improve the system, and hopefully we'll be talking about that. We'll certainly be asking a lot of questions about that. We have to move forward. You've been a champion of that, and we're delighted that you outlined the flexibility to move forward and make those changes to protect people.
I just want to make sure that on this round.... Is there anything else you wanted to say about the reason you're appearing here on behalf of your former chief of staff, Zita, today?
Madam Chair, as you stated, it's important for ministers to speak on behalf of their staff. Ministers are accountable to Parliament when it comes to their ministries. That's exactly what we're doing.
In this case here, Madam Chair, what I am focused on, and what our entire defence team is focused on, is making sure we look at the current situation and find ways to create the culture change that everybody on this committee and all of us want. I look forward to the recommendations from this committee and all members of Parliament, because ultimately this is what.... When we formed government, we wanted to make sure we created an inclusive environment for all Canadians, not just in the Canadian Armed Forces but all across Canada. This is something we took very seriously.
We took Madame Deschamps' report very seriously before we came into government. We're working aggressively to make the changes. We know there's a lot more work to do, but we want to continue doing that work. More importantly, we need to be able to hear from the experts. We need to hear from the survivors. We need to hear from the women of the Canadian Armed Forces, both serving and retired. That's what's going to allow us to create that culture change. We want to move as aggressively as possible, but ultimately our objective is always going to be zero tolerance.
We've heard some very good testimony from experts and victims. Certainly that will be an important part of our report, but there's certainly more that we can hear. I'm looking forward to that. I'm delighted that you're open to those changes. Obviously, when there are hundreds of people, if not over a thousand, whom this has impacted in the past, we really need to make major changes. I'm glad you're open to that.
It's never easy to make changes, so it won't be easy to make these difficult changes, in my opinion, but I am certainly committed to.... I know that all the other members of the committee—you heard what they said—really want to make these changes as well. They really want to help particularly the women, but not only the women, who have been victims of this type of activity.
Madam Chair, as I stated before, any time information is brought forward, regardless of rank or position.... In this case, it was about the GIC appointment of the former chief of the defence staff. It was about making sure that the information brought forward, the allegations, were taken extremely seriously, and that's exactly what was done. It is important to make sure that the proper process is followed by the book. If you do not follow the proper process, you may interfere in a just outcome.
I have taken very seriously my responsibility to the Canadian Armed Forces, from the day I came in. The focus that we put on our people, the focus that our government has put on dealing with all types of systemic misconduct, especially sexual misconduct...we have taken steps.
Now, when it comes to Operation Honour, yes, it has run its course. It was started before we formed government. What we are doing is looking at what worked, what things we need to keep and what things we need to change. Our team has been working aggressively, even before the allegations on the former chief of the defence staff came forward this year. We wanted to work towards a complete culture change, something that we were already discussing. We were looking at all forms of misconduct. We had a panel put together made up of former serving members who had lived experience that includes systemic racism all the way through to gender bias and sexual misconduct, so that we could actually move forward.
Madam Chair, one of the things I will always champion with all of the senior leadership is to work forward and create that inclusive environment. No, it's not going to be easy, but one thing I can assure you is that no one is going to rest. Everybody within the armed forces, including the acting chief of the defence staff and our deputy minister, and all of you will continue to work to make the necessary changes.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Before I ask my questions—and I really want to focus on how we address the issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military, so that's where my questions are—I just wanted to say something in response to something I heard from a member who was speaking previously. The member said the minister should have ordered an investigation.
It's important to remember, and we've heard this at committee over and over, that all a minister can do is refer to authorities, who can then undertake an investigation so that it protects the victim, follows due process and is done professionally, in an unbiased way. Obviously, if the minister ordered or directed an investigation, that would be interference.
Now, what I wanted to do was ask about military sexual trauma, and I want to direct my question to Dr. Preston at first.
Dr. Preston, to your knowledge, what support is offered for those in the Canadian Armed Forces with military sexual trauma?
Thank you very much for the question.
I'll actually allow Dr. Preston to answer that question, but we wanted to make sure, from day one, that when somebody finally comes forward.... Imagine what they have gone through. We wanted to make sure that they not only have the appropriate emotional support, but they also have the proper advice as to what they can do.
For example, one of the things we're currently looking at is how, when somebody has any type of misconduct that has come up, they can have one place to go so they can get the appropriate support, they can have the appropriate legal advice and direction, and they will be supported all the way through the process.
Dr. Preston, can you add some more details to that, please?
As I mentioned earlier, there are a range of supports that are available to members, either through health services or through the sexual misconduct response centre. Members can also be referred to specialists in the community. The other service that is available is that we currently have a contribution program where we fund nine sexual assault centres that are in close proximity to bases across the country. That provides opportunities for people to seek support outside of the military if they would rather speak to non-military service providers.
We are looking at a number of service enhancements right now—for example, the response and support coordination program that I spoke about earlier, which provides ongoing support from beginning to end of a person's journey. It is currently offered as a centralized model, so we offer it from Ottawa, but we will fly staff out to provide accompaniment, for example. We are in the process of expanding that program to have regional centres so that there's more proximity to supports.
