I call this meeting to order.
Good morning and welcome, everyone.
Welcome to meeting number 24 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence.
Today's meeting is in hybrid format, pursuant to the motion adopted by the House on January 25, 2021. Committee members will be present in person or through Zoom. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. So you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking, rather than the entirety of the committee.
I remind everyone that all comments by members should be addressed through the chair, and when speaking—and I say this more as a reminder to myself than to others—everyone should speak slowly and clearly. When you are 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 whether they are participating virtually or in person.
I now recognize Madam Vandenbeld.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
The reason I'm putting this motion at the beginning of this meeting is that a very serious issue occurred on the weekend. I put this notice of motion, as is the common procedure, 48 hours before this meeting so that all members could review it and prepare for this meeting. On Sunday at noon, Global News reported that they had a copy of my motion, which was confidential, and reported the content of it.
The issue with this kind of leak is that it is not just about me and this motion. I believe this is about our honour as parliamentarians. The only people who had a copy of the motion are the members of this committee, which means there is a member of the committee who took a confidential motion and leaked it to the media. What that has done is not allow me as the member moving the motion to be able to provide a rationale for why I'm moving the motion, and it has also denied the members the ability to debate and discuss the motion.
I would ask at this moment that whoever on this committee did so, would own up to it and apologize to this committee as an honourable member, as a parliamentarian, with respect for this committee and this institution.
Having said that, I will move the motion, even though it has been leaked. It has been distributed in French and English. I will read it in English, but I know that the text has been distributed to all members in both languages. The motion reads:
That, concerning the study of addressing sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces, including the allegations against former Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance, members of the committee send their drafting instructions and recommendations for the report to the Clerk by 4:00 p.m. on Friday, April 16, 2021; that the committee complete its review of the draft report and adopt the report not later than Friday, May 28, 2021; and that the Chair table the report in the House of Commons no later than Thursday, June 10, 2021.
The reason I'm putting this motion forward is that, as we have heard from many survivors last week, including It's Just 700 that put out a statement on Twitter last Friday, the survivors, the people most impacted by military sexual trauma, have been asking that we stop pointing fingers and stop dragging the study on but make sure that their issues are heard.
We have heard in this committee very many recommendations, good recommendations, to deal with the systemic issues that led to where we are today. I consulted with the chair, the clerk and the analysts on Friday regarding timelines and realized that because of the time needed for drafting—and I'll allow the analysts and the clerk to weigh in on this if they wish—and for translation and editing and tabling a report, if we don't have the final witnesses this week, we will in all likelihood not be able to issue our recommendations before the summer recess. I would defer to the clerk if he wishes to talk about that timeline.
I believe it is very important for the witnesses who have come forward at this and other committees to ensure that these recommendations get reported to the House and are brought to the government. I believe that we owe it to the survivors to make sure that we are focused on them. They have made their voices very clear that what they're looking for is that we provide urgent recommendations so that we can take action immediately.
With regard to the study so far, I would like to point out to the committee that by my calculations, we have already spent 25 hours on the study. It could be more. I've counted 25 hours of witness testimony since February 19. Seven of those hours were with the . Within those 25 hours, we have also had 11 hours of additional extraordinary meetings that were called outside of the ordinary sitting time of this committee. We have had 21 witnesses, and as far as I can see, the only witnesses who are still remaining—there are three of them—are Mr. Jason Kenney; Mr. Gerrit Nieuwoudt, who was the chief of staff to Jason Kenney when he was the minister of defence; and Mr. Elder Marques.
Of all of the witnesses who have been put forward in motions, there are three left. I would also at this time ask the clerk to give us an update on those three.
I believe that it would be within our ability as a committee to invite them for Friday, in which case I think we will have exhausted the list and would be ready to ensure that we get the right recommendations to the government.
Thank you very much. We are having some slight delays this morning electronically, so I did not hear you call on me.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I want to start by saying that I am as concerned, if not more concerned, than Madam Vandenbeld about the leak of this motion before the committee, but I want to say that I don't believe that casting aspersions on any particular members here is a useful way of investigating such leaks, and of course, those who are opposed to this motion—which I am—would have no interest in leaking the motion, because then we couldn't comment on it over the weekend.
Turning to the substance of the motion, I think it is premature to end the study before we've heard from key witnesses. I have heard Madam Vandenbeld say that the victims are demanding an end to this study. I have heard no such thing from any victims' organizations. What they're asking for is action to confront sexual misconduct in the military, and the subject of this study is not the general topic of the policies to combat sexual misconduct in the military.
The subject of this study is why nothing was done at the highest level when allegations of sexual misconduct were raised against a sitting chief of the defence staff, who was allowed to serve for an additional three years without any action being taken, without any investigation, and who, in fact, of course, was given a pay raise, which indicates a judgment of satisfactory performance.
