Evidence of meeting #26 for National Defence in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was harassment.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Elder Marques  As an Individual

2:10 p.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Is it?

That isn't the signal there. Is that the icon in the upper left-hand corner that's crossed out?

2:10 p.m.


Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

That means 15 people are on and nine people are off.

2:10 p.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

It's working.

Thank you, Madam Chair, and I apologize.

2:10 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Mr. Bagnell, please continue.

2:10 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Thank you. I'll continue:

For example, unless it is illegal, a seaman must follow the standing orders issued by the vessel’s CO, without questioning whether these are consistent with the upper level policy statements in the DAOD or Guidelines.

The ERA notes that this normative order is significantly different than in the civilian world. In civilian law, there is a clear hierarchy of law, which is vertical and works top down. The most fundamental law, the Constitution, takes precedence over statutes, which take precedence over regulations, which take precedence over policies. Every citizen may question the authority of a government policy, regulation or law if it appears to be contrary to the Constitution. In the military, by contrast, a number of different policy instruments all have the same—horizontal—normative force. This can result in the inconsistent interpretation and application of CAF policies and, in practice, may lead to practices that do not conform to the policies.

Given this difference in the operation of rules, it is all the more important that CAF leadership is appropriately trained in the content and importance of policies on inappropriate sexual conduct, in order to ensure a more consistent implementation of the policies across the organization.

Not surprisingly, given the number of different stages involved in a harassment complaint and the number of steps within each stage, interviewees described the harassment complaint process as confusing and overly complex. In addition, participants raised a number of concerns which highlighted substantive problems with the processes in place to investigate sexual harassment.

7.1.2 Lowest-level Resolution

The ERA heard numerous serious criticisms about the CAF’s policy of attempting to resolve sexual harassment complaints at the lowest level. The purpose of this policy appears to be to allow for the resolution of minor disputes without unnecessarily escalating a complaint, which can be damaging both for the respondent and for the complainant. While this goal is laudable, the ERA found that in fact the policy acted as a major disincentive for complainants to come forward or pursue a complaint. In particular, the policy fails to recognize the anxiety many complainants may feel about having to face their aggressor, and the fact that the imbalance of power that may have given rise to inappropriate sexual conduct may still be at play in the context of “low-level resolution” or mediation. For example, while several resolute female interviewees said that they had been able to speak up about sexually harassing conduct and to confront the perpetrator, many more interviewees indicated that ADR techniques were not appropriate for sexual harassment cases because victims were not comfortable taking a confrontational position, particularly when the harasser was of a higher rank.

Further, the vast majority of interviewees who did take the step of discussing their complaint with supervisors reported that the complaint was not taken seriously. Responses from supervisors ranged from warning the complainant about the negative consequences to their careers if they continued with the complaint, to openly disbelieving the victim. Regardless of the basis upon which the supervisor discouraged the complainant from pursuing a complaint, it is clear that the policy of “lowest-level resolution” is a major impediment to the resolution of sexual harassment complaints and to a change in the overall culture of the CAF.

Furthermore, the ERA heard that the process of attempting to resolve complaints at the lowest level tends to undermine confidentiality—a key concern for most complainants. Lowest-level resolution requires sharing the information with the supervisor, or potentially escalating the complaint through numerous individuals up to the RO. Further, witnesses may need to be interviewed if an investigation is launched. All of which will result in a serious loss of confidentiality as a number of members will necessarily learn both about the details of the incident, and the fact that the victim has made a complaint. As a result, interviewees indicated that they preferred not to report out of fear that their reputations would be damaged, and the stigma that would likely attach. Many victims were also concerned about being labelled as someone who would complain about a teammate, which could result in becoming socially ostracized. Interviewees further reported that harassment incidents are “swept under the carpet” by those higher up in the chain of command. The easy answer from supervisors when learning of a complaint seems to be to just “get over it”.

Ultimately, the ERA found that, despite the good intentions [from] the policy, the pressure to settle a complaint at the lowest level functions to stifle complaints at an early stage and to intimidate complainants so that they will not pursue legitimate concerns. As a result, [the] actual or perceived roadblocks prevent victims from obtaining satisfactory resolution where sexual harassment has occurred, and feeds distrust in the system.

Furthermore, the policy of resolving complaints at the lowest level is inconsistent with the CAF’s zero tolerance policy. This policy is embodied in DAOD 5012-0:

“Harassment in any form constitutes unacceptable conduct and will not be tolerated.”

