(a) women and all members of the Canadian Armed Forces placed their trust in this government to act on claims of sexual misconduct;
(b) the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff was informed about a specific sexual harassment allegation against General Jonathan Vance three years ago;
(c) the Prime Minister asserts that this sexual harassment allegation was never brought to his attention; and
(d) the Prime Minister said that those in a position of authority have a duty to act upon allegations,
the House call upon the Prime Minister to dismiss his Chief of Staff for failing to notify him about a serious sexual harassment allegation at the highest ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces and for being complicit in hiding the truth from Canadians.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time this morning with my colleague, the member for .
I am going to be beginning debate today on our opposition day motion and, to be frank, I wish this was not a topic that we were discussing. There are a lot of very important and pressing issues that are facing the country today, issues such as vaccines, and the fact that we do not have enough vaccines and that there are very mixed messages coming out from the government about vaccines. There are also issues like the economy and jobs, and the fact that Liberals have no plan to secure our future.
At the foundation of those and other issues really is the question around trust and confidence that Canadians can put in their government; trust and confidence that their is telling them the truth; trust and confidence that the Prime Minister is acting in their best interest and not in his own; trust and confidence that when people do the wrong things at the highest level, they are held accountable.
That is why today we are debating the cover-up of sexual misconduct allegations against the chief of the defence staff by the , by his office and by his , and the fact that the cover-up needs to be brought to light and that people need to be held accountable to ensure that it never happens again.
Our men and women in uniform serve our country every day with honour and integrity, many times sacrificing not only their own lives, but their mental health, their own emotional and physical stability and health. They sacrifice their time with their families. They even sacrifice their relationships.
Women in military, women in uniform, have a unique sacrifice. They give up time with their own children, sometimes their very young children. They give up their own time to even have children. They give up so much to serve this country and they expect and they want to have confidence that their government will serve them with the same integrity, honour and sacrifice. Our women in uniform put their faith in their government to protect them from harassment, from sexual misconduct, from having their superiors being able to take advantage of their position of authority. Sadly, the Liberal government has failed them in doing so over the last number of years.
Today, we are going to be talking about what happened. We are going to talk about who knew, who did not know and who should be held accountable. We know the knew. We know that the ombudsman testified that he brought specific allegations of sexual misconduct to the Minister of National Defence back in 2018. We know the Minister of National Defence, at the time, told the ombudsman he did not want to hear about it, and he turned a blind eye. Unbelievably, he even refused to speak to the ombudsman again. I am sure throughout the day, we are going to hear more about what the Minister of National Defence did and did not do.
What I would like to focus my remarks on at this point is what happened in the Prime Minister's Office, the highest office of this land, and who should be held accountable for covering up those serious allegations.
We are being told to believe that the did not know. He has told Canadians, he has told the media and he has told this House that he did not know about the allegations until just recently when all of us learned about them just a few months ago. We are told through testimony that the Prime Minister's chief adviser knew, as well as his chief of staff, Katie Telford, but apparently they did not tell him. They withheld this important information from the Prime Minister. That is what we are being told that we should believe.
For context, and this is important, let us remember that in March 2018, the and his office would have known that the evidence of him inappropriately groping a woman in 2000 was going to be brought to light. I personally recall the spring of 2018. It was one of the worst-kept secrets in Ottawa. There was an article circulating written by a young reporter detailing her very unpleasant experience with the Prime Minister when he was 28, in the Kokanees. If so many of us knew about this article, the Prime Minister and his office would have to have known.
He must have known that at some point it was going to be made public and he was going to be asked about it. In that context, it is important to consider what the could have reasonably been thinking and what his state of mind could have been. He could have been thinking that if he fired General Vance for allegations of sexual misconduct, he was also going to have to hold himself to the same standard when the evidence of his more egregious conduct came forward.
I am sure the would have been faced with a very serious personal choice had he known about the sexual allegations against General Vance, a choice of either dismissing the chief of the defence staff for what he had done or ignoring the allegations, thus protecting himself. When the Prime Minister was confronted with the groping incidents, he skated around it by saying that some women experience things differently. He gave himself a pass on his conduct, which I believe in and of itself shows how far away the Prime Minister is from being a feminist. It is classic misogynist behaviour to blame and dismiss the woman. Looking back now it all makes sense as to why the Prime Minister would have known about Vance but covered up the allegations.
In that same context, let us follow the 's assertion that he did not know, that everyone around him knew but he was kept in the dark. Let us pretend that is reasonable, which I personally do not see as believable. That would mean the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Katie Telford, knew and she did not tell him. It means that Katie Telford knew of these allegations yet allowed the Prime Minister to go ahead between the course of 2018 and 2020 and not only praise General Vance publicly for his good work on Operation Honour, but also make him the longest-serving chief of the defence staff and give him a $50,000 raise. To me, it just does not seem believable that a competent chief of staff would allow her boss, the Prime Minister of this country, to put himself in such a vulnerable position and set himself up to be so badly embarrassed, discredited and disbelieved. If that was true and I was the Prime Minister, I would say with friends like Katie Telford who needs enemies? I would be furious with her, but I note the Prime Minister does not seem too furious, does he?
Madam Speaker, something about this whole story that is being told does not ring true, but it is what the is saying so we are going to call him to act on it, because in his owns words he said that those “in positions of authority” who know about a sexual allegation “have a duty to act”. We are calling on the Prime Minister to act on the fact that apparently Katie Telford knew but did not act.
On the other hand, if the knew and he is not admitting it, he needs to man up as soon as possible and admit he knew but did not want to act on it. Why? Because he was protecting himself.
What we are seeing is a pattern with the . We saw it with the SNC-Lavalin affair, where he denied to the country that he even knew there had been political interference. He denied it again and said that he did not interfere. It became clear when we actually heard the voice recording that there had been political interference. Similarly, as in the Vance cover-up, the SNC interference was for the Prime Minister's benefit, because he was worried about votes. At the end of the whole horrid SNC-Lavalin incident, two very smart and capable women were ousted, the hon. member for and Jane Philpott, the former health minister, and the Prime Minister came out smelling like a rose, at least in his own mind.
I hope today we are not seeing the same thing whereby the , in an attempt to protect himself at all costs, has not only failed to protect our women in the military, but in the end another competent woman, Katie Telford, will pay for his mistake. Make no mistake, her reputation is tarred. Do not get me wrong, if she covered it up she deserves to be fired. If she did not cover it up and he is not telling the truth, he needs to stand up, tell the truth, own up to what he has done and, maybe if not for once in his lifetime, but for sure once in his career as Prime Minister, take responsibility for his mistruths, his conduct and his cover-up.
Winston Churchill said, “I no longer listen to what people say, I just watch what they do. Behaviour never lies.” I believe that is where we are with the and his claim of being a feminist. His actions show he is not a feminist. Canadian women are watching his behaviour, as are our women and men in uniform. The women in his own party, including those who work for him, have seen his behaviour, and if they have not seen it they need to take a hard look. The Conservatives have certainly seen his behaviour—
Madam Speaker, I want to thank the deputy leader for her great opening comments and for bringing forward today's motion. We are calling the 's bluff today, what he knew and what he did not do.
First, I want to tell those who serve our country in uniform that it is very clear that there is a huge problem in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces with this ongoing and serious problem of sexual misconduct. We ask a lot of those in uniform. They serve in the Canadian Armed Forces every day, and they have taken the oath to protect each and every one of us. It is incumbent upon us as members of Parliament to do our best to ensure that they have a safe work environment. That means they should not be subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace.
When our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers, our mothers and fathers serve this nation, they should never be subjected to sexual harassment. This unsafe culture must change. That is why our leader of the Conservative Party suggested, over two months ago, an action plan that the government could take today and implement and get real results.
As our leader said, we would order a service-wide independent investigation into sexual misconduct in the military. That would be from top to bottom. During that investigation, all general and flag officers' promotions and salaries would be frozen so that we can weed out any of the problems and then bring forward the proper promotions.
We would introduce policies to ensure that future complaints of sexual misconduct are made to a truly external, independent body that is completely outside of the chain of command. To change the culture and to ensure that we have a true egalitarian society within the Canadian Armed Forces, we would bring forward policies to make greater representation of women and other under-represented Canadians among the top ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces and all the services: air force, army and navy.
We have to ensure that the women and men who serve our country can do it with honour and without compromise. That all starts by making sure we have a safe environment and having women at the command table.
There is no question that what we are dealing with here today as a motion is about accountability. We already know that the was offered evidence of sexual harassment by the former chief of the defence staff, retired General Jonathan Vance. The Minister of National Defence pushed away that evidence instead of looking at it and acting upon it, as he is required to do as the minister and as is defined under the National Defence Act. By not taking that evidence, the Minister of National Defence failed our women and men in the Canadian Armed Forces.
The minister has said on multiple occasions that he referred that allegation to his chief of staff, Zita Astravas, who was his former chief of staff at that time, three years ago. This was March 1, 2018, and she passed that information on, as we found out at the national defence committee only two weeks ago, to the 's chief of staff, Katie Telford. Then Katie Telford had Elder Marques, who was a former senior adviser to the Prime Minister, initiate the contact with the former military ombudsman, Gary Walbourne, with the former Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, who has also testified at committee, and with Janine Sherman, who was the deputy clerk to cabinet.
We have heard lots of testimony at committee. We have read much about these allegations and the fallout that has been impacted upon in the media.
What we have to get down to today is that there is responsibility here for what Katie Telford did with that information. As our deputy leader, the member for , just said, if we are to believe the , then that means Katie Telford withheld critical information about the top soldier of the land and that General Vance, who has the top security clearance in the country, was potentially compromised and could be easily blackmailed based upon these allegations of sexual misconduct.
If she did not tell the , that is very much an obstruction of a process to ensure that the chief of the defence staff, who reports to only two people, the and the , had conducted himself without honour and that his ability to serve our country was severely compromised. Therefore, if we are to believe that Katie Telford did not fulfill her own responsibilities in informing the , then she should be fired. However, really, this is about calling Justin Trudeau's bluff, because I do not personally believe that Katie Telford would not have told the Prime Minister.
Madam Speaker, I rise today to address this opposition day motion by discussing our efforts to prevent and address sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces and the department of National Defence.