This is the topic of our study, because we need assurances that those at the highest level in the military both understand what sexual misconduct is and are prepared to take action against even the most senior officers in the military when sexual conduct is involved. That is crucial to any measures [Technical difficulty—Editor] sexual misconduct in the military.
We've certainly heard in testimony, and I've heard many times from those who talked about the failure of Operation Honour to confront sexual misconduct because it appeared to set up two different standards, whereunder rank-and-file members of the military were subject to one code of conduct and one response to sexual misconduct while senior officers seemed to be exempt from those measures.
What we're trying to do is give confidence to Canadian women that they can serve equally in the Canadian military, and that confidence comes only when they know that these issues will be taken seriously at the very highest level. When Madam Vandenbeld talks about the hours of testimony we've heard, I absolutely agree with her. We've heard lots of testimony. We've heard lots from the minister. We have heard no one take responsibility for the fact that the chief of defence staff continued to serve for an additional three years, let alone apologize for that fact.
We have had no one take responsibility for the fact that the allegation against him, for which the military ombudsman clearly found evidence, was ever investigated. Once again, no one has taken responsibility, and no one has apologized for the failure to follow up on that investigation. We heard many lectures by members of the Liberal party about ministerial responsibility, and clearly, in the Westminster system, as we heard from Mr. Wernick and as is obvious, there's always a minister responsible.
Until we get to the bottom of who knew what and when of the minister and the Prime Minister, we have not concluded this study, and we still have additional witnesses to hear.
For those reasons, I believe it is premature to proceed to shut down this debate and submit recommendations for consideration by the committee, and I will be voting against this motion.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair, I think Mr. Garrison put it very eloquently.
There are still people we need to hear from and there is no confirmation that they're going to be here by Friday. I'd hate to see our having one Friday meeting with four or five witnesses sitting at the end of the table. This just speaks to the higher issue here of the Liberals trying to shut down debate. They're trying to extend the cover-up that happened three years ago in the Department of National Defence under the watch of , and under the watch of the through his subordinates in the Prime Minister's Office. Here we are with the Liberals now trying to shut down a committee investigation into what happened.
As Mr. Garrison just said, we need to know who knew what, and when they knew it and why they didn't act upon it. We still haven't seen that come forward in any of the testimony that's been presented by the minister himself.
I was extremely disappointed with the minister's appearance last week where he failed to show any contrition. He did not take responsibility for what happened back in 2018. When you contrast that with Michael Wernick, who was very clearly upset that, as he said, he had “lost sight of the misconduct issues” against General Vance.
Therefore, we need to continue to drill down on the intel here. For the Liberals to try to shut this down in an expeditious manner flies in the face of our responsibilities as parliamentarians to carry on with this investigation. Here, again, they'd rather have our having this debate on committee matters when we have witnesses sitting at the table who want to share with our committee their knowledge on this issue.
I am just so disappointed. The Liberals like to talk about being a feminist government. Well, guess what? That's all phoney and hyperbole, and it's not at all about the reality of what the women in the Canadian Armed Forces are facing.
Let's stand up for those victims right now. Let's make sure we continue to get the information that they want to see happen. Just as Mr. Garrison said, I haven't had anyone write to me and say that it's time to shut down this study. You guys are [Technical difficulty—Editor] any results. I can tell you that the only way we can get the results is when we get to the truth. I have more members of the Canadian Armed Forces and more and more veterans who are reaching out and telling us to go further and get more information so that they can know what happened.
This is about restoring trust: trust in the leadership of senior commanders within the Canadian Armed Forces, and trust in the department leadership as well, including the and the . Right now that trust is broken, and this is our chance to repair some of that damage by holding those responsible to account.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I do have to say I think it's incumbent on the chair to make sure that there are no people waiting to speak before moving to a vote. I say that with all respect. We are dealing with virtual parliaments, which do sometimes have electronic delays. I accept that it may have been the case.
In any case, returning to the substance of this motion, we heard the parliamentary secretary tell us that there is no way that we can return a report to the House of Commons before the summer adjournment if we don't finish this by Friday. I know that she has leaned on her interpretation of the clerk's remarks, and I don't wish to draw the clerk into a debate about this, but it's very clear that it's not the case, and that the committee would have the ability to continue to hear the witnesses we need to hear and then to have a session for giving instructions to the drafters and then have, obviously, an in camera session of full debate on what this committee is going to recommend to the House.
We are dealing, I think, with one of the most important concepts that have ever been dealt with while I've been on the defence committee, and that is the trust that serving members have in the senior leadership of the military. We, as Mr. Bezan pointed out, must get to the bottom of these questions in order to try to restore that trust. That trust also extends to the and indeed to the .
What we as the opposition are trying to do is to make sure that we get the evidence we need to restore that trust. That's why what I believe are quite direct attempts today to cut off debate are inappropriate and do not serve the serving members of the Canadian Forces well.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
This is highly disconcerting.
