Thank you, Madam Chair.
Members of the Standing Committee on National Defence, thank you for allowing me to address the serious concerns that were brought forward regarding the former chief of the defence staff.
I was as shocked as everyone else at the allegations that were made public two weeks ago. I want to stress that any inappropriate behaviour, harassment or sexual misconduct is completely unacceptable in the Canadian Armed Forces and in the Department of National Defence.
Regarding the allegations involving the former chief of the defence staff, the Canadian Forces national investigation service has initiated an investigation, so I can't comment on the specifics of the case. I have full confidence the investigation will proceed fairly and in accordance with the law. I am confident this process will make sure that if the evidence shows wrongdoing, we will hold those responsible accountable. Nobody in Canada is above the law, no matter their rank or position.
I know how important it is for any investigation by CFNIS to occur independently from outside influence. The last thing I want, the last thing we want here, is to undermine the independence of the process, preventing a just outcome.
I'm deeply troubled that members of the Canadian Armed Forces have felt trust has been broken and that people believe they could not come forward. No matter the rank, no matter the position, sexual misconduct and harassment is not acceptable. We want it reported. We want it investigated. We want to support those impacted.
Eliminating sexual misconduct and creating a safe work environment for everyone on the defence team has been one of my top priorities as the Minister of National Defence. We have more work to do to ensure that any member of the Canadian Armed Forces or civilian in the Department of National Defence feels able to come forward with complaints without fear of any sort of reprisal.
I also want to recognize the women who have come forward with these allegations. We're offering all available resources to them to help support them through this difficult time. Ensuring their well-being must be our focus.
We recognize how difficult it can be to bring forward allegations, and we must do more to eliminate the barriers that prevent people from reporting. I treat all allegations of inappropriate behaviour, harassment or sexual misconduct with the utmost seriousness. I can assure this committee and all Canadians that any allegations that were brought forward were aggressively and very quickly put forward to the proper authorities. All the proper processes were followed.
Along with the defence team, I will continue ensuring the recent allegations are addressed through the proper authorities. We will have a thorough and deep independent investigation separate from the chain of command.
You want answers, Canadians want answers and I want answers, but most importantly those who have stepped forward with allegations deserve answers.
Madam Chair, any inappropriate behaviour, harassment or sexual misconduct damages our institution beyond repair. These actions undermine morale, they jeopardize operational readiness and they break the trust of those who have volunteered and stepped up to serve Canada. It is a betrayal of the trust between our defence team members and their leadership.
Our members and all Canadians expect the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces to embody a culture where all are treated with dignity and respect. This work will and must continue. This is an ongoing and enduring effort. It is one on which we need to do more, and we will do more.
When incidents of misconduct do occur and are reported, our members rightfully expect that we undertake a thorough and meaningful investigation. That is what Canadians expect. That is what I expect. I have no tolerance for sexual misconduct.
Each and every allegation needs to be investigated, no matter the rank or position of those involved. Whenever any concerns were brought to my attention, I've always insisted and ensured they were brought to the proper authorities for any and all investigations that may be warranted.
We will do absolutely everything in our power to make the changes that need to be made to eliminate and discourage sexual misconduct from the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence. We took meaningful steps by releasing a policy on sexual misconduct last year to prevent and address sexual misconduct and to support those who have been affected by it.
I also know how hollow this may sound given the situation, but there are those like Dr. Preston, those in the sexual misconduct response centre and many members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence who are tirelessly working to make our institution a safer place for all.
We have also launched a panel meant to uncover systemic discrimination and bias within the Canadian Armed Forces. This panel will make recommendations for systemic change based on a number of factors, including gender. As an organization, it is our collective responsibility to support those who have been harmed and to ensure that people are treated fairly. When people come forward with allegations, we must believe and support them to allow the appropriate authorities to investigate. It is the responsibility of every single person in the defence team to respect one another, to hold themselves and their peers accountable, to act according to the values and principles that Canadians expect of us and to recognize, address and report unacceptable behaviour.
We know that we need to do more to help people feel safe and empowered to bring forward their stories. We must eliminate the barriers and the fear that prevent people from coming forward and reporting. When they do come forward, we must take their concerns seriously. Just as importantly, we must make sure that they are heard. We must ensure that they do not face any retaliation or reprisal, even informally. We must support them through every step of the process. We must show every single member of the defence team that we are committed to this through meaningful action.
Our work has not stopped since 2015, and it will not stop now. Though we have made meaningful progress, we have more work to do. We need a complete and total culture change. Our actions to root out this insidious behaviour must match our words. We need to ensure that, no matter your rank or position, your behaviours and attitudes must match the values that Canadians expect and that we ensure a safe and respectful workplace for everyone.
The Canadian Armed Forces has traditionally had a culture of masculinity. There are toxic elements of masculinity that have risen to the fore on numerous occasions. To be serious about genuine culture change, we need to acknowledge this and tackle this head-on. Though institutional culture change is complex and takes time, the time for patience is over. Change will not and cannot happen on its own. It requires a persistent and complete acknowledgement that we must do better, and we will.
Every member across the organization must be invested in it. Every member must be accountable for their actions, no matter their rank, no matter their position. It involves everyone in the chain, from the bottom up and the top down. It goes without saying that the same rules and standards must apply to all.
We must continue building trust in each other and in our organization, trust that must be continually earned. We will continue to work to earn it.
Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to speak. I welcome your questions.