I want to talk about the efforts that were highlighted during last week's announcement about a new independent external comprehensive review and a new organization dedicated to creating the conditions for enduring cultural reform throughout the armed forces.
We recognize that our past efforts have failed. Serious allegations against senior military officers have cast a pall over the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence as a whole. We recognize that our efforts have not fully resolved the problems identified by survivors or delivered the results they deserved.
We have a responsibility to ensure that our people work in an environment where they are treated with dignity and respect. It is a responsibility that we take very seriously. With that in mind, I would like to take a moment to address recent accusations concerning the and the allegations against the former chief of defence staff, General Vance.
When the minister met with the then Canadian Armed Forces ombudsman on March 1, 2018, at the very end of the meeting, Mr. Walbourne raised a non-specific allegation against General Vance. Mr. Walbourne did not go into details. Out of respect for the integrity and independence of the investigative process, the minister directed the ombudsman to share the allegations with the appropriate authorities. The matter was shared with the Privy Council Office, which is directly responsible for Governor in Council appointments, including the chief of defence staff.
The fair and unbiased investigation into allegations of wrongdoing is fundamental to our system of justice. It is fundamental to our concept of democracy. Such investigations must never be or even appear to be tainted by political influence. The actions that the minister took were the same as the previous Conservative government. They are the same actions, in fact, that the leader of the opposition took when he received rumours of sexual misconduct regarding General Vance prior to his appointment as chief of the defence staff.
Over the past months, we have heard harrowing accounts from others who have faced sexual misconduct in the line of duty, pointing to serious problems with our institutional culture, and we highlighted the need for comprehensive and lasting change. I have personally heard from many survivors, many of those impacted, and I want to thank them for coming forward and sharing their accounts. It is making a difference. We have listened, and we are taking action.
As the minister announced last Thursday, former justice of the Supreme Court, Madame Louise Arbour, has agreed to lead a new, independent, external, comprehensive review of our institutional policies and culture. This review will build on previous efforts to date, including the Deschamps report.
Through this review, Madame Arbour will provide crucial, tangible recommendations on how we can better protect our people and set the conditions for a lasting culture change. Most notably, we will look to her for guidance and recommendations on how we can set up an independent external reporting system outside of the chain of command for defence team members that meets the needs of those who have experienced sexual misconduct. We will also look to her to help us to ensure that our military justice system can properly respond to incidents and put survivors at the centre of it.
We will strengthen our existing structures on both the military and civilian sides, including the sexual misconduct response centre, to provide greater confidence to those who need support, and to help us review our evaluation and promotion system in the Canadian Armed Forces with a focus on how our organization selects and trains its leaders.
This leadership piece is very important. In fact, this is critical. As we have seen from media reports, the previous Conservative government decided to appoint General Vance as chief of the defence staff, even though he was under active investigation into sexual misconduct by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service and the current leader of the opposition was personally aware of rumours of sexual misconduct.
Just as the Conservatives were about to appoint their hand-picked choice to lead the Canadian Armed Forces, the commanding officer leading the investigation into General Vance said he was under pressure to drop the investigation. Pressure from whom? Who was behind this pressure? Did the Conservative government push the investigation to be closed, to clear the way for General Vance? These are important questions that I hope my colleagues will address, but I digress.
I mentioned Madame Arbour earlier. Her work will provide crucial, tangible recommendations on how we can better protect our people and set the conditions for lasting culture change. She will carry out this work transparently and independently from the chain of command, with input from appropriate stakeholders inside and outside of the defence team. She will assess our progress in applying the recommendations of the Deschamps report and help us build on those efforts. Throughout the process, she will be able to provide any interim recommendations, which we will act upon as they come in.
In addition to the review by Madame Arbour, we have launched a new organization within the defence team, tasked with setting the conditions for cultural transformation across the institution. That is beginning right now. We know that there are problematic aspects of military culture that can foster sexual misconduct and other harmful behaviours. These are values, beliefs and behaviours that prioritize toughness and aggression over emotional intelligence and cooperation.
These parts of our culture are completely unacceptable. They make us less effective and reliable as an organization. They erode the confidence people have in our institution and, most importantly, they harm those who have chosen to wear the uniform and devoted their lives to keeping us safe.
Under the leadership of Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan, serving as the chief of professional conduct and culture, this new organization will examine how we can address these toxic parts of our military culture, informed by best practices, as well as experts, advocates and those with lived experience, inside and outside of our military. This organization will unify, integrate and coordinate our existing efforts, including ensuring the interim steps Madame Arbour recommends are addressed immediately and fully. Ultimately, they will provide concrete steps that we can take to prevent sexual misconduct and other harmful behaviours from happening in the first place.
The work that this new organization has been tasked with, and Madame Arbour’s efforts, both take into account the fact that sexual misconduct does not happen in a bubble, nor is it the only harmful behaviour that can leave lasting trauma. To create lasting change, we have to look at the full spectrum of the problem.
We have to examine systemic challenges such as abuses of power, discrimination, biases and negative stereotypes, and address each of them appropriately. We have to shed ourselves of the outdated and toxic notions of what it means to be a warrior, an attitude that can foster these harmful behaviours and values. We have to transform the culture of our military from top to bottom, and we must have the right reporting and investigative structures in place to handle incidents when they occur.
We are deeply committed to building a culture of inclusion across the defence team. With these new initiatives, we are taking active steps to prevent sexual misconduct and other harmful behaviours by looking at our existing structures, and the values and behaviours of our institution.
We are ensuring that every member of our team is treated with dignity and respect at all times. At the same time, we also know that we need to do more to support people when they have been harmed. That is why, through budget 2021, our government is providing over $236 million in funding to expand our support systems to ensure the independence of sexual misconduct allegations and to improve our capacity to handle harassment and gender-based violence through the military justice system. As part of this, we are expanding the reach of our sexual misconduct response centres across the country. This is an important step to ensure that members and veterans who have been affected by military sexual trauma can access the resources and the supports they need.
We have heard from people affected by military sexual trauma and we know that they face different challenges than survivors of other forms of conflict-based trauma. That is why the work that our sexual misconduct response centres do is so important. They have been a key resource for those in our organization affected by sexual misconduct since 2015. They offer 24/7 confidential support and counselling services to anyone who reaches out and, crucially, their work is carried out independently from the military chain of command.
Dr. Denise Preston and her team help members navigate the various support services available to them, both inside and outside the department. They can help members access the right mechanisms to report incidents of sexual misconduct, including a military liaison team made up of a Military Police liaison officer, a special military adviser and a military liaison officer. This team is dedicated to the work of the SMRC and they are experts in their field. They can give members advice about how to make a complaint or about what is involved in an investigative process and they can facilitate reporting if the member chooses to do so.
The SMRC can also assign a dedicated counsellor to support members through the process, including advocating for them, accompanying them to appointments and assisting with workplace accommodations. However, this is just one piece of the work they do.
The SMRC is also working with affected members to develop new programs and create a national survivor-supported strategy and it provides crucial, expert guidance and recommendations that shape the policies and programs we have in place across the defence team.
To support its efforts, budget 2021 also provides funding to develop a new peer-to-peer support program. In the coming weeks and months, we will work with Veterans Affairs Canada, professionals, mental health professionals and those with lived experience to launch this program. It will include both online and in-person support informed by best practices and available to any Canadian Armed Forces member or veteran who has been harmed.
Finally, this funding also ensures that we will continue our efforts to implement the declaration of victims rights in our military justice system.
We have worked extensively with victims groups and we will soon launch an online questionnaire to solicit anonymous feedback from DND employees and Canadian Armed Forces members. Through these efforts, we will make the changes needed to modernize our military justice system in line with the commitments we put forth in Bill . We are dedicated to building a military justice system that takes a victim-centric approach and truly gives victims and survivors a voice. We have already made some important progress implementing Bill C-77 and we will keep doing this critical work.
We want to ensure that we have the best support available when people have been harmed. Through the funding provided in budget 2021, we are doing just that. We know that gaps in our institutional policies led us to fail our fellow team members. We have not lived up to our responsibility to protect our people. We have seen that the values we proclaim to hold dear do not always match people’s lived experiences.
Every defence team member, every Canadian, deserves to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination, an environment where they are treated with dignity and respect, an environment where they are valued for their skills. However, the past weeks and months have shown us we still have a lot of work to do to make this environment a reality.
For those who have been harmed, I am very truly sorry. We have listened; we are still listening. Our efforts must deal with the issues at the root of the problem. We cannot just treat sexual misconduct on a case-by-case basis. We have also learned that culture change on this scale cannot simply be ordered. It requires active effort from all of us and a strong understanding of the parts of our culture that have caused harm. Our efforts must be comprehensive. They must be lasting. They must address the systemic changes that keep us from moving forward.
I know that many people are skeptical of our efforts, and with good reason. Too much damage has been done. Too many people have been affected.
However, I promise that we will do whatever it takes to transform the culture within our Canadian Armed Forces and get to the root of sexual misconduct and other toxic behaviours.
I also want to make it clear that the measures the minister announced last week are just the first steps based on the conclusions of the independent external comprehensive review.
Under the leadership of the chief of professional conduct and culture, and following the recommendations of other experts dedicated to cultural transformation, we will continue to make progress.
We will do whatever it takes to restore confidence, and we will keep working to ensure a genuine culture of dignity and respect for all those serving in the forces.
Madam Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
After reading the Conservative motion, I cannot say we were surprised that such a motion was moved. For weeks now, we have been disappointed time and time again by the government's failure to act or properly contain this situation. Instead, the scandal continues to grow.
It all began when the Canadian Forces ombudsman approached the to inform him about an issue with his chief of the defence staff. The ombudsman indicated that he was in possession of emails and evidence demonstrating inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature by the chief of the defence staff.
Rather than looking into the matter, taking it seriously and examining the evidence, the defence minister decided that he did not want to know anything about it. He therefore chose to turn a blind eye and look the other way. That is when the problem began. Usually, when someone presents evidence and disturbing facts to the authorities, they expect everything to go well and they hope the authorities will take the necessary steps to fix the problem.