First of all, I think we need to put it on the record that there are still nine and a half weeks left before the summer recess. We have in the past, on other committees and on this committee, been able to have drafting instructions, write a report, complete it, submit it and table it in the House in significantly less time than that. My concern is that this is offering an unjustified pressure of timeline when one doesn't actually exist.
Second of all, the fact that the parliamentary secretary to the has brought this forward is also somewhat disconcerting. She is a representative of the executive branch. The responsibility of the House of Commons standing committee is to, in part, hold the executive branch accountable. In something as serious as this, we need to have not only in reality no interference from the executive branch, but we need even more so to have no possible perception of interference by the executive branch.
We are talking about the trust and confidence of Canadian Forces personnel and of Canadians in the whole structure of the National Defence Act and in our elected representative who is responsible for the Department of National Defence and the military—the .
Once that trust and confidence have been lost, and with any possible perception that the executive branch is interfering in our ability to get to the bottom of it, then the very institutions of a military and our democratic structure are strongly at risk. I wanted to make sure that I put that forward.
Third, I have no one who has asked to conclude this study. In fact, I have been overwhelmed by the number of emails, phone calls and texts to my office and to me personally that are providing additional information, support and feedback on just how critical this study is and just how overdue it is. [Technical difficulty—Editor] incident that has simply arisen recently. It is not a one-off. It is, unfortunately—the more we do the study—a systematic pattern of behaviour at the very highest levels, possibly even including the Privy Council, the Prime Minister's Office, the himself and the .
[Technical difficulty—Editor] people do not feel that we have got to the bottom of this and have done our legislative responsibility as elected representatives of Canadians to figure out exactly how this went wrong and what needs to be done to re-establish the trust and confidence in the Canadian Armed Forces.
We still have no answer on why a CDS with outstanding unresolved allegations of sexual misconduct was allowed to continue in his position for an additional three years. The fact that there was any possibility that those allegations were true and that no one—not at the highest level—determined the need to investigate or get to the bottom of it and ensure that they weren't true is highly disconcerting. Also, we still have no accountability from the or anyone else that it was in fact their responsibility to ensure that a chief of the defence staff or any senior military personnel were allowed to continue with unresolved allegations of any kind, not the least of which is abuse of power or sexual misconduct.
Last, but just as important, how are we going to ensure that the process continues after our study is complete and that those people who are complicit, either through their silence or through their actions, are held accountable?
I ask that because this is not only about fixing processes and procedures. It's not only about holding accountable those who should have done something. It's also about ensuring that those who may have done things that were not honourable and beyond reproach are held accountable in the future.
There is still a significant amount of serious inquiry that we, as elected representatives, must look into and that's why we cannot, must not stop now. We owe it to the citizens and the members of the Canadian Forces. I was a woman in the military and I did not feel that I was able to serve equally in some circumstances, and that was over 30 years ago. This is our time to do something about it. We can't afford not to. This study is a critical piece in moving forward the country and the Canadian Armed Forces.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I heard the comments from my colleagues in the Conservative Party and the NDP, and I have to say that I agree with them for the most part, especially when they say that they feel frustrated that they don't know the substance of the case and that they don't really know what the [technical difficulties] were in terms of the responsibilities for the decisions that were made, or rather decisions that weren't made, regarding the status of the witnesses who were called by the committee and that the government refuses to allow to appear. All these things are very worrisome, but we must also think about the victims. The committee must be able to report on the situation so that the government and decision-makers take these victims into account so that they know that they've ultimately been heard.
We all know that the government is dreaming of calling an election. If we don't manage to complete the report by the end of June, there most likely won't ever be one. I think it would be a shame to lose such an opportunity to report on the committee's work, both for victims and for those who are disappointed by the government's actions in terms of its sort of willingness to prevent witnesses from appearing before the committee.
Steps have also been taken by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics regarding an outstanding order of reference. I think that will continue.
So I intend to support the motion.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
It is disappointing that the Liberals are bringing forward this motion as part of an ongoing cover-up of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces by the highest ranking officers, particularly by the two chiefs of the defence staff. It's more about protecting themselves as Liberals than protecting the brave women who serve us in uniform.
I've been on this committee now for 10 years and a parliamentarian for much longer, and I've never seen a report take this long to draft, with over a two-month time frame that has been proposed. I've seen us do reports quickly and easily in a matter of days, and I've also seen very substantive reports get done in less than a month, so I think that if we want to buckle down we can get that report done. I do want to have a report.
Let's keep in mind that the status of women committee is also doing its own study into sexual misconduct, so we can continue to drive forward on looking at who knew what and when and why they did or did not take any action and allow the other committee, the status of women committee, to do the more substantive work on how we support the victims and how we can change things like the culture within the Canadian Armed Forces. I think that is where we need to make sure that we don't cross wires but try to collaborate as much as possible, including looking at testimony that's been provided to the status of women committee and how we may want to utilize that in our own report here.
