Thank you, Madam Chair, for giving me the opportunity.
It is so important for me to speak today. As a member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, I know how serious this issue is that we're discussing here today.
Here's the main point: I believe we have to go above politics here and focus on survivors. I'm disappointed to see the politicization of this issue. It is so hurtful, Madam Chair.
Since March we have been conducting our own study on the same issue, following up on another study that we conducted in 2019. So far we have had eight meetings and heard from 36 witnesses, including the Minister of National Defence, Justice Deschamps, senior CF officials, law enforcement and over a dozen survivors of sexual assault in the military.
These stories have been difficult to listen to, and I heartily commend all the survivors for coming forward. Having heard from the witnesses in FEWO, I agree that we need to work with the witnesses and work with the survivors, not play politics. Madam Chair, let me be clear: The survivors need solutions, not politics.
First I want to focus on the solution, Madam Chair. I have been encouraged by the amount of political will shown by the government, including the Prime Minister, the Minister of National Defence, and my friend the parliamentary secretary, who joined us in these meetings in FEWO in their sincere commitment to reform the culture of the armed forces and to better support survivors.
When the minister appeared on March 23, he acknowledged that a great deal of work needs to be done. He said:
Sexual misconduct, harassment and inappropriate behaviour are not acceptable. We must call them out for what they are: an abuse of power. Such behaviour is contrary to our values as Canadians and harmful to the Canadian Forces operational effectiveness. We want to prevent it. We want to be there for survivors and their support networks. We want to ensure that those who come forward feel safe, supported and confident that they will be heard when they report sexual misconduct and harassment.
There is obviously more work to be done, but the government has taken several key steps to ending sexual misconduct in the armed forces as part of Operation Honour. We have passed a declaration of victims' rights, created the sexual misconduct response centre, and the government is implementing the Path to Dignity and Respect, a strategy for long-term culture change to eliminate sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces.
Following this, the Government of Canada initiated an independent external comprehensive review led by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour. This review will look into harassment and sexual misconduct in the CF and will examine policies, procedures, programs, practices and culture within national defence and make recommendations for improvement.
The minister said:
Eliminating all forms of misconduct and abuse of power and creating a safe work environment for everyone in the defence team has always been a top priority for me as Minister of National Defence. However, recent media reports show that many members of the Canadian Armed Forces still do not feel safe to come forward. We know we must do more to make sure that every Canadian Armed Forces member feels safe to come forward and that we will be ready to support them when they do.
He went on to say:
Beyond the SMRC, members can also reach out to chaplain services, military family resource centres, the employee assistance program and the family information line....
These resources are critical to supporting those affected by sexual misconduct, but they are just part of our larger efforts to build a safe and inclusive workplace for all members of our defence team. We're working to eliminate the toxic masculinity that forms part of our military culture and keeps us from moving forward, the outdated and toxic traditions that valorize toughness and aggression over emotional intelligence and co-operation, and any part of our culture that contributes to bullying, harassment and other inappropriate behaviours.
In our committee we made a conscious choice to keep the study survivor-centric. We recognized that we are not investigators, and it is not our place to risk interfering in investigations. The goal was not to look backward and find out who knew what and when, although all of those questions have been repeatedly and clearly answered in this committee. As a legislative committee, the goal was to make recommendations that would improve conditions for women in the Canadian Armed Forces going forward.
It was encouraging to hear that work has already begun on this issue. When I asked Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre, he said he had spoken directly to survivors in the short time since he became the acting chief of the defence staff. He said that many had reached out to him and that he had carefully listened to their stories. He said the following:
One thing that is apparent to me is that we need to bring in some mechanism whereby survivors can achieve closure, perhaps where they don't necessarily want to follow a legal process. I am very keen to learn more and to see the wider restorative engagement efforts as part of a final settlement coming and perhaps as a learning opportunity to bring in some form of reconciliation process. There's much more to learn here.
Madam Chair, once again, the issue we're discussing is heartbreaking. We have to be asking questions. How can we help the survivors? As I've heard from my colleagues today, these questions are being asked by some members on the committee. I encourage everyone to focus on survivors and culture change in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Thank you, Madam Chair.