What were the consequences? The Minister of National Defence refused to hold any more meetings with the then ombudsman, Gary Walbourne, until the end of his term, so when he left office. The minister looked the other way and did everything in his power to avoid having to deal with the situation. For three years, the minister allowed General Vance to remain at his post despite the allegations that had been brought to his attention. Worse yet, he even gave General Vance a raise.
When the story was reported in the media and everyone started to realize what happened, the minister said that the ombudsman had not talked to the right person. He started blaming the ombudsman. It seems that the ombudsman should not have gone to the minister to talk to him about his chief of the defence staff.
The ombudsman, however, told us that the only person he could go see was the Minister of Defence. That was then confirmed by the next ombudsman, who said that he would have done exactly the same thing in his predecessor's shoes. The minister was in trouble. Then, the minister claimed that he was unaware of the sexual nature of the allegations.
The government was no better. The also claimed he was unaware. In the end it came out that some employees of the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister's Office were in fact aware. Then the Prime minister reiterated that he was unaware, but we were right to say that his office was aware. Finally, the Prime Minister was unaware, but his office and the PCO were aware. The Prime Minister then clarified that he and his office were unaware of the sexual nature of the allegations. That was also later denied.
Unfortunately, it is all one big mess right now, since the government's story changes as the situation evolves. We keep learning more. Even if it turns out that more people were aware, the situation is still not resolved.
Allow me to give an overview of the situation. The Minister of National Defence was aware, because the ombudsman told him. However, the minister refused to look at the documents, take meaningful action or conduct an investigation. The chief of staff to the Minister of Defence was aware. The clerk of the Privy Council was aware. Elder Marques, an adviser to the Prime Minister, was aware. The Prime Minister's chief of staff was aware, and she was the one who apparently told Elder Marques, according to his testimony. All of these people were aware, but the Prime Minister was not.
It becomes harder and harder to believe the Liberals when this is what they are telling us, especially when they are doing everything they can to prevent people from testifying in committee.
The meeting that the Standing Committee on National Defence was supposed to hold this week was unilaterally cancelled by the committee chair. Before that, the government was filibustering to try to kill as much time as possible in committee so that the chief of staff would not be able to come testify and tell us what she knew.
Every time we invite a new witness, we learn that someone else was also aware of the situation. Perhaps we have gotten to the last step before finding out that the knew as well. Perhaps Ms. Telford would have had no choice but to tell us that the Prime Minister was aware or perjure herself. By all indications, that is where we were headed. It is getting harder and harder to believe that the Prime Minister was not aware when everyone else was. Their whole story is getting harder to believe.
Speaking of hard to believe, it is important that we come back to the . When we asked him why he did not act and look at the information being presented to him, he answered that he wanted to avoid political interference. In his view, reading the documentation and the evidence presented to him would have constituted political interference. That is his story.
However, when we heard from the current ombudsman and his predecessor, both said it absolutely would not have been political interference for him to read the information that was being brought to his attention. That is quite the opposite view. We also asked the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service whether reading the information would have been political interference, and we were told it would not.
After that, the minister stated that it was not up to him to conduct the investigation. Members will notice that the story changed slightly again. First, reading the documents was interference, but then ordering an investigation was also interference. He is therefore claiming that looking at documents constitutes investigating. This reasoning is a bit twisted, but that is the Liberals' reasoning at present.
Looking at documents is now considered the same as conducting an investigation. The mere possibility of looking at the documents and calling for an investigation is no longer even being considered. Interference is being confused with all kinds of terms, in all kinds of ways.
We presented all of these twisted Liberal stories to various committee witnesses, including the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, and, each time, we were told that it absolutely was not interference to look at documents or to call for an investigation. The only interference there could have been would have been if someone had interfered with the investigation in an attempt to undermine it.
By not doing his job, we could say the minister undermined the investigation and prevented the situation from being resolved so we could get to the bottom of this matter.
After attempting to blame everyone except themselves, the Liberals are now trying to use interference as an excuse for sitting on their hands and not dealing with the problem. The minister has done nothing, just as he did nothing with Justice Deschamps' report. That report was placed on his desk in 2015, six years ago, and the recommendations it contained have yet to be put in place.
The frustrating part is that, last week, the government tried to make everyone forget about all that by making a big show of announcing that it was appointing Justice Arbour to do more or less what Justice Deschamps did six years ago. Basically, it is going back to square one and sweeping all that under the rug. That is frustrating because it could have chosen to act on the recommendations in the Deschamps report now. Instead, it is kicking the can down the road and trying to convince people that it is doing something when the truth is that nothing is being done. Ultimately, the minister is refusing to admit that he is responsible for this situation.
One can sense the panic. The government would have us believe it is doing something revolutionary by doing the same thing that was done six years ago. In the end, all of that came to naught. After pretending they had no idea what was going on, the governing Liberals, like the minister, tried to blame everyone but themselves. Now that their backs are to the wall, they are blaming the system and are incapable of taking responsibility for failing to take action. That is deeply disappointing.
I am sure that, when Canadian Armed Forces members and civilians realize the government did nothing and tolerated people doing these things, with all the blame—
Madam Speaker, we are here today because of what is probably the most appalling situation since this government came to power. If it is not the most appalling, it is one of the most appalling.
First, it is sad to think that men and women who are part of our armed forces and are there to protect us are experiencing sexual harassment or any types of attitudes that are unacceptable in a self-respecting society. It is sad to think that these young women and young men are victims.
Not only is that sad, but it is also unacceptable that officers who are supposed to lead the armed forces are displaying such conduct. It is not acceptable, and what they are doing to these people is horrible. We must not tolerate this.
Lastly, not only is the situation sad and unacceptable, it is also shameful. It is shameful because we have a government that does not see anything, does not want to see anything, and does not do anything.
Justice Deschamps issued her report in 2015. For six years, the government knew that certain things needed to be done, but it did not do them. It took the report, put it on the shelf and forgot about it. This government has a funny interpretation of ministerial responsibility.
On March 25, the House of Commons ordered witnesses to testify before a committee I sit on. Certain government ministers ordered their staffers not to obey the House's orders and not to appear. The ministers decided that they were the ones who should appear and that ministerial responsibility means speaking for the people who work for them. That is not what ministerial responsibility is. Ministers cannot answer questions if they do not know the answers, because their employees are the ones who know the answers. That is obvious. That is plain common sense. Ministerial responsibility is what we are talking about today.
The Conservatives are asking that the fire his chief of staff, and I understand why. The whole thing makes no sense. However, if we follow the Prime Minister's logic, that is where it takes us.
The Prime Minister says that he is not aware of anything. We now know that the Minister of Finance knew, the clerk of the Privy Council knew, and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff knew. In fact, we know that everyone knew, except the Prime Minister.
Moreover, the Prime Minister has not always held to the same story. Based on the story where his chief of staff did not tell him what happened, when we know how serious the situation was, then logically, he should fire her. However, he did not fire her. I do not think that the Prime Minister is stupid. I think he has a modicum of intelligence and ability to manage government affairs. Why then has he not fired his chief of staff, who apparently hid something so important from him?
The only explanation I can think of is that she did not hide it from him. He knew, but he shirked his responsibility, like he always does. During the WE scandal, he threw his finance minister under the bus. Maybe that minister should be joined by the .
The chief of staff is doing her job. I do not think it is right that she was aware of the situation yet nothing happened. However, I think it is not so much her fault as the Prime Minister's. Ultimately, whose fault is it really, when we look at everything we know so far?
The situation was unacceptable, as I said before. However, the ombudsman was made aware of the situation. That is important: the person went to see the ombudsman, who went to see the Minister of National Defence. The minister told him that he did not want to see or hear it, that the situation bothered him, that he did not know what to do about it. That is the antithesis of ministerial responsibility.
The person responsible for what goes on in his or her department is the minister. It was the minister's job to deal with the fact that the chief of the defence staff was being accused of inappropriate behaviour. He should have suspended the chief of the defence staff, with pay if necessary, and conducted an investigation. He should have gotten to the bottom of it and taken the necessary measures.
The fact that he hid and said that he did not want to hear about it, that he was not the right person to talk to and that the person should talk to someone else, though we do not know who, where or how, is surprising. There is something serious going on at the Department of National Defence and in the Canadian Armed Forces. The minister should do his job instead of refusing to listen and playing hide and seek.
The is playing hide and seek too. They keep trying to hide behind one another. Their story changes weekly. Once again, I understand the Conservatives' motion. It is exasperating to be told things like that. They are acting like children, saying things like “it is not my fault, it is his” and “I did not know, she did not tell me”. If she did not tell him, she should be fired.
I want to hear the Prime Minister and his Minister of National Defence tell us what really happened. I would like them to try to reconcile the various stories they have given us so far. How can they not have known, but then have known a little bit, but not all the details, or who, how, where and how much? How can that be? How can they change their minds as easily as they change their clothes?
I would like to hear from the Prime Minister. I would like to know why he has not fired his chief of staff, if she really hid a situation like that from him. They must think the members of the House and Canadians are idiots, because what is going on in the Canadian Armed Forces is serious. We need to do something, so I do understand why the Conservatives moved this motion.
Unfortunately, the Bloc Québécois will probably vote against it. It is not because the situation is without interest. It is serious. It is one of the biggest scandals since the government came to power six years ago. There have been others, and we could spend all day talking about them. However, the person who is accountable under the principle of ministerial responsibility is the Minister of National Defence. He is the head of this department, he is the one running its branches, including the Canadian Armed Forces, and he is the one who is accountable. The Prime Minister is also accountable. He and his minister must stop acting like children and hiding behind one another and their staff.
According to one version of the story I heard, the Minister of National Defence even said that the allegations against General Vance did not matter that much. If allegations like these do not matter to the Minister of Defence, I do not know what does. Once again, what he should have done when he learned about the situation, when the ombudsman went to see him, was to take a stand like a responsible minister and to tell the ombudsman that he should leave it to him, that he would take care of it, and that this was not going to happen on his watch. That is what he should have said. However, that is not what he said. He preferred not to listen to the ombudsman. Today he is paying the price, since the entire government is dealing with a shocking scandal because no one wanted to take responsibility.
