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DND to create independent reporting system
Posted on Apr 29, 2021

“Every day, Canadian Armed Forces members across the globe risk their lives to support our allies, partners, and friends. They uphold values that Canadians hold dear – peace, freedom, and respect for the dignity of all people. But, it is clear we have not lived up to our responsibility to protect members from harassment and misconduct. It is why we are taking these important initial steps to ensure that we have a system that better responds to the needs of those who have been affected by sexual harassment and violence while holding those who perpetrate it to account. We are committed to making a lasting change, one that will see the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence shed the toxic and outdated values, practices, and policies that have harmed our people. Today’s steps are the beginning of that,” said Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, in a DND Statement released today.

April 29, 2021 – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces Statement 

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 (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) 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, Harjit S. Sajjan, is announcing that Madame Louise Arbour will lead an Independent External Comprehensive Review into harassment and sexual misconduct in the DND/CAF. Over the coming months, Madame 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 Madame 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 Madame 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 Madame 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.

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“Today we are listening to survivors,” said Anita Vandenbeld, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence. “We know that to truly put an end to sexual harassment, assault, and abuse of power, we need a reporting mechanism outside of the Chain of Command. Madame Arbour is the right person for this job to ensure that we get this right. To all the survivors who have spoken out with heartbreaking stories – you are making a difference.” 

Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre, Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, stated: “The lived experience of many members does not reflect the professed values of the organization. That has to change and we have to be that change. We have to listen to our people — present, past, and at all levels — to learn from and guide our actions, finding solutions and making decisions reflective of their experiences and suggestions.”

“Culture change targeting attitudes and beliefs cannot be ‘ordered’ ” acknowledges Jody Thomas, Deputy Minister of National Defence. “It is complex work that requires dedicated, deliberate, and sustained action to make change while preserving the good work that is being done. This is what we will do.”

The Independent External Comprehensive Review will also provide the MND interim assessments and recommendations for immediate actions that can be undertaken while the review progresses. These assessments and recommendations will be made public.

  • The review will be conducted with the utmost discretion and confidentiality. Names of any participants in the Independent External Comprehensive Review will remain anonymous and there will be no findings made in relation to any specific cases.
  • This neutral, third-party review will be independent of DND/CAF. It will consider all relevant independent reviews conducted to date concerning the DND/CAF, along with their findings and recommendations. Recommendations on establishing external oversight and/or review mechanisms related to misconduct will also be included.
  • The Chief Professional Conduct and Culture group will have an Assistant Deputy Minister, yet to be named, in direct support of Lt.-Gen. Carignan. The team will be inclusive of members of all ranks/classifications and will emulate the diversity that Canadians expect of it.
  • Budget 2021 provides strong fiscal support to make sure no one is left behind. This means $236.2 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, and $33.5 million per year ongoing to the DND and VAC (including $158.5 million over five years and $29.9 million per year ongoing funded from existing resources) to support this, and other work to eliminate sexual misconduct and gender-based violence in the military and support survivors.
  • The peer support program will be fully resourced and will leverage existing peer support programs to accelerate development. Co-designed with the SMRC, the program will be informed by mental health professionals and engagements with individuals who have lived experience to ensure that nothing about people affected by sexual trauma is decided without their input.
  • It is important to name and acknowledge the harm that results from experiencing sexual harassment and/or violence during service and that this harm has distinct aspects. To clearly define sexual trauma in connection with military service, initial discussions are underway with stakeholders including survivors, academics, and the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre.

Work on the Third Independent Review of the National Defence Act continues by the Review Authority, the Honourable Morris J. Fish, with the report expected to be tabled in Parliament this June. The Independent External Comprehensive Review will be complementary to that of former Justice Fish.

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