DND News

Alcohol common in misconduct cases

The Department of National Defence has nearly quadrupled the number of round-the-clock emergency contacts for uniformed and civilian personnel who have been sexually assaulted. Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan, Chief of Professional Conduct and Culture (CPCC), said it’s a key element of a long-term push “to rebuild trust and promote long-lasting institutional change.”

The increase to 30 community-based service-providers from an initial eight near various military bases across the country was announced May 11 by Carignan and Linda Rizzo Michelin, Chief Operating Officer of the Sexual Misconduct Support and Resource Centre (SMSRC) during an on-line briefing.

Some complainants have found themselves “out of pocket” from their initial interaction with the system but Rizzo Michelin said the first phase of a new Independent Legal Assistance (ILA) program makes them eligible for reimbursement for up to four hours of “advice or assistance” in cases of alleged sexual assault. That’s backdated to April 2019 and she said it could revised as the program matures. \

“There also is support for legal representation” if criminal charges are laid, she said, adding that initial support will be “up front” as recommended by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Louise Arbour in her June 2022 report on sexual harassment and misconduct in DND and the Canadian Armed Forces.

The ILA program is available to all serving CAF personnel as well as anyone who has experienced sexual misconduct by a CAF member. The SMSRC also is being expanded to cadets, junior Canadian Rangers and to family members of the defence community aged at least 16.

Depending on individual needs, each community-based project will receive one-time funding of up to $50,000 or recurrent funding of up to $75,000 annually, for a maximum of three years. Once seed funding runs out, the plan calls for ongoing annual funding of $1.5 million.

“This won’t happen overnight,” Carrignan said. “With the progress we’ve seen in the policies, programs and procedures we’ve implemented so far, I know we are definitely on the right path.”

DND said in a statement that community-based approach is being led by not-for-profit organizations “with the capacity and expertise to support those affected by sexual misconduct in the wider defence community.

Asked by FrontLine about the contacts’ professional expertise and training, Rizzo Michelin said only that the 24/7 access gives personnel access to counsellors “with a wide variety of experience and expertise in working with those who have experienced with sexual misconduct. They also have a “wide resource network of being able about to provide assistance and referrals to individuals who do call in.”

Alcohol abuse evidently is a factor in the long-running challenge facing the Canadian Armed Forces. “We do make sure that we track correlations between alcohol and misconduct,” Carignan confirmed. “We are in the process […] of assessing all of that” but “this is definitely a factor that we do take account when tracking misconduct and prevention programs.”

Asked whether the CAF could consider limiting or even preventing access to alcohol at “military events”, she said there are regular “conversations” about the overall issue. “Many commanders and leaders do question how to best approach this.”

Eliminating access to CAF personnel who behave themselves is “another consideration” for event organizers. Carignan indicated that there is a link between sexual assault complaints in December – due to alcohol consumption at social functions on or off bases– and she suggest one approach would be to strictly limit servings and Christmas and New Year functions.

“We know that there is a correlation but it is not the only one,” she said. “Many other factors play into that, which is why a ‘one size fits all’ is not the approach that we want to take.” Those other factors include age groups and the military hierarchy “which is why locally and regionally leaders need to adapt the posture and the social events, considering all factors and their specific situation.”

Carrignan noted that handling “misconducts of all kinds” is not unique to the CAF, that she has discussed the issue with allies. “The U.S. and the U.K. have both tabled reports of that kind and we also know that the Irish Defence Force […] in March tabled a report where it clearly identified work in the culture space needed to happen.”

She said that within NATO, “the theme of professional conduct and culture is a theme that everyone is focusing their attention towards, which is kind of why we are leading the way amongst our allies. People are very much interested in the approach and how we go about shifting mindsets and changing culture in our organizations. I have to be clear this is not just a military problem; this is a whole of a defence problem and the public service is also part of this endeavour.”

Asked whether CAF recruitment has been affected by reports about misconduct, Carrignan pointed out that it wasn’t one of her responsibilities, but that more than 6,000 permanent residents have joined the CAF in recent years. Recruitment from that demographic in April 2023, for example, had been “hugely successful” in that it was double the year-earlier intake. “Hopefully those trends will keep at that pace.”

Ken Pole