For all of these reasons, I am announcing that we will be voting against the motion, although, once again, the situation is utterly appalling and heads should roll. I would like the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence to agree to testify and give us a detailed, accurate, clear and coherent report on what happened. We do not want any more secrets, red herrings or childish excuses like “I did not see it”, “I hardly saw it”, “I did not know”, “the ombudsman told me, but he did not tell me everything”, “he did not tell me it was so serious”, or “he told me no one knew what was going on”. I want a responsible Prime Minister and a responsible minister.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I have spent the last few months as a member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women hearing powerful testimony from many survivors about their experiences within the Canadian Armed Forces. Sadly, I have also heard from those in positions of power that the systems, which have let so many women down, are in place and they are working. We have heard both in contradiction.
Earlier this year, after hearing brave servicewomen publicly share their stories, I felt compelled to bring forward a motion at the status of women committee that started the study of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. I knew that the defence committee was studying the specifics of what happened regarding the 's refusal to act on the allegations against General Vance and what went wrong with the process. With my motion, we on the status of women committee would focus on the women. We would hear their voices and work to put together what they needed to be able to truly serve their country equally.
We heard some heartbreaking evidence. We learned some gut-wrenching details. We heard witnesses openly contradict each other. We heard people in leadership deny that there is any problem. We also heard from some willing to work for change. So many people wrote to me desperately looking to me for that change and I desperately want to get it for them. However, will this motion today provide them with what they deserve and need? No, I do not believe it will. Do not get me wrong, I believe wholeheartedly that sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces needs to be openly discussed. It is our job in this place and in committees to ensure that we work toward a new culture for servicemen and women. That is why I brought forward that study at status of women committee.
The issue of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces is fundamentally about equality. As long as the sexualized culture that tolerates sexual misconduct remains in place, no one can serve equally. I and my New Democratic colleagues cannot support this Conservative motion because it would let the and the off the hook for their failure to act in 2018 until this date and would place the blame on one woman, saying she was responsible for the entire failure.
The defence committee needs to hear from the 's chief of staff. Hearing one final witness will not unduly delay the work of the committee, especially if the result is that either the or Prime Minister finally takes responsibility. Pinning all of this on one woman is not right. In our democratic system, we elect political officials whose job it is to take responsibility. I cannot begin to express how incredibly disappointed I am to see how something that originally came to our attention from a brave woman trying to have her voice heard and her request for justice has devolved into a competition between the Liberals and Conservatives of who is worse when it comes to following an investigative process, a process that is clearly broken. Whenever the Liberals and Conservatives get involved in a debate about who failed survivors first or who failed survivors more, this does not serve the interests of survivors.
I am so proud to serve in this Parliament and to work with my colleague, the member for , on this issue. He serves on the defence committee and I want to quote him from last Friday's meeting because I cannot express it any clearer than he did when he said:
We have failed the survivors of sexual assault in the Canadian military. All of us have failed them by not getting policies in place not just to support them—because I think that's looking at the wrong end of the problem—but to change the culture and prevent there being such an inordinately large number of victims of sexual assault in the Canadian military.
When it comes to the issue of sexual misconduct, trust in the leadership of the Canadian Forces and the government is broken, but without restoring that trust, women in the forces cannot have confidence that true change will occur. Political leaders must show that they understand sexual misconduct and they will take action against it, but, sadly, we have seen no such leadership and no such action.
In fact, no action was taken against General Vance when he faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. Instead, he was appointed chief of the defence staff by the Conservatives and his term as CDS was extended by the Liberals, who also gave him a positive performance evaluation that resulted in a pay raise. The Conservatives placed him in charge of Operation Honour, the program that was supposed to root out sexual misconduct. He was left in charge of the program by the Liberals for three more years after they learned of sexual misconduct allegations.
No responsibility was taken when the was offered evidence of sexual misconduct by Vance from the military ombudsperson. Instead, he refused to look at it and referred it to the Prime Minister's Office, but no investigation took place and Vance remained in office. No amount of arguing about whether procedures were followed can disguise that fact.
The government failed to implement the key recommendations of Justice Deschamps' 2015 report, it failed to listen to the report from the Auditor General in 2018, and it did nothing with the report on this same issue from the Standing Committee on the Status of Women in 2019. The question is now whether the government will listen to and implement the recommendations from a second review of sexual misconduct.
The government has brought in task force after working group after committee, and now a review. This is a diversion. I certainly respect Justice Louise Arbour and have no doubt she will make a useful contribution, but there are outstanding recommendations by Justice Deschamps that could be acted on now. The issue of sexual misconduct is getting the attention it deserves finally. I have heard from current and former women members in the Canadian Armed Forces, and they hope now is the time there will be action. It amazes me that, after what these women have experienced and currently experience, they still have so much hope. They have made it clear we do not need more reports, more task forces or more empty apologies or promises. The only direction the government can take now is action. The current government has never seen a problem it cannot fix with a report. It believes that with one or more studies the problem is solved.
We all know, and I hope members of the government know as well, that only action will solve this problem. To my Conservative colleagues, I want to say that the firing of Ms. Telford will not solve this problem either. Only political will, leadership and courage to take action will create the change our servicemen and servicewomen in the Canadian Armed Forces need and deserve.
At the centre of this scandal and this problem is power. There is a quote from Aung San Suu Kyi: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” We have a government that will do anything to hold onto power, that will hide behind others and behind processes, that will use excuse after excuse, and that will not take responsibility, because it may limit their power or they may lose it. We have leadership at the top of the command structure of the Canadian Armed Forces who thought they were untouchable, and this is not just about General Vance, but about that entire culture and the generations that have seen its growth and that scourge of power spread.
Now, it seems impossible to change, for so many have been subject to it. That power has infected all relationships and workplaces. Sexual misconduct is about power, fear and punishment, but it is clear to me that the harder we cling on to power for the sake of power, the more we lose and that the only solution for us is to redistribute that power. The path toward equality in the Canadian Armed Forces, for women to be able to serve their country equally, is for all to share power. That is a culture change we need to see in both institutions: the Canadian Armed Forces and the Canadian Parliament. When the Conservative party introduces that motion, I will support it.
Madam Speaker, I am not pleased to be here having this debate today. I am really disappointed that the Liberals did not just do the right thing, which is to keep the committee going and do the work that needs to be done there. The national defence committee should be hosting Katie Telford. Instead, we are in the House having this debate. Why is that the case? I guess that is a question that only the national defence committee chair can answer.
I know some of my constituents might be asking why the defence committee needs to hear from the 's chief of staff, Katie Telford. Here is the answer. We need to know who is responsible for the failure to investigate the 2018 allegation against General Vance, because that failure led to having him in office for three more years. Another factor is that the Prime Minister himself has suggested strongly that his chief of staff knows the answer to this very question. Therefore, that should be happening in committee where committee should be free to do its work.
Instead, we have a Conservative motion before the House today that is directing the Government of Canada to fire a woman who may have had some very important information but does not hold the power. Where is that power? It is in the hands of the and the .
For the last several weeks, the House has heard a debate that all too often comes back to an interesting argument between the Liberals and the Conservatives as to who did worst and who is most to blame. This is a conversation that simply should not be happening. The conversation should be this: What do service women in the Canadian military need now to be safe and how soon can we get it to them? The issue at hand is the sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces, which is happening all too often and which the leaders have failed to stop, that today and in the past, women in the Canadian Armed Forces have not been safe, and continue to not be safe.
Those brave women have answered the call to the Canadian Armed Forces because they believe in serving our country, because they are ready to put life and limb on the line for us, because they want to protect this country, our country. They literally put their lives in our hands as parliamentarians. If this place makes a decision, they have to go. If the makes a decision, they must follow it.
These brave women, their lives already on the line because of their service, are hoping to hear this place have a meaningful debate about how Parliament will work to stop the sexual violence that they are experiencing within their ranks. Today's solution is to fire a woman who works for the . Please tell me that this place can do better than that. It is these women who are asking us to make a change, to not argue back and forth but to get it done, to stop making promises, to stop committing to studies but to do something.
As a woman who has experienced sexual violence, believe me, I did not want another report. I wanted to know that someone would step up and stop it, would stand in solidarity with me so I was not alone facing these horrendous challenges. The women who serve us in the Canadian military have had to face sexual violence and sexual misconduct and then they have been asked to be in situations, be it in a war zone or in the midst of a natural crisis, where they need their team to have their backs. Every step they take, they have to rely on their team and that takes trust.
All too often, the reality of way too many service women is that they have had to have faith in the very person who assaulted them. Trust was a luxury they did not have.
Generation upon generation of women in the military did their job, even when their fundamental trust and human rights were being broken, and the House is debating whether it was the current or the past one who was most problematic, or was it the current or was it the last one? At this point, I do not care. What I care for is the action women in the military are calling on us to make.
Today's debate should be about equality. As long as the Canadian government does not acknowledge the reality that a culture that tolerates sexual misconduct remains in place, and means a woman cannot serve equally, we should all stop everything we are doing and start focusing on making it safe. Firing the 's chief of staff will not fix that.
All parliamentarians should be reflecting seriously on the fact that the Conservative government put General Vance in the position he had and put him in the lead of Operation Honour, then the Liberals promoted him. All of them ignored the whispers they were hearing. Those whispers are always there.
Something profoundly wrong is happening. Stop asking military women not to blame this group but to blame that other group. In fact, can all of us in this place stop talking about blame? It is time we step up and talk about action, concrete action that makes women serving in the military know we, as parliamentarians, are standing in solidarity with them.
That is not another report. It is action. It is actually getting to work on the recommendations put forward and listening to the voices of service women who have faced sexual misconduct then and now. They can help guide us. I believe the amazing women who serve in the Canadian military need to hear all of us in this place acknowledge the realities they are living through.
If I were the or the , I would say this: On behalf of generations of parliamentarians, to all the women who served in the Canadian military now and in the past who experienced sexual violence, we are sorry. We are sorry we did not take the realities of your lives seriously, that we stood by and heard the whispers of sexual violence and turned away because we were too afraid to take action. We are sorry that when we ask so much of you that you are still allowed to work in a place where you are unsafe because of our silence. We are sorry, and I will commit that I will do something about it.
I want to talk about responsive action, because we owe it to the service women in the Canadian military. Many people have outlined the timetable today of the decisions made between the Conservative and Liberal governments. That timeline is absolutely devastating and it shows how many times these women in uniform have been betrayed.