It's interesting to note that when we look at the witnesses who have appeared, virtually all of the witnesses invited by the Liberal members of the committee have already showed up, yet when we look at whom we've asked for on our side of the table, we still haven't had Zita Astravas, despite moving a number of motions at this committee, as well as in the House of Commons, asking her to appear. Instead, the last time, we got . Then there's Elder Marques, who was a senior adviser to . We've asked him to appear and he still hasn't showed up. This is why I think the Liberals are trying to shut down this study. They don't want him to appear, because he is a person who can connect the dots about who knew what within Minister Sajjan's office and who knew what within the Prime Minister's Office.
Of course, Michael Wernick, being the former clerk of the Privy Council, wasn't party to the conversations that he said took place on the second floor of the Office. This is something that we need to keep in mind and to hear from these witnesses if we want to get down to the bottom of why this ball was dropped, especially in relation to General Vance. What was known three years ago and why wasn't it acted upon? Why wasn't he removed, at the very least, as the senior commander of Operation Honour? It undermined all the work that took place trying to stomp out sexual misconduct, and as we found out, it didn't at all address sexual misconduct by the very highest commanders within the Canadian Armed Forces, who are now facing multiple allegations. There are multiple leaders within the Canadian Armed Forces who are implicated. We need to hear from both present and past political staffers within the upper Liberal echelon to come forward to talk about what happened.
The other thing that we haven't been able to drill down on is the minister continuing claim that he couldn't do anything because that would have been considered political interference. We've heard from military justice experts like retired Colonel Michel Drapeau and retired justice Létourneau, who have said publicly that it's not political interference to ask for an investigation or to accept evidence and then pass it on to the appropriate people. We also saw in the news last week that the current commander of the Canadian Forces national investigation service said that it's not political interference to ask CFNIS to do an investigation. It would only be political interference if the minister tried to direct the particulars about the investigation as to tampering with evidence, or telling them that they can't talk to so and so, or that this or that is the outcome he wanted. If it's to look into allegations, that is not considered political interference. A case in point is the and his office directing the investigations into Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. Those investigations were definitely done at the highest levels of the Liberal government, and yet that's not considered political interference.
It comes back to the trust within the Canadian Armed Forces. The trust in and in has been completely eroded because of these allegations, and it is our responsibility to investigate this as far as we can and start rebuilding that trust. The way we can rebuild that trust is if we can clearly document at every step of the way how that trust broke down, going right back to evidence being presented to Minister Sajjan on March 1, 2018.
Madam Chair, we need to do a lot more work here, and I still have full confidence that at the end of the day, we can call in probably another four to six witnesses, especially if we have witnesses who provide us with more information that require us to ask [Technical difficulty--Editor] to appear before committee as we continue to connect the dots and still get to a final report before the House recesses.
I know that in nine and a half weeks we can find the time, including during a break week and during other meeting times within the parliamentary calendar, to get this work done, because this is the most important work we are undertaking in this session. We haven't seen anything rattle the Canadian Armed Forces to this degree since the Somalia inquiry. It's been a generation since then. We need to look at how we can take all that we have learned here and move forward with proper recommendations that the government can act on.
The other thing we always have to keep in mind, and we know that based upon the [Technical difficulty--Editor]. In reality, we may not make it to the end of June anyway because Parliament could be prorogued and an election could be under way, so I put that out there as well, that it will be very difficult to get to a final report with a spring election.
This is my first year on the committee, but it seems from what I've heard that this is one of the most important studies that's happened in a very long time. If that is indeed the case, it is very important that we continue to get all of the information possible to get so that when we do our report, it will be complete. Ending it early makes no sense if it's such an important study.
Clearly, we don't have all the information at this point. There is a lot of time left. We've heard a lot of other issues mentioned about it maybe not even mattering because an election will be called, but our duty is not to worry about when an election is going to be called. Our duty is to get the information and do a thorough report.
We know there are more witnesses to be called. It is premature at this point to not have them come in. We need to have them appear. We can all work more time on this project. The analysts can work longer hours if this is important. I know nobody wants to hear that, but the fact of the matter is this is a job we are doing for our Canadian Armed Forces, for Canada.
We can't just say that we only have so much time left and that we're just going to work our normal hours, and that's it. This is important. Let's do the right thing. Let's work as much as we have to on this. Clearly, more questions have to be asked, and something that is really frustrating to me is that we have wasted a lot of time in these discussions.
This morning we Conservatives have been talking, but we've had three or four meetings where the Liberals have done what they are doing today, where we have wasted, two, three or four hours when we could have had witnesses coming in and been asking them the questions instead of debating among ourselves.
I don't think this committee should be partisan in the way it is right now. We should be non-partisan. We should be looking for the truth. Canadian want to hear the truth. I don't think we're doing that by trying to stop things from happening and delaying people from coming in. Certainly what we saw with the ministers speaking for their staff, there seemed to be another diversion there.
