I'll start at the beginning. This is from Christine Wood. These are remarks she delivered to FEWO.
It is an honour to be here, and it's an honour to represent the group It's Just 700.
Five weeks ago, unexpectedly, the founder of our group, Marie-Claude Gagnon, who most people know as “MC”, stepped down. She stepped away from It's Just 700.
After six years of advocacy at the highest levels of government, she has reached a point where the cost of giving insight, voice and access to hundreds of men and women is too great a price to pay alone, so something simple but important to remember as we engage today is that this is hard stuff. This is ugly stuff. Sexual assault isn't talked about lightly. It's an ugly side of human nature. At this point, I really believe that sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces is a national embarrassment. Our collective Canadian conscience has been hit hard by the recent high-profile allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour by our most senior leaders. It is outrageous that two chiefs of defence have faced allegations within weeks of each other, but it's even more outrageous to accept that every year on average 1,600 people report a sexual assault within the CAF. This isn't friendly fire. It's not an accident or an honest mistake. It's rape, and it's abuse of authority.
I can tell you things that you have heard before.
Victims need supports. There are more and more coming forward and there is still no safety net there to catch them. These individuals are not coming forward to report a simple discrepancy that they saw in paperwork. They are coming forward with their experiences of terror, debilitating anxiety and shredded self-confidence. They are broken. It is simply unethical to continue to ask them to come forward without having a plan in place to support them.
To be clear, we are asking for the same supports that we were asking for four years ago: a national platform for online peer support, group therapy, outpatient therapy and in-patient psychiatric care when necessary that is MST-specific in its focus. It needs to be trauma informed and needs to be able to address the moral injury of betrayal by your brothers and sisters in uniform.
The “nature, duration and severity” of our injuries is something that every affected individual is struggling to explain right now. That's the terminology used in the settlement forms for the class action lawsuit: the nature, the duration and the severity. So many people are struggling to find the words. It's not easy, and neither are the next steps forward. Up front, I need to say again that we need care. It has to be targeted. Post-traumatic stress disorder is chronic, and it can be deadly. It doesn't matter where the trauma came from. The end result is what it is.
Sexual trauma is not necessarily worse or easier than combat trauma. It's just different. I'm sure you're aware of the following: that one in five victims is a man; that military life is exceptional but places exceptional roadblocks in accessing care; and that we frequently are posted and moving or on long-term training courses and, most often, are away from our extended family.
It's unfortunate that we are still trying to get an agreed-upon definition of military sexual trauma, MST, as now it is an American term. If we in Canada can develop our understanding in black and white of military sexual trauma, we can have greater research, data and access, and provide targeted treatment.
I share that testimony for a few reasons. One is that to me it's a reminder of why we're here, of the the issue, of what's at stake, and that there are so many people like Christine Wood. Christine Wood is advocating for many others. I want to remind folks of what's at stake and the suffering that people are going through. Through that testimony that I just read to you, Christine Wood speaks to how long victims have been waiting for a solution in terms of care and in terms of changes in culture, so many elements that we've heard about at this committee from witnesses, experts in the field, members of the forces, etc.
I highlight the point that Ms. Wood made because I don't want to keep them waiting any longer. I don't think we should.
Basically the motion before us would dedicate the committee's time to more politics and more headline grabbing rather than addressing what Ms. Wood is fighting for and advocating. The fact that she speaks to how long she and others have been waiting motivates me to get this done. Maybe one of the reasons they've been waiting so long is that at committees like this that have preceded me in this Parliament, in the House of Commons, the discussions have been highly politicized, as this one is. I don't know.
I would love for us to break through the politics and just deliver for these folks. Let's deliver for Christine Wood and the others she's advocating for.
In the testimony I just read to you, Ms. Wood says that “ sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces is a national embarrassment.” I agree, and the only thing that would exacerbate that embarrassment for me, and for many people, would be if this committee ended up playing more politics instead of tackling the issue at hand and solving the problem—or helping to solve the problem, at the very least.
In the segment I just read, Ms. Wood talks about how the “Canadian conscience has been hit hard by the recent high-profile allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour by our most senior leaders.” She says, “It is outrageous that two chiefs of defence have faced allegations within weeks of each other, but it's even more outrageous to accept that every year on average 1,600 people report a sexual assault within the CAF.”
In her testimony, Ms. Wood is asking us, as a parliamentary committee, to find solutions. She's not asking us to headline grab, draw attention, point fingers at each other, or point fingers at anybody. She's asking us to solve the problem, to ease the pain that people are feeling.
These are her words: “Victims need supports. There are more and more coming forward and there is still no safety net there to catch them.”
Let's help create that safety net. Let's do that. The members of this committee have heard from witnesses and have talked about what that safety net may need to look like and how it should be structured. We've heard from Madam Deschamps. We've heard from other experts who talked about what that looks like. Let's translate that into something concrete.
Ms. Wood is talking about people. She says that “They are coming forward with their experiences of terror, debilitating anxiety and shredded self-confidence. They are broken. It is simply unethical to continue to ask them to come forward without having a plan in place to support them.”
If it's unethical, if you agree with Ms. Wood—and I agree with her—then let's help solve that problem. If we prolong that agony, if we prolong that lack of solution because of this motion, which would have us move away from the solutions and play politics, then we're contributing to that. Let's not contribute to that. Let's fix it.
She says, “We are asking for the same supports that we were asking for four years ago: a national platform for online peer support, group therapy, outpatient therapy and in-patient psychiatric care....It needs to be trauma informed and needs to be able to address the moral injury of betrayal by your brothers and sisters in uniform.”
She says they're asking for the same supports they've been asking for four years ago. Are we going to be reading more testimony from Christine Wood or those who follow her four years from now? That's unacceptable. If we're not going to contribute constructively by writing a report recommending whatever those things are that the members of this committee heard or the things we want to recommend, whatever they are—and, for what it's worth, I think we should recommend those things—then we're not helping to contribute to solving that problem.
I've not talked about all of her testimony; I've talked about elements of it. I've read it all to you, but then I picked out segments to highlight some of the components that speak to me. I guess I'm just imploring the members of the opposition, the members of this committee, to heed her words. I think that if Christine Wood were here, it would be difficult to look her in the eye and say that it's a good idea for us to pass this motion and spend the vast majority of the committee's time not writing the report that could help her, her colleagues and the others she represents instead of playing politics. I think it would be very hard to look her in the eye and tell her that.