We're also looking at a number of other service enhancements—for example, the provision of independent legal advice to members, as well as looking at peer support programming, both online and in-person peer support.
What I would say is that, for any survivor, whether they're a survivor in the military or outside of the military, it's a very difficult decision to come forward. In fact, outside the military, in the civilian world, only about 5% of sexual assaults are actually officially reported to the police.
Within the military, there are actually higher reporting rates. It's around 20% to 25% reporting. However, I should note that 40% of those reports are made by third parties, which is actually disempowering to victims.
There is a whole host of reasons why people don't come forward. These are tremendously embarrassing and very sensitive, very personal situations. There is a lot of self-blame that people have to get over before they even choose to come forward. Then, if they actually overcome that, what you say is true. There are concerns around not being believed, about retaliation and about career impacts. There is a whole host of fears, and it's not just the fear of retaliation. People actually experience retaliation, so it's grounded in reality.
There are concerns around a lack of faith in the system—that processes are not timely and that members do not get the information they need in order to fully participate in the process—and also a dissatisfaction with the outcomes of processes, whether it's the disposition that's arrived at or the length of time it took to get there.
There is a whole range of reasons people are reluctant to come forward.
I want to thank the member for his question.
It should be noted that the military justice system plays an important role in addressing sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces. The system works in partnership with the other systems in place in the Canadian Armed Forces to provide education and to prevent sexual misconduct.
I want to point out that, when an incident of sexual misconduct occurs, the victim or survivor has the option of reporting the incident to the civilian police system or to the Canadian Armed Forces police system, meaning the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.
Clearly, as Dr. Preston said, victims and survivors face a number of challenges and roadblocks. As we move forward, we need to make sure that we listen to them, give them more support and respect them. We need to restore their confidence not only in the military justice system, but also in the civilian criminal justice system and in the chain of command.
Mr. Bob Benzen: You never—
Hon. Harjit S. Sajjan: [Inaudible—Editor] in Vancouver.
Mr. Bob Benzen: I know. I'm just saying—
Hon. Harjit S. Sajjan: I was a reservist in Vancouver. I did not work in Toronto, no.
I did not have any class B. I can explain that too—no class B, no class C, not even class A working in Toronto, no. Maybe somebody else might look like me, because there are a lot of turbaned members in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you to all of our witnesses for being here once again.
We've had some very fulsome testimony before the committee. We've reached some conclusions with a greater level of intensity than before. I think one of those conclusions is that there is ministerial accountability. Exempt political staff are not accountable to the Canadian public, but ministers are.
I think there is also a very strong view that has emerged, which was supported by Prime Minister Harper's former chief of staff, that it is not appropriate for elected officials to either launch or otherwise become involved in or call for an investigation. I think this is very important for the committee to take note of.
Minister, I wanted to take advantage of the fact that we have you and the senior-most leadership team of the Canadian Armed Forces with us once again and to ask you one more time to take a closer look at the question of culture change. You said in your opening remarks several weeks ago that we need “a complete and total culture change” and that “the time for patience is over.” In the course of testimony, the committee has received an indication that there is a bit of a tiering within the Canadian Forces, that the openness towards change might be more represented in junior ranks or in junior levels of the Canadian Forces and that there's a challenge in the more senior ranks. I'm quoting one of our witnesses here with respect to brass reluctance to change.
Could you and your colleagues tell the committee what we should focus on in terms of taking the issue of systemic change within the Canadian Forces forward in a tangible way under the mandate that we have left in front of us? What kinds of things could we zoom in on when it comes to culture? There are positive aspects to culture, and there are also negative aspects to culture. How do we crack this nut? How do we really achieve the change that women and men in the Canadian Forces, and aspirants who would want to serve in the forces in the future, deserve?
I'll let you lead off, and then I'll have some follow-up questions for your team as well.
Thank you very much for that really good question.
When it comes to culture change, this is something we've been focused on for some time. I've said this publicly. Culture change is about making sure that we look after our people from the ground up. It's making sure that the people we recruit are looked after all the way through and making sure we have an inclusive environment so that everybody, regardless of who they are—gender, sexual orientation, religion, colour, it does not matter—when they decide to join the Canadian Armed Forces, they have a fair and equal opportunity to succeed, and for us to value their skill set.
Obviously, we have had resistance to change, but this is something that we work quite aggressively to deal with. We also need to look at making sure that as survivors come forward, they have the support. Ultimately, we're trying to prevent any of these types of misconduct issues from happening. That's going to happen through culture change. The discussions that we're having, we've been having for some time. It's something that the independent panel is working on. The culture change is going to happen. First of all, it is the senior ranks fully engaged in working towards that culture change, making sure that at the lower levels, as leadership is being selected, things are done properly there.
Ultimately, it is going to be all our responsibility to get this done.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Minister Sajjan, based on your answers from the beginning, I almost get the impression that you're the victim in this situation, meaning that you're completely powerless and that you've done everything right.
It's a little hard to understand, after hearing testimony from the ombudsman, Mr. Lick; his predecessor, Mr. Walbourne; and Lieutenant-Colonel Leblanc. Every time they were asked whether it would have constituted interference if the minister had decided to identify the issue and take the necessary action, they all answered no.