I think we need to keep going. We should set this motion aside. We should put in another couple of weeks on this for sure, and then once we feel we have all of the information, that's when we should stop and start writing the report.
Thanks very much, Madam Chair.
I really want to respond to a couple of issues that have been raised by my opposition colleagues, because I think they're important to [Technical difficulty—Editor].
First of all, I think it's really important to note what some of the opposition members have indicated, namely, that they're not hearing members of the forces or survivors of sexual harassment and assault say they want a report to be written and finalized as soon as possible. [Technical difficulty—Editor] provide support for that, and I would turn the member's attention to the group called It's Just 700. I'll read from their Twitter bio, which says it's “Run by a group of volunteers dedicated to help current and past service members of the Canadian military who survived a work related sexual trauma find support.” They have a website and you can look up more information if you are interested.
I'll just read a couple of comments they made recently, on April 9, on their Twitter feed: “After yesterday’s testimony at the HofC standing committee on the Status of Women the survivor community eagerly awaits the release of the final report and official recommendations.” I want to keep reading: “It'sJust700 does not endorse ANY political party. The needs of affected servicemen and servicewomen don't change with who is or isn't in power.”
I wanted to address some of the comments that were made by my opposition colleagues, which I think were incorrect and unfair.
There are a couple of items I want to address. First is the comment made by some opposition colleagues that [Technical difficulty—Editor] hearing from members of the armed forces and victims of sexual harassment and assault. They are eagerly awaiting the release of our committee's report. They'd like us to complete that report urgently.
I want to point the members' attention to a group called It's Just 700. There's a website where there's more information available, but I quote here from the bio of their Twitter feed. It's “Run by a group of volunteers dedicated...past service members of the Canadian military who survived a work related sexual trauma find support.” I have personally had the opportunity to hear from some of the members of this organization as well.
I want to quote from a couple of their recent comments. They're from Twitter, so they're available publicly. They state, “ItsJust700 does not endorse ANY political party. The needs of affected servicemen and servicewomen don’t change with who is or isn’t in power. Lately, it feels like our community is being exploited by media and politicians for trauma porn click-bait and political leverage.”
I want to point you to [Technical difficulty—Editor] “for those consultations to BECOME meaningful, informative and useful. We want them to BE used. We've been talking for 5-6 years. It's time for action now.”
They also comment that “Delaying the release of the Status of Women report, including the recommendations that can be implemented immediately, will not serve survivors' best interests. We need help yesterday.”
Another comment is that “Culture change in the CAF will need to include systemic changes to the selection, training, health care, performance review, family support services, and realigning the CAFs core values with the progressive values held by Canadians in order to recover from this crisis.”
There are other comments along these lines, but the point I'm simply trying to make is to underline that there are many survivors—many victims—out there who are asking us to move forward. I know someone's going to say that they were referring to the status of women committee and this is the defence committee. I hear that, but they eagerly await the release of reports that will allow us to address this problem. I think it's fair to understand that they're eager for us, as a committee, to make recommendations that allow government to take action and to end the politics, which they've also criticized.
I would also add on that point that I have heard from members of that group personally that they are eager to have us deliver a report as soon as possible.
As far as the other point I wanted to make, there were a couple of members who, in my view, impugned the credibility of the clerk in suggesting the timelines the clerk offered are not correct and not consistent with past practice. One of the members [Technical difficulty—Editor] not have been in contact with the clerk. My understanding is that it's common practice for members of the committee, if need be, to consult with the clerk.
Ms. Vandenbeld is a parliamentary secretary. She's also a member of Parliament who was elected. She has the opportunity to consult with the clerk, just like I do and any other member of this committee does. That's what she did. In crafting the motion, her goal was to achieve the objective of completing this report before the end of this spring session. That's my impression anyway. She needed to consult with the clerk to figure out what timelines we would have to meet as a committee to meet that timeline. I think it's very reasonable and there's nothing inappropriate about that consultation.
There were also comments that impugned the credibility of the clerk. I think that's unfair. The clerk has been asked for input on timelines, which is completely reasonable. It's very common. Members of all parties do this on a regular basis. I just wanted to defend the good name of the clerk in this context because I thought some of the comments were unfair.
Thank you, Chair.
I was just trying to make sure I wasn't called after I spoke.
In reply to Mr. Baker's comments, many of us [Technical difficulty—Editor] members of It's Just 700. I can tell you that what they want is the truth. That one tweet that he read was about the work of the Status of Women committee and that they look forward to the report. I'm sure they want to see both reports, and they don't want us to cut off work prematurely, and that's what this motion does.
It's shutting down this study. Again, it feeds into the narrative—and I'm not sure why the Liberals would want to feed the narrative—that they're trying to cover up sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces and that they're more interested in protecting the political skin of the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence than protecting the women who serve us in uniform.