The facts are before us. On April 26, the Department of National Defence tabled a report to Parliament with statistics around Operation Honour. There were 581 reports of sexual assault over the past five years. There were 221 incidents of sexual harassment logged over the same period. These are the ones that were reported. We do not know how many were never spoken of.
All I know in my heart is that when we see something, we must act on it. This is what action looks like to me. Stop hiding behind saying, “It was not clear it was sexual misconduct”. If someone is not sure and they are in a position of power, ask every time and assume the worst. Be relieved if it is not the bad thing, but stop hiding behind the silence of not knowing as it is literally destroying people.
Understand that our systems in Canada, both inside and outside the military, are built to support people in power and not the ones who are vulnerable. We are hard-wired to avoid things that are uncomfortable. If someone is in a position of power and is not uncomfortable, I assure them they are doing it wrong.
Change the internal systems in the military. If we want to root out sexual violence, then the government has to put systems into place that make sure there is power in the survivors' hands. Have supports in place and do it now. Too many female veterans have told me stories that keep me up all night. They are coming forward with sexual violence reports and then having to go to work with the person again. It is not okay, yet it is happening.
Women in the forces have basic human rights. They should have confidence that leaders both understand sexual misconduct and will take action against it. We owe it to them because they work so hard for us.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the Conservative House leader.
Today, I will talk about three key issues. First, as the previous speaker just talked about, is accountability. The next is the actions we need to take to better understand where the process failed and how we collectively move forward. Finally, I will talk about leadership and unfortunate leadership failure in dealing with this situation.
I will talk about the accountability aspects first for both the and the .
The government has gone to great lengths to talk about ministerial accountability. I agree. Being accountable includes taking ownership of a respective department, office or staff.
When we talk about the , he is the one responsible for the whole of the department, including being the direct supervisor of the chief of defence staff and the ombudsman. He has talked at length about not interfering politically and respecting the independence of any investigation. I fully agree. I have personally been very vocal about the current political interference historically with the independence of the prosecution and judiciary with the SNC-Lavalin affair, and how this was a great failure and should have never happened.
However, in the case we are debating today, the minister has forgotten that, as the direct supervisor of both the chief of defence staff and ombudsman, this goes beyond just the political realm. Further, there is a fundamental difference in ensuring that an investigation occurs and interfering in said investigation or even doing the investigation themselves.
The parliamentary secretary in her speech earlier during the debate, as other Liberal members have, stated that the Liberal government apparently followed the exact same process as the previous Conservative government. This is absolutely false.
Under the previous Conservative government, both the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service and the national security adviser were both involved, and investigations actually did occur in response to rumours. This did not happen at all with this current case with the Liberal government. The only thing that happened was a passing of the buck to the PCO and the clerk of the Privy Council, and nothing further occurred despite actually having an actual allegation presented to the ombudsman. In fact, the only thing that did occur was the chief of the defence staff getting his mandate extended, getting a raise and eventually becoming the longest-serving chief of defence staff in history.
The bottom line is that the admitted on March 12 in committee that he was responsible for the failures of these allegations being investigated, and the minister is accountable. However, really what we are here today for, and the what the motion before us is about, is to debate the lack of accountability in the Prime Minister's Office.
I have had the fortune and privilege of commanding hundreds of Canada's finest. I have been a chief of staff both in Afghanistan and Iraq along with holding other key staff appointments. When I was in charge, I always reminded my staff that I could only do my job if they kept me in the loop. The line I used to use was, “I can only stop the manure from rolling downhill if I know about it. If I don't know about it, it is really hard to stop it.” However, when I was the chief of staff, my primary job was to keep the boss, the commander, in the loop, and this is what we are really talking about today.
In fact, we all know in this specific case that the office of the , the Privy Council Office, the Prime Minister's Office and the Prime Minister's chief of staff all knew about sexual misconduct allegations, yet somehow we are led to believe that the himself did not know. Based on this, I think we are faced with only two possible conclusions: either the Prime Minister did know about these allegations or his chief of staff failed to do her job to keep the Prime Minister in the loop. Either way, it speaks to incompetence within the Prime Minister's Office, and the victims of sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces are suffering as a result of these leadership failures.
Next, I want to focus on briefly the way ahead and why it is so important that these failures to hold those accountable are so important to the members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
I have been hearing from countless former colleagues within the forces. They are primarily concerned about the senior leadership both politically and militarily being held to account. They are concerned that if we do not fix it and we do not understand where those actual failures occurred, that there is no moving forward. We can ultimately put any process in place, but if somehow the senior leadership, especially the senior leadership politically, refuses to take action, then I do not know how anything will change moving forward.
It has been talked about before. The Canadian Armed Forces has the Deschamps report. I was there when it came in. Frankly, I was shocked at the length and depth in it of some of the details that occurred. One of the first things I did, being a serving member at the time, was talk to the female colleagues of mine and ask if it was true, if there was that much rampant sexual misconduct.
To be frank, I was shocked and disappointed that in so many cases within the leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces we were still allowing this to occur. I can only speak to the specific positions I was in, and I did everything in my power, but at the same time, I fully admit that I should have done more to create an atmosphere and environment where anybody could come forward with any type of allegation.
Ultimately what we are debating today is that if these allegations, especially against somebody like the chief of the defence staff, do not get properly investigated and concluded, then we cannot move ahead. This is not about pronouncing guilt or innocence; this is about actually doing a proper investigation. It is all about this cover-up that is creating all the problems.
I do not disagree with the previous member's comments that the and the are ultimately responsible. However, in this case, if we take the Prime Minister at his word that he did not know, ultimately he needs to now show leadership, make the tough choice and remove those within his office who are preventing him from doing his job as the Prime Minister.
This is all about trust and accountability. The members of the Canadian Armed Forces, particularly the victims of sexual misconduct and harassment, need to know that they can have faith in both the senior political and military leadership to ensure this does not happen again going forward.
I do agree with the member for that more action is required. However, first, leaders, in this case the , need to show leadership, be accountable and find out why this failure occurred from his chief of the defence staff.
Mr. Speaker, it is with a great deal of emotion that I take part in this debate since it is about the Canadian Armed Forces.
We have the privilege of living in a free and democratic country because there are men and women who ensure its security by serving in the armed forces and because men and women have fought in horrible wars so that we could live in a free country. My father, who will soon be 98, and millions of other people served in the Second World War. They liberated all of humanity.
In the Canadian Forces and in every army, trust needs to be instituted and real. If, by some misfortune, trust is broken, our men and women can no longer serve with as much passion and commitment because they wonder who they are working for and who they are serving. That is especially true for women who work in this setting who are victims of harassment. For them, the scars run even deeper.
Today's debate surrounds Canadians' faith in their army and the faith that members of the military must have in their leaders. We are debating this today because some serious problems have been reported at high levels of Canada's government and army. We are also trying to determine who knew what and when.
I am unfortunately referring to the scandal surrounding General Vance. He is currently at the centre of allegations of sexual harassment of women in the military. On the one hand, Canada's former chief of the defence staff failed in his duties, and on the other hand, the leader of the government said one thing only to be contradicted by his chief of staff. If we want to restore trust then we must get to the bottom of this situation.
What happened? Three years ago, on March 1, 2018, the Canadian military ombudsman informed the that allegations were made against the chief of the defence staff, General Vance. I want to emphasize the word "allegations" because this is not about rumours or hearsay. These were allegations of inappropriate conduct and sexual harassment against women in the military under his authority.
The next day, March 2, 2018, the PCO emailed the PMO with information about sexual harassment allegations against General Vance.
Three years later, the whole thing was exposed when a media outlet broke the story. The 's initial statement to the House was that he found out about it on television. I am not calling the Prime Minister a liar, but he claimed he was not aware of it. That was the first version of the facts.
Later, he said people in his office were aware an investigation was under way. That was the second, modified version of the facts. Last week, the Prime Minister told the House that nobody in his office was aware that it was a sexual harassment complaint. The facts do not add up.
The Prime Minister said nobody in his office was aware of it, but an email dated March 2, 2018, confirms that his chief of staff was aware of the allegations of sexual harassment. It has to be one or the other. We cannot believe the Prime Minister if we believe the chief of staff, and we cannot believe the emails about the chief of staff if we believe the Prime Minister.
I have a lot of respect for the member for , who is also the leader of our government. I say “our government” because we are all Canadian citizens, and he is currently the head of the government. However, the facts do not add up. The versions do not add up. The evidence is there, but it is not consistent with what he said. The current government has been in office for six years. Not only did General Vance stay on the job even though he has been under investigation for three years, but he was also given a raise and his mandate was renewed. That is what the government decided to do about cases of sexual assault against women in the military.
Since that came to light, we have also seen a completely unacceptable cover-up by the Liberals and some of their co-conspirators. We will talk about that later. At the Standing Committee on National Defence, we have seen a lot of what is known as filibustering, which means that people talk for an excessive amount of time to prevent specific action from being taken.
I have been in politics for 13 years as member of the Quebec National Assembly and as a member of the House of Commons. In those 13 years, I do not remember seeing a committee chair suspend a meeting 13 minutes before the committee was scheduled to sit. Perhaps that has happened before, but if so, I do not remember it. Unfortunately, yesterday, we saw that happen when the Liberal member for , the chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence, decided to cancel the committee meeting that was scheduled. That is unacceptable.
Also, last week, we saw the government very proudly announce that it would launch an inquiry to find out what is happening in the Canadian Forces with respect to cases of harassment. That work has already been done. Six years ago, our government launched an inquiry led by a Supreme Court justice. Her report, which she presented very confidently six years ago, in March 2015, revealed the devastating situation within the Canadian military and called on governments to take action. Six years later, what action has the government taken? None at all, but last week, it decided to redo the work that the committee had done six years ago. That is an admission of impotence. In fact, this plan was completely condemned by everyone. All observers said that the government's approach made no sense.
Today, our motion asks for the dismissal of the Prime Minister's chief of staff. It is essential that we be able to have confidence in our authorities and in our military leadership. Our defence staff has been particularly shaken by this situation. In my riding, there are thousands of soldiers stationed at the Valcartier military base who have spoken to me about this and who do not like what they see, but who want to get to the bottom of this.