So I'm trying to understand why you continue to maintain that, if you had taken action, it would have constituted interference, when all credible experts in the field say that this isn't the case.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I'm still having some screen-freezing problems. I apologize.
Mr. Minister, the reason I asked you about your relationship with General Vance is that we have heard, in public, testimony that Major Vance's sexual misconduct problems were well known among senior leaders in the Canadian military.
Major Brennan told Mercedes Stephenson this in an interview. I believe the date was in February. It's very important to understand why you didn't want to look at evidence when we've heard allegations—and I've certainly heard them from others privately who fear retaliation—that the misconduct allegations were multiple and were well known.
So the reason, before I was cut off in time, was that I was giving you a chance to say that you knew nothing about these allegations and you had heard nothing about General Vance's previous conduct.
Madam Chair, I'll try to make this as clear as possible.
The question that's been asked has been asked in considerable hindsight. Imagine when somebody has brought information before me. My purpose immediately was to make sure whatever information the ombudsman had, I didn't want to accept, because I didn't want to possibly taint it. Immediately, based on my own experience as a detective, I know that when it comes to investigations, you have to look at when something comes forward: it can possibly go to court and the last thing you want to do is interfere with that.
In this case here, I took it so seriously, wanting to make sure that the information went to the PCO, which is in charge of Governor in Council appointments, because that is the right thing to do, so it could make the determination and follow up independently of any politicians, including myself. Then, if the course went a different way, other decisions could be made. It was to protect the integrity of the investigation, Madam Chair. There was no other reason. I can't say this any other way. That's how seriously I take things based on my former experience as a detective.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Since it has come up in today's testimony, Minister, I would like to thank you for your military service to this country and for the many years that you served honourably. Thank you.
I would actually like to address my questions to General Eyre. I welcome General Eyre and note that this is the first time you are appearing at this committee as the acting chief of the defence staff. I welcome you here in your new role.
I would like to refer back to some of the things, General Eyre, that you said when you appeared before the status of women committee last month. It was a very important statement that you made about Operation Honour.
We all know that when we are trying to find solutions and ways to change institutional culture, we can do things with very good intentions that can sometimes have impacts that were not intended. I think you referred to the duty to report as one of those things. One of the words you used.... I've heard responses from some of the survivors that this was actually something very welcome.
You indicated that Operation Honour had “culminated”. I wonder if you could elaborate a little on what you meant by that, and also on what comes next. What do we do now to make sure we learn the lessons, but also to make sure we don't repeat any of the errors we've made in the past?
Madam Chair, thank you for the question. This one could take some time in unpacking.
The first thing I have to say is that we don't have all of the answers. I think having that realization up front will help shape our response here.
The framework we have adopted is one of listen, learn and act: listen to our grassroots level, listen to victims, listen to outside experts, listen to internal experts, listen to academics and hear what they have to say about where we need to go. We need to learn. We need to do a stock-taking of all of the reports that have been done. We need to do a stock-taking of Operation Honour to see what has worked and what hasn't worked.
Then we need to act. In acting, we need to gather all of the various suggestions, reconcile the ideas that are out there and put them into a deliberate plan, because culture change doesn't happen overnight. That deliberate plan also has to have some very quick hits.
In terms of Operation Honour and the term “culmination”, culmination is a very specific military term for an operation and means that an operation can go no further, that it has run out of resources, that it has run out of steam. It needs to transition to something else. It's very clear that Operation Honour has to transition to a deliberate plan that will address the shortfalls that our people are identifying.
As we go forward, we need to view culture change from a victim's perspective. Yes, we can talk about the advances we've made over the last 15 or 20 years, but for a victim, that may not matter. Changing our frame of reference, I think, is very important as well.
You talked about the duty to report. The more I hear, the more I am convinced that we need to change the “duty to report” to a “duty to respond”. It's important that we expect our military members to report wrongdoing when they see it, but we also have to give the victims agency. We have to give the victims a say in how their case is followed through. Changing the duty to report to the duty to respond I think is going to be a very key aspect of that.
The ideas keep coming in. We need to reconcile those, but we're well on our way.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Over time, we learned that, when the former ombudsman, Mr. Walbourne, approached you, Minister Sajjan, you passed the information on to the Privy Council Office. The Privy Council Office contacted the ombudsman, who refused to send the Privy Council Office any information. In the chain of command, the ombudsman's office doesn't report to the Privy Council Office, but to the Minister of National Defence. The ombudsman's office can't pass on confidential information, for example, to the Privy Council Office. In the end, there was no investigation. So we hit a dead end.
Do you find it normal that, ultimately, the dead end was your office?
That's a very good question. Let me clarify that.
If an average person off the street provided information, it would be a different story. Here, you have the ombudsman, who actually has in the directives where the information can go, and the JAG can actually provide you with these on this: to the provost marshal, to the judge advocate general as well, and it also can go to the NIS. The JAG can clarify that if I've missed something there.
