Anand begins process for cultural reform
A special report released today leaves no doubt about Defence Minister Anita Anand’s determination to change the Canadian Armed Forces’ approach to how it deals with sexual assault and misconduct cases. This issue has become the highest-profile element of an historically-entrenched culture which made it virtually impossible for victims’ complaints to be handled properly. (scroll down for direct message from DND)
“Things can change, they must change, and they will change,” Anand said today in her foreword to a long-awaited report on “cultural change reforms” she tabled in the House of Commons. “It is our most basic responsibility, our most important task, and my absolute priority.”
She also said that giving uniformed and civilian personnel a workplace free from harassment and discrimination is essential to national security. “Canada needs a military that can attract and retain talent from across society. If we cannot protect our members, we cannot expect that they will be willing to join and will be able to protect us.”
The overall issue is to be tackled at the CAF’s roots: the Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario, and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, where cadets effectively begin the process that grooms for future command. As the minister told reporters shortly after tabling the Anand report that the “continued prevalence of sexual misconduct at the military colleges is well documented.”
She also set in motion a review of the colleges, which she said “appear as institutions from a different era with an outdated and problematic leadership model” which “must change significantly.” An “education specialist” will be appointed to evaluate the colleges this year but there is, as yet, no specific timeline.
Her report is the government’s response to a scathing assessment of the CAF’s record by Louise Arbour, a former Supreme Court of Canada judge and chief prosecutor for high-profile International Criminal Court cases. Arbour spent a year reviewing policies, procedures, programs, practices and culture within not only the CAF but also the Department of National Defence overall. She examined recruitment, training, performance evaluation, posting and promotion systems, as well as the military justice system’s and how DND had responded to recommendations by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps in 2015.
Nova Scotia-born Anand, a Canadian- and Oxford-educated lawyer first elected to Parliament in October 2019, had been in the National Defence portfolio for only nine days on November 4, 2021, when she accepted an interim recommendation by Arbour that investigation and prosecution of Criminal Code sexual offences should be taken out of the military’s hands.
Since November 2021, the RCMP and several municipal police forces have begun handling criminal allegations “of a sexual nature” referred to them by Military Police on a case-by-case basis in what the report describes as “a deliberate, victim-centric, and trauma-informed approach.”
Fifty-seven military investigations have been transferred to civilian police so far this year but another 40 have been declined by civilian police for unspecified jurisdictional reasons and concerns about cost. When the transfer notion was first broached, some municipalities and already overburdened provincial courts had expressed early concerns about staffing requirements and the potential for increased costs.
Seven months after receiving Arbour’s report, Anand said she had accepted all 48 recommendations in Arbour’s final report and immediately committed to implementing 17 of them. She then tasked the Department of National Defence and the CAF with “an all-hands on deck” effort to address all of Arbour’s recommendations. One of the initial 17 - that the entire process be overseen by an “external monitor” - led to the appointment of Jocelyne Therrien last October 24. Therrien drew on her experience from having reviewed four cases of workplace harassment within the RCMP while she was with the Office of the Auditor General.
Anand said in her foreword to today’s report that “countless stories of victims and survivors” in the military over the years have been “heartbreaking, and far too common.” Even so, visits to CAF bases across the country gave her “reason for hope” because she is convinced that all ranks are “open to reform and are willing to help bring it about.”
Open full report here:
MESSAGE FROM DND
Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members protect Canadians every single day. Far too many CAF members have experienced sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. In order to protect those who protect us, we must commit to and undertake systemic reform. In May 2022, former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour provided the Minister of National Defence with recommendations to address these issues and better support survivors. Today, Defence Minister Anita Anand tabled a report in Parliament that outlines the reforms that will be implemented to address each one of Madame Arbour’s recommendations.
In particular, Madame Arbour’s final report, which Minister Anand welcomed in May 2022, provides 48 recommendations to effect transformative change in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces (DND/CAF). Since receiving her report, DND/CAF analyzed, undertook consultations, and provided options to Minister Anand on the path forward. Pursuant to Recommendation 47, the report tabled in Parliament today serves as Minister Anand’s official response to all of Madame Arbour’s recommendations. As outlined in the report, Minister Anand has rejected none of the 48 recommendations and has directed DND/CAF to move forward on all of them. The report outlines the work undertaken to implement the immediately accepted 17 recommendations the steps that will be undertaken to address the remaining 31 recommendations, as well as ongoing and forthcoming DND/CAF culture change initiatives.
Madame Arbour’s recommendations range from issues such as the CAF’s definitions of sexual misconduct and harassment, to the mandate and responsibilities of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC) to the jurisdiction of the CAF over a number of criminal sexual offences, to issues around recruitment, military training and colleges, and internal and external oversight mechanisms.
One of Madame Arbour’s recommendations, Recommendation 5, calls for the removal of criminal sexual offences from the jurisdiction of the CAF – both prosecutorial and investigative (with some exceptions) – stating that such cases should be investigated by civilian police forces at the earliest opportunity, and that they should be prosecuted exclusively in civilian criminal courts.
As stated in her report, Minister Anand has directed DND/CAF to implement Recommendation 5. As such, the Minister has asked DND/CAF to present options regarding how such jurisdictional change can occur, and to do so in consultation with federal, provincial, and territorial partners and other actors. The Minister has also further directed that the implementation of this recommendation address potential issues such as: the capacity for civilian police services to investigate historical cases; Canada’s obligations under international law; the ability of civilian authorities to investigate cases outside of Canada (including civilian police force capacity to deploy to conflict zones); and discrepancies in providing victims’ services between the civilian and military justice systems, among other things.
Since receiving Madame Arbour’s report in May, a series of other recommendations have been implemented, or are in the process of being implemented. For example, in October 2022, Minister Anand announced the appointment of Jocelyne Therrien as the External Monitor. Madame Therrien’s appointment and terms of reference, which require her to oversee DND/CAF’s efforts to address Madame Arbour’s other recommendations, satisfied Recommendation 48, and will provide crucial oversight going forward. In addition, changes to promotion and selection processes, beginning with those for general and flag officers, are underway. The SMRC has expanded its reach and services. And work to transfer the investigation and prosecution of Criminal Code sexual offence cases from the military justice system to the civilian justice system, per Madame Arbour’s interim recommendations in the fall of 2021, is continuing.
The need for meaningful culture change is clear. While progress has been made, much work lies ahead. As we move forward, openness and transparency will be crucial. This means that DND/CAF will continue to offer regular public briefings to parliamentarians and stakeholders on the progress that is being made, so that Canadians can hold those responsible for change to account.
Minister Anand is grateful to Madame Arbour and her team at Borden Ladner Gervais for their months of tireless work to produce their report which provides clear, transformative recommendations for reform. The Minister is grateful to DND/CAF members who spoke with Madame Arbour and her team – especially those who courageously shared their difficult experiences. Their initiative will help deliver a better institution for the next generation of sailors, soldiers, aviators, special forces, and defence civilian employees. Progress is necessary, possible and achievable and we must work towards it together.