On the one hand, the says that no one knew about it, but on the other hand, we have an email that says just the opposite. When the committee wants the Prime Minister's chief of staff to appear and testify, the committee gets shut down to prevent that.
Canadians deserve very clear answers, which is why the raised a question of privilege last week on whether the Prime Minister misled the House. The Chair is currently examining the question.
My counterpart on the government side, my friend, the hon. member for , vigorously defended his government for over 50 minutes yesterday. I do not begrudge him the time. However, the Liberals are always quick to criticize us for talking so much and say that we waste time. I am not saying he wasted our time. I am glad that he took the opportunity to speak. That is fine; that is what debate is for.
We also heard the member for say that the Bloc Québécois supports this inquiry and that it is important to get to the bottom of this. Those are the last kind words I will speak about my esteemed colleagues in the Bloc Québécois.
In this matter, they were on the wrong side of history twice. On April 12, 2021, at the Standing Committee on National Defence, the member for voted with the Liberals to end the parliamentary investigation under way at committee. We can understand why the Liberals would not want an investigation. It is not dignified, it is not noble, but we can understand. Then, on April 12, 2021, the Bloc Québécois worked with the Liberals to prevent the parliamentary committee from considering this very important issue. It is disappointing.
We also understand that on February 9, 2021, again at the Standing Committee on National Defence, it was the member for who co-operated with the Liberals to reduce the proposed number of days from five to three and who opposed inviting Zita Astravas, the Minister of National Defence's chief of staff, from testifying. If we want to get to the bottom of this, why did the Bloc Québécois support the Liberals twice at the parliamentary committee, once to put a lid on the issue and another time to reduce the time allotted for the investigation and to prevent someone who perhaps had something interesting to say from testifying? This is disappointing, coming from the Bloc Québécois. It is disappointing that they offered to collaborate with the government.
Let us not forget that, on March 10, 2020, Bloc and Liberal MPs voted together, hand in hand, to prevent the Ethics Commissioner from testifying at the ethics committee on the “Trudeau II report”. The Bloc Québécois, hand in hand with the Liberals, muzzled the Ethics Commissioner to stop him from testifying.
That is why the Conservatives want to get to the bottom of things and want this motion to be adopted.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for .
Every member of the defence team is entitled to be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace. It is also the responsibility of every member of the defence team, regardless of rank, position or title, even the top brass, to treat those around them with dignity and respect. We know now that this expectation is not enough.
Without rapid, decisive action, without strict enforcement and without accountability, sexual misconduct and harassment within the defence team will never be truly eliminated. We need to take a long, hard look at where our policies and initiatives failed. We have to learn from those we failed. We have to listen to them and make changes that really take our people and their needs and diverse backgrounds into account.
Last week, the Minister of National Defence launched an independent, external, comprehensive review of his department and the Canadian Armed Forces. I appreciate this opportunity to share details about this review with the House, including its aim, how it will be conducted and what it means for the defence team.
There is a pressing need for accountability and review at every level of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence, not only from individual to individual and rank to rank, but also at the organizational level, by reviewing the policies and practices of the defence team and evaluating their efficacy at eradicating sexual misconduct and harassment.
The review that was announced last week will play a critical role in this analysis. It has several aims. We want to know why harassment and sexual misconduct persist within the Canadian Armed Forces despite considerable, concerted efforts to eradicate them. We want to identify barriers to reporting inappropriate behaviour. We want to know if the response is adequate when reports of misconduct are made. We want this information to be used to make recommendations on preventing and eradicating harassment and sexual misconduct in our armed forces for once and for all.
The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have chosen Louise Arbour to lead the review of the defence team's policies and culture. Madame Arbour's review will build on the report prepared by former justice Marie Deschamps, but it is not at all the same thing. Madame Deschamps's report made 10 key recommendations to address and eliminate sexual misconduct and harassment, but that was not enough.
Since then, the defence team has taken many important steps to implement Madame Deschamps's recommendations. Madame Arbour's review will build on the important work done by Madame Deschamps but will examine the issues from a broader perspective in order to help the defence team chart a path forward.
Madame Arbour's experience as a former Supreme Court justice puts her in an ideal position to carry out this review in a completely impartial manner. She will work independently from the chain of command of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence in order to remain neutral and ensure that the important work she is being asked to do will not be subject to any political influence. I think that we all agree that that would be inappropriate. Do my hon. colleagues not agree with me?
Madame Arbour's review will examine the policies, procedures and practices of the defence team. She will attempt to determine where the defence team's efforts to address and eradicate the problem of sexual misconduct and harassment are falling short. She will determine how these efforts must be strengthened and improved.
As part of her review, she will consider all relevant independent reviews concerning the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. This includes evaluating the progress made by the defence team in implementing Justice Deschamps's recommendations. This evaluation will be coordinated with the Hon. Morris J. Fish, who is overseeing the review of the National Defence Act. The reports of the Auditor General and other internal audits will also have to be taken into consideration. She will examine their findings and recommendations.
In addition to considering these existing reviews, she will also evaluate organizational practices that, if effectively re-evaluated, could help prevent incidents of sexual misconduct. These practices include the recruitment, training, performance evaluation, posting and promotion systems of the Canadian Armed Forces.
She will also evaluate the policies, procedures and practice of the military justice system dealing with harassment and sexual misconduct.
More importantly, the review will be based on the views, accounts and experiences of current and former members of the defence team. All concerned members of the defence team deserve to be heard. Those who wish to share their experiences will be invited to provide input for Madame Arbour's review. Their names will remain anonymous. Madame Arbour will conduct her review without referring to specific cases of harassment or sexual misconduct in order to protect their privacy.
Her review will focus on women and members of the LGBTQ2+ community so that the defence team gains a better understanding of their perspectives and experiences. She will work with the Advisory Panel on Systemic Racism, Discrimination, LGBTQ2 Prejudice, Gender Bias and White Supremacy to reduce any unintended duplication of efforts.
Madame Arbour will put all this testimony together to identify signs that the defence team's culture promotes silence and complicity, how fear of reprisal acts as a barrier to reporting harassment and sexual misconduct, and any indication that the defence team's policies were applied inconsistently across the organization, as in the case of political influence in the appointment of General Jonathan Vance in 2015. As a matter of fact, even though there were rumours about him being the subject of an active investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, the party opposite still appointed Jonathan Vance chief of the defence staff. All these factors will inform Madame Arbour's recommendations to the minister, the deputy minister and the Chief of the defence Staff.
Accountability and transparency are key to changing the culture and eradicating sexual misconduct and harassment in the defence team. These are the guiding principles of Madame Arbour's investigation. She will provide monthly progress reports to the , as well as interim assessments and recommendations. All of these assessments will be made public, as will the draft and final review reports.
Madame Arbour's reports will include a review of the defence team's policies and procedures, the causes and effects of barriers to reporting inappropriate behaviour, and an assessment of the sexual misconduct response centre's mandate and activities, independence from the chain of command and response to reports of sexual misconduct.
Madame Arbour will also make key recommendations on the following points: preventing and eradicating harassment and sexual misconduct in the defence team, removing barriers to reporting, and establishing an external oversight body dedicated to resolving these types of incidents.
Once Madame Arbour has submitted her preliminary review to the organization, the minister, deputy minister and chief of the defence staff will have 30 days to respond to her findings and recommendations. Their responses and Madame Arbour's final review report will all be made public.
That is how we are creating the changes needed that—
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the House for giving me the opportunity to contribute to today's debate on the efforts made by the Canadian Armed Forces to address the problem of sexual misconduct in their ranks.
Every day, members of the Canadian Armed Forces make enormous sacrifices to protect Canadians. When allegations of misconduct are made, the appropriate procedure must be followed. That is exactly what the Minister of National Defence did. In fact, he followed the same steps as the previous government in 2015.
As the former chief of staff for Stephen Harper, Ray Novak, said, when the leader of the official opposition at the time informed him of the allegations of sexual misconduct, these allegations were forwarded to the Privy Council Office for investigation, the same process that was followed in 2017.
That shows us that the process does not work, and that those who are the victims of sexual misconduct do not trust the process. We must do better. That is why Madame Arbour will formulate concrete recommendations on how to implement an independent external reporting mechanism outside the chain of command.
Sexual misconduct can have devastating effects in the long term. Offering support to the people affected and ensuring their well-being must be our absolute priority.
This is also an incredibly complex social problem, and the Canadian Armed Forces know that they do not have all the answers. They need to be guided by the advice of experts in the field. The Minister of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces know that the only way to improve is to measure the progress made and to be accountable for their actions and decisions.
That is why we recently launched an independent external comprehensive review to determine exactly how and why our current culture allows such harmful behaviours and what we need to do to change this toxic culture of masculinity. That is also why budget 2021 earmarks funds to enhance support measures for those affected.
These measures include creating a new peer-to-peer support program and expanding the reach of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre. Today I would like to talk about the exceptional work being done by the Centre under the direction of psychologist Denise Preston [Technical difficulty—Editor].
Mr. Speaker, this afternoon I will be splitting my time with the member for .
This subject we are discussing today is of tremendous importance. We are talking of course about the situation arising from an epidemic of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces and a failure of government to address it.
We know in 2015 the Deschamps report was released, and after taking government in 2015, the current government was able to act on all the recommendations that were made by retired Supreme Court Justice Deschamps with respect to sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces.
Here we are six years later, and amidst a political crisis the Liberal government is proposing a new review conducted by another retired Supreme Court judge into sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces.
In 2018, the ombudsman for the CAF was made aware of allegations of sexual misconduct perpetrated by the then chief of the defence staff, the top soldier in the Canadian Forces, the top of the chain of command, so the ombudsman took these serious allegations to the minister responsible, the .
When the ombudsman advised the minister specifically this complaint and these allegations were of a sexual nature, that it was sexual misconduct, the heard it and then pushed away from the table. Following that meeting, he then made sure that information was passed to the Prime Minister's Office. We know from documents that the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Ms. Katie Telford, was made aware of the nature of these allegations of sexual misconduct alleged to have been perpetrated by the chief of the defence staff, Canada's top general, against one of his subordinates.