In this case here, because we're talking about a GIC, handling of information here is extremely important. I understand where everybody is trying to go in saying “if I could have done this”, but I'm telling you, I wanted to make sure that whatever the information was, it was done independently, so that down the road, if it ever came to court, there could be no—any type of—reason why a person might get off. I wanted to make sure we protected the integrity of the actual process. I was actually extra prudent in making sure this was done.
I want, if I may, to come back to a topic I didn't have a chance to speak with you about in my last series of questions, which is the different sizes of equipment and clothing that are not normally carried in stock at bases.
I know, Lieutenant-General, you spoke to that issue, but we got cut off. What I want to get back to is the fact that in many cases, at least currently, when different equipment is required, payment for that comes out of a base budget or local budget. Forgive me—I don't know all the structures, but what I understand is that it comes out of a base budget.
That cost poses a challenge to the integration, because decisions have to be made to spend that money at the local level, and that's what I've heard from people who've served in the Canadian Armed Forces.
I guess my question to you is whether you support this and what actions you would take to make sure doing this is no longer an impediment. In other words, would there be a separate budget set aside to ensure that this equipment could be procured without interfering with the local operating budgets of the base?
Madam Chair, when I say all the options are on the table, we need to look very wide and deep. The first aspect of that, which is the most troubling piece, is that a member did not feel confident they could come forward, because of the chain of command. We need to look at the independence and at giving members confidence about being able to come forward. We need to look at that inside the Canadian Armed Forces, and we need to look at an outside system as well. This systemic issue is far greater than the Canadian Armed Forces. There's that aspect. As the acting CDS just mentioned, we are currently looking at an inspector general position with regard to this, but how would it be structured?
I don't want to just make an announcement on something to say we have it done. I want to see what is actually going to drive that culture change. For example, based on what we have been hearing from our survivors and people who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces and who are currently serving, we need to take a look at where culture change occurs. It's at the lower levels. How do we make sure that at the lowest levels we pick the right leaders? Do we need to take a look at—and I mean this as a rhetorical question—360 interviews? We need to look at not just somebody's performance but also at whether this person is a leader and could command. We need to look at what type of person this is and make sure that, when somebody is going to be going into unit command or commanding a ship or even a squadron, they should get that command.
Three-sixty interviews, unit assessments and, more importantly, the right type of training need to be done so that from the time somebody joins, regardless of viewpoints somebody might have, the expectation is there that everybody knows clearly what needs to be done. More importantly, if something does occur, where can someone go to get the right support for themselves but also to have justice done?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Minister Sajjan, you've spoken at length today about ministerial responsibility. You referred to it as the reason why your staff wouldn't be allowed to speak to this committee. Yet you've denied any responsibility for the failure to investigate General Vance and for the fact that he remained in office for years, despite the allegations against him.
Let's face it, under your government, Operation Honour was a failure. The Admiral McDonald scandal also took place under your government, as did the scandal involving the person responsible for human resources in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Given all these accumulating factors, do you think that this ministerial responsibility, theoretically, should apply to you?
Do you accept responsibility for all these situations?
Absolutely, when it comes to what happens in the department, even the challenges we've faced, this is something I take very seriously. When it comes to the challenges that we have...Operation Honour became something about a name and about one individual, but what we need to do is to make this about an entire team effort, and that's exactly what we're doing. When situations like this occur, it's not about running away; it's actually about moving forward and making the changes that are necessary, and that's exactly what we're doing.
The challenges we face today because of the high profile of the allegations that have come forward.... We know that people have been suffering, and what we have been committed to from day one is making sure that we create an inclusive environment. I've spoken to many of you, including the member, Madam Chair, and we're not going to stop.
One thing, yes, is that I am accountable for what's happening, but I'm going to take account for making sure that we maintain that progress and keep what's worked with Operation Honour but also look at how we can accelerate the change that's necessary. I heard some very good examples, and what we now need to do is to figure out exactly how those recommendations are going to work, and, more importantly, how we're going to be able to measure the results and not just announce that it's over. We need to be able to be flexible enough so that whatever we put in place can outlast a government, can outlast ministers so that change cannot regress, and can always continue, because society is going to evolve and the Canadian Armed Forces need to continue to evolve with it.
Madam Chair, we want everybody who has a complaint to be able to come forward so that we can take the appropriate action and so when somebody does come forward we immediately take action that can have a just outcome.
In this case, sadly, the person did not come forward with the information. We're not here to judge why that did or did not happen. What we're here to do is to provide a proper process so that when somebody does come forward we create every opportunity.
What we want to do so that no one fears reprisals for coming forward is to empower them so that they can come forward. If they do come forward, they will be heard and listened to and supported and given the appropriate advice as to what needs to be done. That's exactly what our focus is.
Right now, even though we've had systems in place for this, we know they're not enough. We are going to be looking at bringing a lot of these systems together so there's only one place for somebody to call, regardless of what the misconduct is.
We need to dig deeper into the independence that all of you have been talking about, to get that right. We want to make sure that when it comes to the independence, people are confident that if they come forward, action will be taken. In this case, Madam Chair, we did take action. Obviously, we wish there had been a different outcome, but in this case we have to protect the process, because ultimately if we somehow inadvertently mess with the independent process, we will undermine a just outcome in our society.