Let's continue to make sure that we have all of the witnesses we need to hear from and still put in place conditions that we can have a report in place before this House recesses for the summer at the latest.
Speaking from my experience, it's not about impugning the reputation of the clerk in any way, shape, or form; it's just that we've been able to accomplish this work in the past under very tight timelines, and I know that we can do that again.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I, too, just want to state very clearly that no one's impugning the reputation or abilities of the clerk. What we're disputing is the interpretation of the advice given by the clerk on what is possible and what is not possible.
I also want to say that I don't think it's useful in our debate today, which is about whether we're getting to the truth and whether we're getting all of the evidence, to try to cite outside sources saying what we should or should not do. It is our responsibility as a committee to find the evidence we need to find.
I will say quite frankly that, if I believed that Elder Marques was appearing on Friday and that he had been invited and was confirmed, I wouldn't think this motion was so premature.
What we had is a phenomenon—it's the first time I've seen it in my 10 years in Parliament—where the Minister of Defence referred us to staff. Rather than take responsibility for it himself, he said that his staff told the Prime Minister's Office and the Prime Minister's Office did this and the Privy Council Office did that. The reason we are asking to hear from these staff is that we were referred to them by a minister who, instead of taking responsibility, has tried to pass it off to staff.
I have drawn no conclusions about what the Prime Minister knew or when he knew it. I believe he has said publicly that he knew there were accusations but not the details. The testimony of Elder Marques is quite crucial to finding out what exactly the Prime Minister was told and when he was given that information.
We know from the former military ombudsman that he had evidence that substantiated a complaint. I don't know if that information was passed along to the Prime Minister or not. I don't know that at this point because the Minister of Defence said his staff had taken care of this, and the Prime Minister's staff had taken care of that.
If we had confirmation that Elder Marques was coming and could tell us what the Prime Minister knew and when he knew it, then we might be close to coming to a conclusion of these hearings, in my opinion. Then we would know who should have taken responsibility for the failure to investigate, and we would know who should have taken responsibility for the fact that General Vance continued to serve for three years under this [Technical difficulty—Editor] and know who's responsible, really, for the failure of Operation Honour because of the activities of very senior officers in the Canadian military.
If we had that confirmation, then I wouldn't regard this motion as so premature, but we don't have that confirmation. We don't know when he's going to appear.
There is other important work of the committee that is still on the table. We have draft reports on mental health in the military, and we have a draft report on the impact of COVID on the military. I would like to see us deal with those.
If these witnesses aren't prepared to appear on Friday or can't appear on Friday, there's other work that we can continue to do until these witnesses appear before the committee. Then we can finally find out who was responsible for this failure to investigate and the failure to remove General Vance.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank Mr. Garrison. I agree with him that there is other work here. There are two draft reports that are important that we need to get to.
I've always said, Madam Chair, that you can use your flexibility in your position to [Technical difficulty—Editor]. If we don't have witnesses available, then we can go on to other studies, including finishing off these draft reports.
After we get through this study, the next study that we're undertaking—which you've already provided the terms of reference—is on a review of the military justice system. The one thing we have learned through this process is that the highest commanders in the country are immune, it seems, to the military justice system, including court martial. Who gets to do the court martial when the chiefs of the defence staff themselves are implicated?
Here's another study that we need to dive into that dovetails beautifully...and will provide I think some very good clarity as to what types of changes need to be made to the military justice system, both code of service discipline as well as the National Defence Act. As we move forward, we need to make sure we address that in the next study, and I hope we can get to that in relatively short order.
I want to assure members of the committee, especially our Liberal counterparts, that we aren't here trying to rag the puck. We aren't trying to delay the study. We just want to get down to the last few witnesses. We know who they are, and as I said, it's Zita Astravas and Elder Marques. Once we hear from them, I think we'll be in pretty good shape to be able to start moving forward and drafting the report for the study.
Elder Marques may perhaps suggest other witnesses. We may want to bring in one expert to talk about things like political interference and how far the minister can go in accepting things like evidence and providing direction to the CFNIS or to boards of inquiry or to outside sources when required, because it might involve things and people like the chief of the defence staff.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to continue a bit with what my colleague, Mr. Bezan, was saying. There's a very big difference between delaying a study unnecessarily, and ensuring that a study addresses the critical questions brought to us to review. We are trying to ensure that we do a thorough and responsible job, and that we get the critical evidence that we require in order to answer the very fundamental questions that have been put before us.
As we said, this is not about delaying; it is about ensuring that we do a responsible job [Technical difficulty—Editor]. That is our responsibility.
To that end, we can't say what additional information we will require when we hear from critical witnesses. To Mr. Garrison's point, when the minister came, he said, “I gave it to my chief of staff and she went and spoke to people”. That's why we've called Zita Astravas to provide us with that information.