No more grievous a breach of trust or offence against those who have committed to serve could the CDS make than this. Members of our Canadian Forces serve our country under what is known as “unlimited liability”. That means they can be given lawful orders to enter harm's way that could result in their death in service to this country. When they take their oath and agree to serve under unlimited liability, they expect rightly that not only will they be protected with all means possible and available by the chain of command, by the chief of the defence staff, they also rightfully expect their chain of command, Canada's top soldier, will not be the one who is taking action that would injure them or cause irreparable harm. Certainly not that they would perpetrate acts of a sexual nature in an inappropriate way.
The men and women of Canada's armed forces deserve to have a system much like is outlined in the Deschamps report of March 2015 that gives them the assurance they can serve their country without having to be subjected to sexual misconduct, harassment, crimes and other actions of a sexual nature particularly by their chain of command, by those senior to them.
The power imbalance in the military is textbook of course in what a power imbalance looks like because it is codified in the rank of those who serve, with the chief of the defence staff being at the top of that chain.
When those complaints brought to the ombudsman in 2018 were then given to the 's chief of staff, action was required. Action was required by the Prime Minister's Office. The Prime Minister's Office had failed to act on those 2015 recommendations.
After years of lessons learned, and victims and survivors having to endure the system in the Canadian Armed Forces, those recommendations were made, and the government failed to act.
Then, in the face of those new allegations, again the government failed to act. What is worse, the has said he was not informed that there was this complaint and that his office did not know that it was a complaint of a sexual nature, that it was a #MeToo allegation. The facts simply do not support that contention. We know that Ms. Telford knew the nature of these allegations.
If the is to be believed, then we understand that along with the , the Prime Minister's chief of staff orchestrated a cover-up to protect the Prime Minister and to protect the aggressor, the individual alleged to have committed these offences, the then chief of the defence staff. This is unacceptable.
It is unacceptable that we ask everything, up to and including the lives of those who serve our country in uniform, and the accountability, or lack of accountability, that we are getting from the government does not even amount to a single person being fired for covering up this sexual misconduct.
The women and men in our Canadian Armed Forces deserve better. We owe it to them. We owe it to them to implement the recommendations from retired Supreme Court Justice Deschamps' report in 2015, before we embark on another review. Let us implement those. That is responsible. That is showing that we are listening. That is showing that we are acting. That is showing that are we standing up for victims, for those women and men who come forward, and those who have not come forward.
We know that simply failing to act because there is silence is tacit approval of the behaviour we know is going on behind closed doors. We have seen that with the suspensions and resignations of some of Canada's top soldiers.
The Canadian Armed Forces is a tremendously proud organization, and we should, as Canadians, be so proud of the women and men who serve and who have served. This is certainly the least we can do. We must hold those in the highest offices in this country to account.
If the 's chief of staff orchestrated or participated in a cover-up to protect her boss, the Prime Minister, and to protect the Chief of the Defence Staff, so as to avoid an embarrassing political situation, then the Prime Minister must fire her. Then we need to hear from the about what he is prepared to do, how he is prepared to be accountable for what has happened.
The recommendations in 2015 were clear, the actions that the government failed to take in response to the evidence that was given to the ombudsman and the action that it did in covering it up is a blight. It is a stain on the government. It is a shame not worthy of the victims and survivors who brought that forward.
We are all very proud, and I am very proud, of our women and men in uniform. However, we need to demonstrate that pride with our actions. We need to demonstrate that this organization, those women and men, are worth protecting, that they are worth acting on the report that came out in 2015, that we do not have a government that is trying to trick Canadians into confusing motion for action. It is inappropriate to commission a new report without acting on the first report that was commissioned in 2015. We owe the victims that much.
It is time to demonstrate our pride and fulfill our commitment to the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, like they do for us every day. The government needs to do that by taking action and holding people accountable for covering up serious allegations of sexual misconduct in our Canadian Armed Forces. It is absolutely the bare minimum we can do for the women and men of our Canadian Forces, and that is what we will be voting for on this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my great colleague from who not only serves as a member of Parliament but has also served in the Canadian Armed Forces. I thank all of those who have served.
I am truly honoured to speak to this important opposition day motion. As the former chair of the status of women committee in the 42nd Parliament and a portion of the 43rd Parliament, and former shadow minister for women and gender equality, I say that this motion today is extremely important.
The investigation into General Vance, the treatment of our men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces and the culture of sexual misconduct must be investigated thoroughly. This begins at the very top, and that is exactly what we have brought forward today. Today's motion reads:
(a) women and all members of the Canadian Armed Forces placed their trust in this government to act on claims of sexual misconduct;
(b) the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff was informed about a specific sexual harassment allegation against General Jonathan Vance three years ago;
(c) the Prime Minister asserts that this sexual harassment allegation was never brought to his attention; and
(d) the Prime Minister said that those in a position of authority have a duty to act upon allegations, the House call upon the Prime Minister to dismiss his Chief of Staff for failing to notify him about a serious sexual harassment allegation at the highest ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces and for being complicit in hiding the truth from Canadians.
We can talk about timelines, which I know that many of the members speaking to this motion today will do. They will talk about the promotion of General Vance and former investigations, but most importantly they will talk about the top office in our country knowing of these allegations and doing nothing.
To begin, when we first started hearing about these allegations months ago following media reports, the indicated that his office knew nothing. We know, after testimony presented at the defence committee by a former adviser to the PMO, that this was not true. Katie Telford, the chief of staff to the Prime Minister, was aware of the allegations and was aware of the sexual nature of these allegations. The person who came forward as having an intimate relationship with General Vance was aware of the mindset, his personal views of his position and status within the Canadian Armed Forces, and the leadership within our country. She came forward to speak about what she saw and what she thought.
An article written by David Pugliese on April 22 is titled, “Gen. Vance boasted he was 'untouchable' by military police, Commons committee told”. This article states:
Canada’s former top soldier boasted that he was untouchable and that he “owned” the military police who are investigating allegations of sexual misconduct made against him.
We know, following testimony by military ombudsman Gary Walbourne in 2018, that an allegation of inappropriate behaviour was brought forward, and that chief of staff Katie Telford and the were both aware of this claim. Although the is indicating that nobody knew this was a #MeToo moment, email threads disprove that. Sexual harassment does equal a #MeToo moment.
I want to go back to my role as the chair of the status of women committee and the work that we had completed in a study tabled in June 2019. Unfortunately, I do not have a response from the government or from the on this. They were allocated 120 days to respond. We were short by a few days because we had gone into an election, so we never received a response on this. I would be very interested to hear what the defence minister would have to say about this.
I share with members some of the testimony, and why an allegation that was taken to the top office of our country and not acted upon was truly negligent. I want to talk about Operation Honour. Throughout the study on the treatment of women within the Department of National Defence, we heard a lot about this program and that it was a clear mandate. It states:
1.6. Operation HONOUR is the mission to eliminate sexual misconduct in the CAF. It is based on the principles that:
a. every member who serves their country deserves to be treated with dignity and respect—anything less is simply unacceptable; and
b. any attitudes or behaviours which undermine the camaraderie, cohesion, and confidence of serving members threatens the CAF’s long-term operational success.
1.7. Operation HONOUR seeks to achieve a positive institutional culture change in the Canadian Armed Forces through four lines of effort:
a. understanding the issue of sexual misconduct;
b. responding more decisively to incident;
c. supporting affected persons more effectively; and
d. preventing incidents from occurring.
General Vance, addressing the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence in June 2018, stated:
Leaders need to drive change by providing vision and a consistent personal example that empowers and inspires subordinates to set the conditions for the elimination of sexual misconduct.
We listen to those words now, reflect on what we are talking about today and wonder who was in charge of that candy jar.
In the manual for Operation Honour under “Bystander Intervention Training”, it states the following:
[Canadian Armed Forces] Bystander Intervention unit-level training helps CAF members recognize and react decisively to sexual misconduct and harassment when they see it. This program illustrates to bystanders and leaders that if they fail to act when faced with an incident of sexual misconduct, they are perpetuating the behaviour. The program also explains the power that bystanders and leaders have to take positive action to stop sexual misconduct and support CAF members. In short, it demonstrates why it is crucial for witnesses to sexual misconduct to speak out against it, rather than stay silent.
The most ironic thing about all this is that this program was launched by General Vance. This program about what we needed to do when our members were facing sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces was led by General Vance. We heard from many former members of the Canadian Armed Forces who described their time in the forces and their own personal experiences. Why do I want to bring this forward? I want trust and confidence in our government, accountability and assurance that this will never happen again.
In testimony brought forward by former Canadian Armed Forces member Paula MacDonald, she stated the following:
When I was in basic training, I called the Canadian Armed Forces sexual response centre to ask them to help me. All they did at that time was the same thing that the ombudsman would do, which was to direct me back to the mechanisms within the Canadian Armed Forces that would deal with the abuse, so they directed me back to the individuals who were sexually harassing me to resolve the issues. There is no way you can resolve the issues with someone who is trying to do that to you.
Paula is no longer a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, but she does continue to have these conversations with members. She is quoted in that testimony also indicating the following:
It's still that way. I've asked them, and I've been following along with the changes to see how it's been evolving. The sexual response centre still refers the information to the chain of command. The individuals who were involved in direct positions that created incidents that I think are considered human rights violations.... They did a cabinet shuffle and moved them into positions that were to deal with Operation Honour.
Paula MacDonald's resolution would be to have a new reporting structure and to have people report “directly to the , as opposed to the chain of command in order to ensure that the harassment policies and procedures are being followed through.”
We look at this and understand that there has been so much discussion on this. There have been so many changes and so much socialization over the last number of years. We recognize that. I am looking at the fact that we are not doing anything right now about what is negatively impacting our men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces, and we should be doing more.
I wanted to quote something that Dr. Alan Okros stated during the committee. He said:
A common phase among young Canadians these days is “check your privilege”. An old phrase among military officers is “RHIP”, which means rank has its privileges. There's a culture clash.
This is important. We know, as members of Parliament, that there are issues with reporting. Why is this? It is because nothing ever gets done. We have studied this and talked about violence against women. We have talked about sexual harassment in the workplace and we have talked about #MeToo. When this is taken up to the very highest level of our government, when this is taken to the PMO, nothing is done.