Minister, thank you very much for that.
In the remaining time, I want to take you back one more time.
You've spoken extensively about possible options we have for going forward. In addition to looking at the cases of complaints before us, it is really the fundamental challenge of this committee to take the Canadian Forces in a different direction.
Just a few minutes ago you had an exchange with my colleague Mr. Robillard.
What would be the one thing that you would want to change more quickly than perhaps other priorities within that same vein, to really initiate a culture change with depth and direction?
Is there one priority that you would give to the committee for further consideration, potentially, to make some recommendations on?
Actually, it won't be one thing, because we have to look at how people who have allegations are not feeling comfortable to come forward. We need to make sure we give them the confidence, so the immediate piece that we have to react to has to be done well. What systems can we have so that people who have a complaint to be made can come forward without reprisals? We're working on that and would love to hear your recommendations.
The other aspect that is equally important and goes to the longer-term prevention is a culture change. How do we create the inclusive environment, regardless? It might be that you have an environment free from harassment, and if there is a complaint, there is an independent process to be able to give confidence to people that they will be heard and action can be taken.
Ultimately, what I would like to be able to see out of this, Madam Chair, is that when somebody signs on the dotted line to give the unlimited liability—you have done that, members of the committee have done that and I've done that, literally saying that I'm willing to put my life on the line—that they have the opportunity to get everything they need to have an inclusive environment so that they can add value to the Canadian Armed Forces.
These members who have left...and how many have left is what the really concerning thing is out of this. We have lost out as an organization. I have seen the impact of women in combat arms. I've had conversations with many military members who come up and say, hey, what do you think about women in combat? I say, I'm sorry; we had that conversation a long time ago. Look at Afghanistan.
The most recent person who received the Captain Nichola Goddard award.... I served with her in 2006. She was part of the section I served with...Liz. How many times did I witness her and her bravery literally saving our lives? When you see that, and you look.... We talk about toxic masculinity, but it's not your muscle that gets you there, it's how big your heart is. Are you willing to put your life on the line? So everybody did that.
Good afternoon and welcome, everyone.
For those who are just joining us now for the second half of this committee meeting today, I'm calling this meeting back to order.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motions adopted by the committee on Tuesday, February 9, Friday, March 12, and Monday, March 22, the committee is resuming its study of addressing sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces, including the allegations against former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance.
With us today by video conference for the next two hours, as an individual, we have Mr. Michael Wernick, former Clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to cabinet. We also have Mr. Gregory Lick, ombudsman for National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces ombudsman.
Up to six minutes will be given for opening remarks. I gather Mr. Lick is giving opening remarks but Mr. Wernick is not. We can move on now.
Mr. Lick, I would invite you to take the floor and make your opening remarks. Thank you.
Good afternoon, Madam Chair.
This is my first appearance before this committee on the issue of sexual misconduct in the military, and it follows my appearance of March 25 before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. I'm here with Robyn Hynes, director general of operations, from my office.
As ombudsman, part of my role is to be a neutral and objective sounding board, a mediator, an investigator and a reporter on matters related to the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. In keeping with that role, I will make the observation that we are watching the issue of sexual misconduct in the military unfold in the media and in committee testimony with more concern over political and institutional posturing than with fixing the problem, yet the issue continues to play out in the real lives of survivors and witnesses, who find themselves falling through the cracks of a broken system and are fearful of coming forward because of a possible reprisal or career-ending move.
This issue has played out so far with conflicting and sometimes incorrect information. Testimony has changed about who knew what when, who had authority to act, what should have been done and who is accountable. I say “enough”: enough of the self-protectionism and the deflecting and enough political foot-dragging. It is time to focus our collective energy on changing culture and establishing processes that will truly serve the individuals who find themselves the subject of misconduct, whether of a sexual nature or any other abuse of power.
I've previously clarified the role of my office, but let me do so again. The ombudsman cannot look into anything of a criminal nature or that could be a code of service discipline offence. If in the course of dealing with a matter there is evidence of criminal activity, then, with the consent of the constituent, the matter is referred to the provost marshal—not to PCO, not to the JAG, nor to any other body, as has been suggested in previous testimony.
The ombudsman reports directly to the Minister of National Defence. Advising the person to whom you report about problems within that person's organization is generally an expected way of proceeding. In the case brought to the attention of the , there was no investigation because the constituent had not consented to one. The office of the ombudsman will not proceed with an investigation without the express consent of the complainant.
I've heard through various sources that there are ongoing discussions within the Canadian Armed Forces and the department regarding reconfiguration of their system to address this matter. I am not involved in these discussions and cannot be, as it would be a conflict of interest to help design processes and then be in a position to review those same processes later. However, I applaud any and all efforts to address this matter, particularly any effort to tackle the enormous task of culture change. Culture change must include assurances that individuals who come forward to call out misconduct or abuse of power in any context, whether sexual, racist or otherwise discriminatory in nature, will not suffer reprisal or career repercussions.