If we had received all of the information from the minister, we wouldn't have had to call Zita. We haven't heard from these remaining critical witnesses yet, so we don't know if they're going to tell us another piece of the puzzle that we absolutely need to review in order to do the job we need to do.
To the point that Mr. Bezan made about the military justice system, not only have we seen something incredibly disturbing, that we have senior military people who appear to be immune from the justice system, but we also have been given testimony that says the possibility exists for senior military personnel to interfere in the military justice system. That is even more egregious. Not only does it seem like there are two different approaches, but senior military personnel are actually able to interfere in the process to protect themselves.
If we have entrusted these senior military officers with such great responsibility, not only have we asked all serving members to protect and defend Canadian values at home but we've also asked them to go to other countries to defend and protect these values that the world wants to have. If they can't do that within our own organization, within the military itself, then we can't hope to be a model to honour and defend those values outside of the country.
We absolutely need to get to the bottom of this, because this is the tipping point for our Canadian Armed Forces. We as parliamentarians, at the moment, appear to be the last line of defence of being able to push this forward and have some of these really critical issues reviewed and explored.
Thank you very much, Ms. Alleslev.
Seeing no hands up, I'm going to ask the clerk to proceed with the vote.
(Amendment agreed to: yeas 6; nays 5)
We will now continue with our witnesses for today.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), and the motion adopted by the committee on Tuesday, February 9, the committee is resuming its study 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—
Let us take advantage of the witnesses. We have kept them waiting long enough. If they're willing to stay with us for another hour, I think we ought to take advantage of that. We can discuss Friday's schedule separately. I am happy to do that.
Only Mr. Jean has an opening statement. The rear admiral just has a few opening remarks. That should at least give us an hour to an hour and a half of testimony from our witnesses today. Since they have been so generous and forgiving to stick with us through the debate of the last hour and a half, I think it's only fair that we give them the opportunity to respond to questions here in committee.
I am going to open with Monsieur Daniel Jean, former national security and intelligence adviser to the Prime Minister; followed by Rear Admiral Rebecca Patterson, commander, Canadian Forces health services, and defence champion for women.
Welcome, both of you.
I invite you, Mr. Jean, to make your opening statement, and then that will be followed by a few opening words from Rear Admiral Patterson. Go ahead, Mr. Jean, please.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the committee' work on this important matter. I have had the privilege to serve this country at home and abroad for more than 35 years. This has provided me the opportunity to work closely with national security organizations like the Canadian Armed Forces both internationally and domestically.
It is obviously a very challenging time for the Canadian Forces, particularly for women. As your work proceeds to identify pathways to address these challenges, I would be remiss if I did not underline how much I have been impressed by the dedication and work of its members. Now as a private but interested citizen, I can only hope that the institution can build on its rich tradition to nurture an environment where female members can express their talent without fear of harassment or inappropriate behaviours.
I served as national security and intelligence officer to the for two years from May 2016 to May 2018 after several deputy minister appointments, the more recent being Global Affairs Canada and Canadian Heritage.
The role and functions of the advisor mirror the role and functions of the Privy Council Office, namely, providing independent advice, supporting the cabinet process and promoting the coherence and co-ordination of policy and programs of the national security organizations within the respect of their respective mandates.
I understand that the interest of the committee is primarily around the responsibilities of the advisor in ensuring that there is an appropriate vetting process for Governor in Council appointees at the time of selection, renewal or should allegations surface in the course of their appointment.
I wish to stress that my remarks and answers today will focus on the norms and practices that were in place during my term as advisor, norms and practices that for the most part have been in place for years.
As committee members have heard from previous witnesses, the responsibility to support the Governor in Council's appointment process resides with the Senior Personnel Secretariat of the Privy Council Office, or PCO. When it comes to the conduct of security background checks, the secretariat relies on the support of the Security Operations Division, SECOPS, that is part of the PCO. The responsibility of SECOPS is to work with the relevant mandated and expert partner agencies to confirm that the person being considered for an appointment does not pose a security risk, has no criminal background or other liabilities that could undermine their reliability to serve.
There are dozens of GIC appointments that take place every year. Given the need to protect the confidentiality of these appointments, the vetting process operates on a strict need-to-know basis. By this I mean that PCO senior personnel refers directly the names and information of potential GIC appointees who require a background check to SECOPS. The NSIA does not see the names and details of any potential appointee unless something comes up in the background check that raises concerns, from a security perspective, with the appointment.
This process respects the principle of need to know, while ensuring that senior level attention is devoted to information that could put in question the reliability of a GIC candidate to serve. The number of cases where such information surfaces is a handful. In any of these situations, the NSIA will engage very closely with the relevant senior officials in PCO senior personnel, given their lead responsibility for the appointment process.