Of General Vance, Major Brennan said, “In my experience, in many different areas, the law does not apply to him.” When someone like General Vance is in charge of a program, why would people not feel that they have no option but to take it to the or to the 's Office? When they know that this is not working they have no other options.
Why does this land at the and Katie Telford? We know that individuals had gone there and that they were looking for assistance. They needed to bring this to the PMO, and the PMO did nothing. I bring us back to the operation and the top of the chain of command at the Canadian Armed Forces: The chief of the staff for the PM knew and remained silent, according to the Prime Minister, as he was not aware of this.
The bottom line is the 's Office failed our Canadian Armed Forces. It failed Canadians and ultimately failed any woman here in Canada. It has turned a blind eye, and I believe that the Prime Minister's Office should speak and be open about this finally.
Mr. Speaker I will continue with my speech.
The sexual misconduct response centre is independent of the military chain of command and answers directly to the deputy minister of national defence. Also, there is no reporting relationship of any kind between the Centre and the Canadian Armed Forces or the Chief of the Defence Staff.
However, that does not mean that the centre is any less attentive to the needs of Canadian Armed Forces members. Centre counsellors listen without passing judgment. They devote an unlimited amount of time to each call, and they take the callers’ feelings, needs, concerns and fears into account.
The Department of National Defence recognizes that some people affected by sexual misconduct are not prepared to report it. The centre offers these people someone to turn to. It is a place where they will be listened to and find answers, advice and, especially, the help they need.
Since the centre’s counsellors are civilians, they are not required to report incidents like military members are. As a result, all interactions are confidential, and Canadian Forces members can get support services without having to provide personal information. Lastly, if someone decides to report an incident, the centre’s team can help that person get in touch with the appropriate organization, whether it is the military police, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service or the local authorities.
In August 2019, the sexual misconduct response centre launched a new response and support coordination program. This program offers members of the Canadian Armed Forces who are affected by sexual misconduct the services of a dedicated coordinator who provides ongoing support and the assistance they need every step of the way. The dedicated coordinators help them find information and provide referral services. They advocate for, support and accompany victims as they progress through the system. They also help with workplace accommodation and offer other forms of assistance depending on the military members’ needs.
The sexual misconduct response centre can also call upon a military liaison team, made up of a military police liaison officer, a military counsellor and a military liaison officer. These members work exclusively for the centre and are specialists in their field. They can therefore advise military members on how to file a complaint or explain how the investigation process works. They can also help report the incident if the military member chooses this option.
Each person has unique needs, and each person’s situation and concerns are different. The people at the centre take all this into account when they provide support. They can also put people affected by sexual misconduct in touch with a vast network of services across the country, including health services, chaplains and regional support centres for victims of sexual assault.
The sexual misconduct response centre is there to refer people to the help they need. In addition, the SMRC is drafting a national victim support strategy, as well as other programs aimed at better serving affected military members. In everything it does, the SMRC always makes sure to consult military members affected by sexual misconduct, as well as external experts. That way, it can be sure that it is meeting the needs of the people who have suffered harm and that it is basing all of its programs on evidence and best practices.
The SMRC is supported by an external advisory council made up of independent, impartial third-party advisors with significant, relevant expertise. Together, these organizations offer a wealth of knowledge, viewpoints and experiences.
The SMRC relies on this expertise to provide senior officers with advice and recommendations in order to help shape the Canadian Armed Forces' policies and programs concerning sexual misconduct. Its staff also provide advice on how to assess and report on the effectiveness of programs. The SMRC is a leader in research and best practices in the area of support and prevention strategies.
The SMRC also fields calls from senior officers and supervisors who are looking for advice on the process to be followed to intervene in the event of an incident and offer support to their personnel. Moreover, as part of the final settlement agreement in the CAF-DND sexual misconduct class action, the SMRC is responsible for developing and implementing a restorative engagement program.
This program is intended to offer class members safe, flexible options for sharing their experiences of sexual misconduct with senior defence officials and discussing the causes and impacts of these experiences. The program will give these people a chance to be heard and acknowledged. It will make it possible to start the process of rebuilding damaged relationships and restoring trust. It will contribute to changing the culture by helping leaders gain a broader understanding of the impact of sexual misconduct, their collective responsibility for the current culture, and the role they must play to create change.
The SMRC works tirelessly to help victims of sexual misconduct. Its team is dedicated and, most importantly, independent. It is one of the key tools at the Department of National Defence's disposal to address this issue.
Since 2015, the team has grown and changed, assuming greater responsibility and helping to shape Canadian Armed Forces interventions in the area of sexual misconduct. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of its members for their efforts to help people affected by sexual misconduct over the past six years.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my good friend, the member of Parliament for , whom I have the privilege of working alongside on so many issues, including in committee on public safety.
Once again, I am thankful for the opportunity to rise today to address the House on a subject that concerns all of us: the well-being of the members of our Canadian Armed Forces and those who support them.
In recent months, Canadians have heard the heart-wrenching accounts of Canadian Armed Forces members and civilian colleagues who have been subjected to behaviours, treatment and experiences that are completely unacceptable. For far too long, their accounts have been ignored.
For instance, opposition members knew of the rumours against General Vance in 2015, yet still appointed him. They appointed him while there was an active Canadian Forces national investigation service investigation into him, and appointed him to the most senior position within the Canadian Armed Forces. The current leader of the official opposition said that he passed along sexual misconduct rumours about General Vance in 2015, claiming those were looked into. I ask my fellow Conservative members, how is this possible, if General Vance was appointed at the same time and the investigation was suddenly dropped?
What our members have endured is wrong. The Canadian Armed Forces is entrusted to keep Canadians safe at home and abroad. The organization owes survivors more. Every Canadian Armed Forces member makes enormous personal sacrifices to protect Canadians and, regardless of rank or gender identity, has an undeniable right to serve in safety. We must and we will live up to that expectation.
The has always followed the processes that were put in place when allegations were brought to his attention. This is something he has said publicly, in this House, and it is something he will continue to do. However, as members have no doubt heard from my hon. colleagues, our government is taking important steps to address systemic misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces to bring about cultural change within the organization.
The need to change the military's culture is born of the reality that the lived experiences of many defence team members are completely out of line with the values professed within the organization and by the organization, which are values of integrity, inclusion and accountability. That needs to change, and we are committed to bringing about that change.
If we want that change to be significant, if we want it to be meaningful and if we want it to last, then we need to reflect honestly on what has been happening. Where we find failings and fault, we must accept responsibility. Where we are able to learn lessons, we must seize the opportunity to build a better organization. Where members of the defence team share their accounts and experiences, we must listen and we must listen very carefully.
The end goal is simple. It is to ensure that every member of the defence team, every member of the Canadian Armed Forces is valued and respected. Defence culture and professional conduct must reflect the core values and ethical principles our military aspires to uphold as a national institution, which is what Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans, recruits, public servants and Canadians deserve and expect of the organization.
It is clear that the measures we have taken already since forming government have not gone far enough and have not moved fast enough. This is why we announced last week that Madame Arbour will conduct an independent review into the Canadian Armed Forces, including the creation of an external reporting system that is independent from the chain of command and meets the needs of those impacted by sexual misconduct and violence. It is also why, in budget 2021, we committed over $236 million to eliminate sexual misconduct and gender-based violence in the Canadian Armed Forces, including expanding the reach of the sexual misconduct response centre and providing online and in-person peer-to-peer support. All options to create a safer future for women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces are going to be considered to change the culture of toxic masculinity that exists in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Last Thursday, the announced the creation of a new organization to lead us there. Among the many other initiatives I just talked about, the Department of National Defence appointed Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan as DND's new chief of professional conduct and culture. Under her leadership, the professional conduct and culture organization will unify, integrate and coordinate all of the policies, programs and activities that address systemic misconduct and support culture change within the forces. The organization will include a new assistant deputy minister who will directly support Lieutenant-General Carignan. The team will bring together members from all ranks and classifications, reflecting the diversity that Canadians expect. Make no mistake. This is not a generic prepackaged solution to a long-standing problem. Before any future steps are taken, those working to bring about change will actively listen to the accounts of people affected, people at every rank, every level and across all regions of this country.
As so many members of the defence team have already shared experiences and recommendations, we do not have to wait before implementing a number of much-needed changes. Lieutenant-General Carignan and her team will take a number of steps to bring about change right away. To start, they will wrap up Operation Honour. Much has already been said about drawing this initiative to a close, but it bears repeating. Lieutenant-General Carignan and her team will review all of the research conducted under Operation Honour so its findings can inform renewed culture change efforts.
This new team will also develop mechanisms to implement the workplace harassment and violence prevention regulations of Bill . It will also support ongoing efforts to bring the remaining provisions of Bill into force. This includes introducing the declaration of victims rights into the National Defence Act.
The next order of business will be to form a team to establish a framework that will help achieve a number of longer-term goals. It will realign responsibilities, policies and programs that address elements of systemic misconduct across National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. It will also simplify and enhance misconduct reporting mechanisms, including for people outside of the chain of command. It will give greater agency to, and strengthen support mechanisms for, those who have experienced misconduct. It will enhance tracking mechanisms, from initial reports of the misconduct to case closures. It will also integrate additional data points, such as intersectionality, reprisals, member satisfaction and retention. Finally, it will lead institutional efforts to develop a professional conduct and culture framework that tackles all types of harmful behaviour, biases and systemic barriers.
So much work has already been done within the department to build healthy, safe and inclusive workplaces. So many organizations are focused on developing programs and policies to move us in the right direction, whether it is the gender-based analysis plus, the integrated conflict and complaint management program, the anti-racism secretariat, the Canadian Armed Forces diversity strategy, Canada's anti-racism strategy or Canada's national action plan on women, peace and security.
The professional conduct and culture organization is being established with the clear understanding that previous culture change efforts have fallen short of what was needed. With the standing up of this new organization, the defence team is taking a fundamentally different approach, an approach that will be more holistic and coherent in addressing the complex challenges faced by the Canadian Armed Forces.
In closing, I would like to reiterate our deepest concern for the well-being of every member of the Canadian defence team. The standing up of the professional conduct and culture organization is a testament to our genuine commitment to protect members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Our government has shown that we are dedicated and committed to creating a lasting culture change across the defence team. That is the goal, and we will do just that.