However, I caution that redesigning processes internal to the CAF and the department will not be enough. There must be an organization that is external to the chain of command and the department and is charged with oversight of both CAF and National Defence redress mechanisms. That organization cannot answer to any authority with a vested interest in the outcome of any individual or systemic case.
I've clarified what my office cannot do. Now let me tell me what we will continue to do.
We listen and provide constituents with information that is relevant to their issue. Where appropriate, we refer them to existing support services and/or existing redress mechanisms. Our goal is to help constituents navigate a complex system in order to find support and the most appropriate recourse in their circumstances.
We also have a role in mediating communication breakdowns in a process that is already under way. Where a constituent feels that they have been unfairly treated in a process, we may review the steps in that process to ensure that fairness has been observed and make recommendations to the decision-maker to revisit their decision. My office can intervene in compelling circumstances where access to an existing redress mechanism would cause undo hardship or otherwise harm the interests of the constituent.
In addition to acting as a source of general assistance, mediation and process review, we also have the authority to investigate issues of a systemic nature. Our investigations are evidence-based and result in recommendations aimed at improving the welfare of the defence community.
In recent years, internal mechanisms have been set up within the department and the chain of command that duplicated functions performed by my office. As our mandate requires us to refer constituents to existing mechanisms, this has had the effect of gradually replacing independent functions with internal ones. While there is value to these initiatives, they are not truly independent.
An external body that has the authority to ensure fairness and confidentiality and protect against reprisals is needed. If there is genuine political will for a body that is external to the chain of command in the department, then I say look no further. It would take relatively little retooling for my office to expand its support services to the defence community in order to provide counselling services, provide additional statistical reporting on issues brought forward without the requirement to report on individual cases, and strengthen our existing capacity to ensure all constituents are treated fairly and that our recommendations are implemented by reporting to Parliament without a political filter.
The Canadian Forces are unlike any federal department or agency. Matters affecting the CAF affect national security and impact every member of Parliament, riding and citizen of this country. It is crucial that Parliament be provided with the information needed to ensure that cabinet takes appropriate action in addressing matters that could bring the military institution into disrepute and even affect recruiting and retention.
The office of the ombudsman was created more than 23 years ago to be an independent and neutral investigator of issues brought by members of the defence community who have exhausted existing avenues of redress within the system. This office acts as a safety net where existing internal systems fail. We are part of the solution, not the whole solution. What this office requires, if we are to continue being part of the legislation, is legislation and a permanent existence. Right now, this office exists because of a ministerial directive and a departmental directive signed by the chief of the defence staff and the deputy minister. Our existence could be ended with the removal or change of any one of those instruments.
Other countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany have set up their military oversight bodies with full independence, legislated mandates and the ability to report to parliament. It could be done in Canada if the political will exists. So far, this has not been the case.
Finally, we are at a crossroads now. I believe that it starts with culture change supported by strong redress mechanisms inside the CAF and the department, with a fully independent and external oversight body to ensure that victims of any type of misconduct or unfairness do not fall through the cracks.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'm not sure what testimony you're referring to, Mr. Bezan. I'll do my best to reconstruct the chronology. My research assistants are Google and Wikipedia, so I've been trying my best to reconstruct events of three years ago.
My recollection of the sequence of events is that on Friday, March 2, Elder Marques came upstairs from the second floor, popped in and asked to see me and raised the issue for the first time. That is the first I heard of it. It was on Friday, March 2.
I gather, from reconstructing the media articles, the sequence was that Mr. Walbourne had gone to see Minister . Minister Sajjan had spoken to his chief of staff, Ms. Astravas. She was in touch with Elder Marques at the PMO at some point between March 1 and March 2.
He came to see me in the morning of March 2. He said that there was an issue that the was concerned about and wanted us to look into regarding the chief of staff. I said, okay, you'd better go and see Janine Sherman, who was my person at the time on senior personnel matters, and that's what happened in the afternoon.
I can clarify one of the media stories on the email of roughly two in the afternoon. It was: You're difficult to find. Can we get together? We're going to have to put things in writing. This is an email from Elder Marques to Janine Sherman.
Then there were conversations in the afternoon of Friday between Elder, Zita and Janine. I was not party to those conversations. I'm not sure that I can put them in the right order, but they were effectively about how best to respond to Mr. Walbourne.
By the end of Friday.... Again, I'm going by a media story. The had responded to Mr. Walbourne late Friday evening, saying, you should go and talk to PCO. Then, on Monday morning, after the weekend, Zita Astravas followed that up with a very similar email, which is reported in one of the media stories, saying, you should go and speak to PCO.
Between the morning of the 2nd and the end of the 2nd, effectively, the file was in the hands of the Privy Council Office.
I think the main principle in this, as I stated in my opening remarks, is that it is the constituent who drives whether an investigation goes forward in this case. I think fundamentally the issue at heart, and particularly the issue at heart for this committee, in my opinion, is that we have to build a system that provides that confidence to those who want to come forward.
In this case, in hindsight, as we look at all the testimony and all the comments in the media as much as we know, it is very likely that in the conversation that my predecessor had with the complainant there was no confidence that anything would be done. I think that is fundamentally the problem that we have at heart for this particular committee.
