Thank you, Madam Chair.
I am speaking to you from Toronto, the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Chippewa and the Wendat peoples.
I have been engaged on issues of harassment in the CAF for over 40 years, and I see strengths and weaknesses in the current version of the movie. Leaders at all levels are seeking to address issues and to do the right thing. The supporting functions provided by the SMRC are helpful, and “The Path to Dignity and Respect” has some promising ideas, but Operation Honour has not had the results intended. Why?
The reason, which my two colleagues have alluded to as well, has been an incomplete understanding of the issues, which has led to incomplete solutions, underpinned by an unwillingness to critically assess certain aspects of CAF identity and culture.
Six years ago, General Lawson said that CAF culture and behaviours had improved from the 1990s. While he was correct, the CAF had not been attending to evolutions across society. Expectations around the standard of workplace conduct have continued to rise. People are no longer prepared to ignore, endure or accept behaviours that may not have been called out in the past, so while there has been some progress in the last five years, the gap has likely grown yet again.
I’ll note that two years ago, senior leaders said they didn’t know what the root causes were. External experts said they did but weren’t being listened to. The problem is that the issue has been framed as sexual misconduct. The description of the term in Operation Honour puts the emphasis on the first word, describing it as sexual advances, sexual overtures, flirting and so on.
There are CAF members who annoy people with overtures, but the key issue is not about sex. If I hit you with a shovel, you wouldn’t call it inappropriate gardening. It is about power. It is using sexually and racially coded language to create and police social hierarchies about who is important and who is not. Death by a thousand cuts damages an individual’s self worth, identity and sense of belonging. That is what is being broken, not people feeling uncomfortable seeing an explicit picture or hearing an off-colour joke.
“The Path to Dignity and Respect” starts to expand the framing of the problem. It has taken 40 years, but it's a good first step. It acknowledges that there are cultural factors that can increase incidents of sexual misconduct, but the door is only open very slightly. There are a couple of carefully worded statements that gender stereotypes, outdated conceptions of the warrior and a male-dominated workforce can create harmful cultural dynamics, but nothing more and nothing of substance in the rest of the document to address even these factors.
The key omission is the continued reluctance to name power and militarized masculinities. This requires a careful and critical analysis of the military construct of soldier, sailor and aviator, and equally of leader and commander. We need to examine the institutionalized and systemic processes that shape military identity, and to ask the question: how much of one’s identity do they have to give up in order to be successful in the CAF? Most of those leading today have not had to think about this. Left-handed people know they live in a right-handed world; right-handed people don’t. It isn’t apparent to us when the world is constructed to fit us.
The CAF was likely a good fit for most seniors, and we still have some who don’t realize or can’t see why it isn’t a good fit for others. They continue to use terms and narratives they believe resonate with all, but actually serve to accentuate the dominant identity, hence increasing the social hierarchies and leaving some feeling isolated, ignored or not valued for who they are.
“The Path” indicates that work will be done to update professional development and enhance leadership capacities. Both are needed but should be informed by analyses of CAF identity and the practices of militarized masculinities.
As part of the analyses, I would highlight a 2016 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report that identified 12 factors that increase the risk of workplace harassment. The CAF has 10 of these and is at the high end on six. These are significant power disparities, encouraging alcohol consumption, a young workforce, use of coarse language, a single-gender-dominated culture, and a homogeneous workforce. Only two are reflected in “The Path”.
Proper considerations of institutionalized and systemic factors that create the conditions in which sexualized language is used to diminish others requires the CAF to shift away from the current focus on the weak individual. Harassment incidents and lack of reporting are not due to people not having read the definition or not knowing how to report. There are strong social factors that are intentionally created by the CAF to set these conditions.
Addressing these factors means challenging some centrally held tenets of the profession, facets that are key to success but also to creating unhealthy conditions. Obedience to authority, normative conformity and group loyalty are essential yet can also create intense social pressure to fit in, to conform and above all, to stay silent. Power and hierarchies are critical to effective command but signal that it is acceptable for individuals to use social power against others.
Members need to know that their buddy will have their back when the brown stuff hits the rotating object, but this means people are constantly judging others to see if they measure up, and outdated stereotypes continue to put women under the microscope to constantly be tested and forced to prove they can do the job.
My comments lead to a key issue. The first objective of Operation Honour is to have leadership-driven culture change. There still is no clarity regarding which aspects of CAF culture are to be changed and which will be allowed to remain the same. The central question for this committee is whether this is a decision CAF leaders will make on their own.
Finally, as would my other colleagues, I would identify that I am speaking on the basis of my academic expertise, but I would note a slight correction, that after 33 years, I retired with the rank of naval captain.
Thank you. I look forward to your questions.