I know that the interest of your deliberations today is to understand what happens if allegations were to surface while someone is already serving under a GIC appointment. This is also a rare occurrence. It may come directly to the NSIA, particularly if the allegations were already being investigated for a possible criminal offence, for example, by the RCMP, or a security dimension, let's say, by CSIS. In such situations, the NSIA would review the information, take the appropriate course of action and eventually engage with senior personnel.
In situations where the source of the allegation is not an established investigative body, it will most often come to the attention of PCO senior personnel. In such situations, if the nature of the allegation raises security concerns and may require the co-operation of an established investigative or screening agency, PCO senior personnel may turn to the NSIA for advice and, if warranted, follow-up actions. If the allegation does not engage security or criminality, there would likely be no reason to inform and engage the NSIA.
With regard to the specific allegations this committee has been examining—and I am referring to allegations made in 2015, prior to the appointment of the previous chief of the defence staff and the subsequent allegations made against him in the spring of 2018—I wish to make the following comments.
As the committee has heard, the 2015 allegations occurred prior to my term as NSIA, and none of these have ever come to my attention either prior to or once I became the national security adviser.
With regard to the subsequent 2018 allegations which, according to testimony, first emerged in a meeting between the former ombudsman and the and were subsequently brought to the attention of officials at the PMO and the Privy Council Office, I wish to indicate that these 2018 allegations were never brought to my attention.
I also think it is important to add that this is not necessarily unusual, particularly, as I explained before, if PCO senior personnel were not able to obtain information that would have allowed and warranted the pursuit of an investigation.
Madam Chair, this brings me to the end of my opening remarks. I will be happy to answer your questions to the best of my ability. I would, however, like to conclude by reiterating a few important points.
Like most Canadians, I am someone who cherishes the proud history of the Canadian forces. As a former official who has served Canadians through various roles with a nexus to the national security community, I have enjoyed a fruitful partnership with the Canadian Armed Forces. I can only hope that through collective efforts, including the work of this committee, women serving in this important institution can aspire to lead and contribute to the fullest extent without the fear of harassment in any form.
I think we really are going to have to carry on with the culture change recommendations. We need, first and foremost, to address the fact that the supports need to be there for people who are survivors of sexual misconduct or have been victimized by it.
An area that I think is absolutely critical is the work that the sexual misconduct response centre is doing to enhance the programs, because people shouldn't feel that they can't be supported in their chain of command and need to go externally to have their voices heard.
Other areas that I think we need to focus in on would be moving forward with culture change and what that means, and receiving external advice, support, monitoring, etc., to do that.
I know I'm quite tight on time, but I would say that we stand by and welcome any reports that come from this and other committees focusing on the same thing, because misconduct is one aspect, but it also goes into how we effectively integrate all people who are not part of the dominant culture into the Canadian Armed Forces to get the change we're looking for.
These [Technical difficulty—Editor] value.
I will speak as the champion for women and as a commander of Canadian Forces health services, because there are 5,000 military, civilian and contracting personnel who work within health services.
It has certainly been a very challenging time. I know you've heard this before, but people feel very angry. However, when we dig down, especially to the voices through the Defence Women's Advisory Organization, we hear about exhaustion and disappointment. In particular, the break in trust, which we've heard mentioned before, comes down to being the straw that has broken the camel's back; but realistically, it's the systemic lack of being recognized and the lack of meaningful progress that we are having some of the biggest challenges with right now.
As we move forward, the idea is to rebuild trust. I'm going to go back to the same message again. First and foremost, we have to be there to support people who have been harmed, and we need to keep moving forward on that. We also need to continue to listen to voices from the tactical level through all the different minority groups that are out there so that eventually everybody will actually feel as though they're being heard.
I think I would say that it certainly has shaken our concepts of trust and faith as you move up through the chain of command. For us to truly and effectively move forward, we have to have a look at the factors within our culture that have allowed this type of behaviour to occur.
These are long careers we're talking about, but it isn't necessarily about just the duration of the career. We have to have a look at the fundamental power imbalances that exist in a rigid and hierarchical structure and what things go into supporting people whose behaviour is not aligned with what we see as acceptable as they move forward and progress in the ranks. Looking at moving away from a rules-based evaluation, promotion and appointment system is going to be quite important in doing that and focusing more on the values.
I think it was previously mentioned that as we are starting to move forward and select senior leaders now, we're looking at a 360-degree evaluation of them. It is not just about the face that is seen by senior leadership and the evaluation of a potential leader in the CAF; it's also about starting to hear the voices of others.
Another thing that we're absolutely going to have to deal with is gender stereotypes. This is why, as defence champion, I am here. Gender stereotypes has actually become a very neutral term to address things within our current structure. We're actually structured on a paradigm from quite a long time ago in which we ultimately favour certain genders and certain occupations with regard to positions of power. We value hypermasculinity, for example, in order to determine who the best leader [Technical difficulty—Editor] there is, remembering that that excludes all women and men and non-binary people who do not conform to those standards.
Truly, as we—