Essentially, the complainant was not confident that something would be done and that they would have protection from reprisal. Whether PCO is the right investigative body for this particular case, I don't think is fundamentally the question at heart. They could have done it if they had the information, as Mr. Wernick said—possibly. But, I would suggest that investigating sexual misconduct of a military member within the military is a bit more complex than, say, within a civilian organization. I believe it does require some element of knowledge of the military to properly investigate it. That could be hired out possibly, but fundamentally I think in this case it was the lack of confidence that anything would be done.
That is why this particular investigation didn't move forward.
Those are questions probably better put to Janine, in terms of how you would go about fact-finding. We would have information about each person who was a GIC appointee because of their nomination, selection and appointment process. We wouldn't keep a running file on everything that they were up to. It would depend on where they were working and what organization they were the head of. In going to gather facts about an allegation, we would of course seek all the information that would be relevant, including the kinds of things that you talked about.
If I can just build on Mr. Lick's comments, I think this is a really unique situation, because you're talking about the person at the very head of the organization. I would never argue that PCO would get involved in internal matters of the armed forces. You don't want that, but because it was the GIC appointee, the executive appointee at the very top of the organization, we did have some responsibility to look into it.
The analogies would be the conduct allegations against the integrity commissioner in 2010, Madame Ouimet; conduct allegations against the head of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2013, Madame Chotalia; and even, at a stretch, the allegations against the Governor General as the head of state. When it's the person at the very top of the organization, where else do you go?
I think Mr. Lick raised a very important issue. Are you going to entrench the requirement that you need the consent of a complainant to move forward, or would you give the investigating body some discretion to proceed without that consent? That's a huge issue, and I don't have a view on it, but you'd better tread carefully on doing that.
You have to contemplate all kinds of scenarios, including the person at the very top of the chain of command being the object of the complaint, and what you would do in that case, and so on. It's analogous, I think, to what's going on in the RCMP, which is wrestling with the same issues. Having a process in place, as we've learned at Rideau Hall and elsewhere, isn't enough. I agree with Mr. Lick entirely that if you don't have trust in the process and people don't feel they can come forward, you can have all the formalities and powers and investigative bodies you want.
The Government of Germany created new structures a couple of years ago. France last year conducted an investigation into sexual abuse in its military academies. President Biden spoke about sexual harassment and misconduct in the U.S. military just a month ago on International Women's Day. There clearly is a deep-rooted issue in dealing with military cultures and building the kind of military cultures that we want in the 21st century, and appropriate recourse systems.
My advice to the government—which I'm not in the business of giving anymore—is that they could table draft legislation as a white paper and make it a less partisan exercise in building the legislation, or they could use Standing Order 73 and refer the bill to this committee before second reading and give you lots of scope to amend it. Here, I agree with what Mr. Lick said on making it less partisan and less about going through the past. I think it's important to establish what happened, but I think all five parties in a minority Parliament should be able to work together and put together a new piece of legislation.
Legislation would be necessary but not sufficient. It's a much broader agenda than that.
That seems to be the saying of 2021. I apologize.
I stand to be corrected, but my understanding is exactly yours: that the appointment made by the Harper government in 2015 was open-ended. In other words, there never was a question of extending it. He would continue in office until someone said, “That's it, we're going to have a change of command”, reverse-engineer from that date and start a succession process. In 2018, at the time we've been talking about, the general had been in his office for three years. The convention was four or five.
I think if you look it up, you'll see that some were four and some were five. If you do the math on it, that meant he would come up at four or five years in 2019 or 2020. With a fixed election date and a no-fly zone in the fall of 2019 on major appointments, it effectively meant that a decision had to be made as to whether he was going to be a four-year guy or a five-year guy. Was the process of change of command going to take place before the election or after the election? That was the basic sort of.... There was never an extension, and the promotion that he got from DM 2 to DM 3 was way back in 2017, after two years in office.
The issue of tenure was whether the government should pick a date for a change of command and start a search process for the next person. That was the gist of the advice and the content of the note that I sent—that the Privy Council Office sent—to the regarding General Vance in early July 2018. It had two things in it. One was the recommended rating for 2017-18, which I'm happy to talk about. Then it raised the issue of tenure and offered the the choice: Do you want to take this on in 2019 or in 2020?
By that time, the issue of the general's interest in the NATO position was a factor, and also what was starting to become a very rapid turnover in the senior ranks of the military, and I'm happy to talk about that as well.
Thank you. That's quite a compliment because, since I retired, I have rarely used the language of Molière.
I don't have a specific recommendation. If you want, I can speak to this again and give you my advice when the government has introduced legislation. The Wigston report may be a model for Parliament and the government to follow.
My interpretation of what happened is that things turned into a vicious circle. When you write your report, it will be up to you to decide whether you agree with me or not. Minister Sajjan had other options, Mr. Walbourne had other options and I had other options too, but what happened happened. In the end, we were at an impasse because the source was anonymous and the person who filed the complaint did not give us permission to proceed.
In my opinion, it was really the system as a whole that created the situation.
