April 29, 2021 – Over the past months, Canadians have heard from members of the Defence Team who have been affected by sexual trauma and sexual misconduct. On behalf of those who serve their country, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces must live up to our professed values of integrity, inclusion, and accountability. We also know that the current reporting systems do not meet the needs of those who have been affected or have witnessed misconduct. We need to change this.
We accept responsibility for our failings, continue to undertake critical examination of lessons learned, listen carefully to those we have failed, and take deliberate action to ensure that we achieve long-term culture change while providing the needed supports to those who have been impacted by sexual harassment and violence. We have been actively engaging with survivors and experts to listen to their experiences and the devastating impact that harassment and violence has had on their lives and careers. We are committed to creating a space where all members of the Defence Team are able to report misconduct free from any fear of reprisal or retribution so that members feel safe to come forward and can easily access the resources and support they need.
Today, the Minister of National Defence is announcing that Francophone Louise Arbour will lead an Independent External Comprehensive Review into harassment and sexual misconduct in the DND/CAF. Over the coming months, Arbour will provide concrete recommendations on how the DND/CAF can set up an independent, external reporting system for Defence Team members that meets the needs of those who have been affected by misconduct, free from any influence of the Chain of the Command.
In addition, this review will examine the policies, procedures, programs, practices, and culture within National Defence, and make recommendations aimed at addressing systemic issues and creating lasting culture change within the organization. It will look at the CAF military justice system’s policies, procedures and practices to see how we can make this system more responsive to the needs of those who have been impacted by misconduct while holding perpetrators to account.
To ensure we are able to address these important issues as soon as possible Arbour will provide any interim recommendations to the DND/CAF, which we commit to acting upon. The final report and the Departmental response to the report will be made public once complete.
While Arbour undertakes her review, the Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre, and the Deputy Minister, Jody Thomas, are also creating a new internal organization to be led by Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan as the Chief, Professional Conduct and Culture. This group will unify, integrate, and coordinate all associated policies, programs, and activities that currently address systemic misconduct and support culture change across National Defence. Their efforts will closely align with the work being carried out by Arbour. This will ensure that immediate steps are taken to address and act upon any interim recommendations made to provide better and more streamlined support to all those impacted by misconduct.
We recognize that those who have military sexual trauma need additional support, which is why in Budget 2021 the Government committed over $236 million so that DND/CAF and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) can jointly develop a professionally co-facilitated peer support program to assist CAF members and Veterans who have suffered harm as a result of experiencing sexual misconduct in connection with their military service. This program will include online and in-person group support: mental health professionals and peers with lived experience will co-facilitate these platforms in line with best practices. We will also be expanding the reach of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC) across the country to better support those who have experienced sexual misconduct.
The DND/CAF continues its important work in support of victims and survivors by following through on its commitment to consult with victims and survivors of service offences, which will inform the development of the regulations needed to implement the Declaration of Victims Rights from Bill C-77. Direct engagement with victims’ groups has been completed and an online questionnaire will be launched soon to allow for the collection of anonymous feedback from DND employees and CAF members.
All of these efforts incorporate recommendations from our people, experts, and stakeholders, and are part of the Defence Team’s next phase of institutional evolution. These initiatives are the first steps towards a renewed commitment to the Defence Team and everyone’s right to work in an environment of mutual respect, dignity, and inclusion, where they have the opportunity to thrive and contribute to achieving mission success.