I think there were options for to do things differently. I think there were options for Mr. Walbourne to do things differently, and I can see there may have been options for the Privy Council Office to do things differently that would have created different timelines.
The sum total of what happened created an impasse and we couldn't move that forward. I regret that.
Yes. I was not going to make up my own recommendations on the performance rating, or on the term of office and when the change of command should take place, out of thin air, though I was going to the and the deputy minister of national defence as my primary sources of input on those.
There were other issues relevant to the performance rating, if I can just quickly run through them. This would have been for the 2017-18 performance cycle, so the things that were in our line of sight were that that was the first year of implementation of the new defence policy, which was released in June 2017, and the investments that went with that. There was a relaunching of the process for the acquisition of fighter jets, after a long pause. There was the deployment to Mali. There was the fact that Canada had taken up leadership and had been asked to take up leadership of the NATO training mission in Iraq. There was very good work done on closing the seam with Veterans Affairs; for the first time in many years, the CAF and the vets department were working together nicely. There had been the settlement on the apology to LGBTQ military and the $100-million settlement that had been reached that year, and frankly, we were giving him credit for Operation Honour and for work on mental health and workplace issues. There were a lot of positives going into that year.
I did raise with the some concerns about the turnover of senior staff, because at that point there had been a major shuffle of senior officers on March 2. By coincidence, Friday, March 2 was the date that the list of promotions and retirements came out. It was quite a shake-up. I think there's a CBC news article on that.
Then, on March 9, Admiral Norman was put up on criminal charges by the RCMP, causing another shuffle. Then there was another shuffle in the spring, so I essentially asked the , what's going on? That was a factor.
General Vance's ambition for the NATO job was relevant. I wanted the 's take on whether that was realistic or not. Was he actually a contender for this, or was this far-fetched? The minister's view, if I remember it, was yes, he would be taken seriously as a candidate for the job.
Then there was the issue of keeping good relations with the U.S. military in 2018, with a very erratic commander-in-chief in the White House. General Vance had excellent relations with the U.S. military. These were all in the swirl of issues, and I concede that we lost sight of the misconduct issues. I do not recall his raising it with me, and I do not recall raising it with him.
I will get out of my depth in providing the details, and I think you could get those from Ms. Sherman or from the Treasury Board, but there is a fairly formal and structured process dealing with harassment and discrimination and conduct issues. The obligations of organizations are very clear, and there are recourse processes. It also gets tied up with collective bargaining and the right of people to use grievances and their unions to represent them in these matters, and so on.
We also used in-depth annual surveys of the public service and a lot of questions about harassment and discrimination to try to identify hot spots and even zero in on managers who might be a problem and so on. I certainly don't think it was perfect or that we did as much as we could have, but we made progress on it.
#MeToo came along in the winter of 2017, and we had a serious examination about what was going on in the civilian public service. There were task teams. In fact, Ms. Sherman led a task team on that and reported to me. Ms. Thomas was very involved as a senior deputy and so on, so we did deal with that.
It gives me an opportunity to put on the record that one of the things we did as a result of #MeToo and that process of looking at ourselves is that we changed the process for Governor in Council performance pay. If you look at the website, you'll see that the policy was last updated in April 2018. That is, in fact, the main change we made: that performance pay is now revokable and recoverable in cases of gross mismanagement and gross misconduct. It wasn't before, and people could get away from situations by retiring or leaving. They can't do that anymore.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Wernick, I found your entire testimony very intriguing. You stated that the complainant did not have faith in the process and that, because the ombudsman would not provide further details to the Privy Council Office, things became stuck. I understand that perspective and that story.
However, on the other hand, an investigation into similar types of allegations against the same general was conducted in 2015. Did it not occur to you at that time to reopen those files to see if something didn't seem right, given that it persisted over time? This is like a ball and chain, or a noise you can't get rid of.
It seems to me that it is a fairly telling clue.
I'd like to begin by correcting some of the things that have been raised during the course of this committee meeting by some of the members of the committee.
First of all, with regard to female general officers, from 2015 up until now, in fact, in 2015 there were six women at the level of general or higher. Now there are 15. That should answer the question in terms of promotion of women.
The other thing I'm very concerned about is this. We've heard now from multiple members of this committee that there were allegations against General Vance that were widely known. I think we should go to the testimony that in 2018, as everyone who has testified has said, they were not aware of other allegations. The only people who were aware of allegations as far back as 2015 were and his chief of staff. I think we have to be careful, because if the opposition members are aware of multiple allegations, we know there is an ongoing investigation, so I very much hope that anybody aware of any other allegations will bring those to the proper authorities so that they can be part of the current ongoing investigation.
Having said that, I would like to go to Mr. Wernick for, again, some clarifications.
Mr. Wernick, we've heard certain things in the course of this meeting and previous meetings from members of this committee. We heard members refer to how in 2018 there were substantiated claims of sexual misconduct, and how the government, the and PCO took no action, treated them as a hot potato or disregarded them. In some cases, there were innuendoes, but those were deliberately put aside. Would you, Mr. Wernick, say that is an accurate portrayal of what happened in 2018?