Because the practical effect of the low-level resolution policy is that complainants are strongly discouraged from pursuing their complaints and incidents of sexual harassment are swept under the carpet, this directly undermines the credibility of the CAF’s zero tolerance policy. Most participants viewed the zero tolerance policy as purely rhetorical, with little connection to the reality on the ground.

In respect to the “Open-Door Policy”, it states:

At the same time that many interviewees reported facing difficulties resolving complaints at the lowest level, the ERA found that attempts to escalate complaints to a higher level were also largely unsuccessful. Although several COs advised the ERA that the CAF has an open door policy, many interviewees described this as an unrealistic option. Too many NCOs are seen as part of the boys’ club and concerned more with protecting the reputation of their unit than supporting [the] victim. Interviewees further reported that, groomed by NCOs, junior officers often turn a blind eye to inappropriate sexual conduct. Moreover, not only is it seriously frowned upon to skip a level in the chain of command, but there also appears to be only a small number of exceptionally open COs who would be prepared to act on a complaint of sexual harassment in a meaningful way when a complainant skips one or more levels of the chain of command.

As a result, the practical reality is that when a member attempts to meet with a CO about a...harassment complaint, the “open door” is in fact guarded by a number of persons who insist on knowing why the CO is being approached. In such circumstances, the possibility of filing a formal complaint with an HA is not a realistic option, nor is the purported right of the complainant to convey his or her concerns directly to the CO or to someone at a higher level. Again, this creates serious impediments to reporting and to the effective investigation and resolution of complaints. It only takes one person in the chain of command to make a complaint disappear. Indeed, an individual who can make a complaint disappear is generally seen as a problem-solver and as appropriately protecting his superior.

Now I want to talk about “Challenges with Using ADR”. It states:

The heavy reliance on ADR techniques in the complaint procedures also raises concerns. The RO Guide suggests that ROs should consider ADR at two different points. First, ROs should consider utilizing ADR techniques early in the complaint process, before the administrative investigation is formally set in motion. Second, if this early attempt at resolution is unsuccessful and a formal complaint is filed, ADR should be utilized after the harassment investigation is concluded. While, theoretically, alternative dispute resolution has certain advantages, a number of critics have suggested that this approach is generally not appropriate when addressing incidents of sexual harassment. As one researcher notes, “(p)lacing the responsibility to confront the harasser on the person being harassed does not work well within the rigid power relations and hierarchy of the military.” Moreover, as a participant commented, the CAF’s ADR service is designed to help restore harmony to the workplace, not to address the broad cultural aspects of inappropriate sexual conduct. This comment was substantiated by many comments the ERA heard from participants in the Review. Indeed, it is not insignificant that although almost 15 years have passed since the adoption of the DAOD 5012-0, the ERA was not provided with any examples in which ADR techniques had been successfully used for sexual harassment cases.

Nonetheless, even if ADR techniques are generally inappropriate in addressing sexual harassment complaints, there may be a limited number of circumstances in which a complainant prefers to address the complaint with the help of a third party mediator—

2:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you. Is that—?

2:20 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT


2:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you, Mr. Bagnell

2:20 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

I had to get water to clear my throat.

The essence of ADR is to offer an empowering approach to conflict resolution. In the context of sexual harassment, this principle is key because of the importance to victims of being able to exercise a degree of autonomy in the complaint process. For this reason, victims need to retain some control over the process and should, without pressure to settle, be offered ADR only as one possible course of action.

There are a few other problems related to this process:

Even where sexual harassment complaints were ultimately held to be well-founded and remedial measures were imposed, the sanctions were often perceived by interviewees as a “slap on the wrist” and meaningless—for example being required to complete an on-line training course—and inconsistent. At the same time, as previously discussed, complainants may experience a number of negative repercussions as the result of pursuing a complaint, including impediments to career progression, stigma, and becoming socially ostracized. The dichotomy of outcomes for the victim and harasser reinforces the view of many members, discussed above, that CAF does not take sexual harassment complaints seriously.

The ERA also heard frequently from interviewees that an unintended consequence of the posting system is that harassment complaints are not dealt with in a timely fashion by the departing CO, and are left for the incoming CO to deal with when he or she is new to a unit, and least capable of effectively resolving the matter. The fact that the cost of the harassment investigation is borne by the unit also appears to be a disincentive to ordering an investigation.

Overall, the ERA found that the complexity of policies and procedures related to sexual harassment diminishes the relative value of each one. In addition, the policies are, at times, inconsistent and inefficient. Reporting is not encouraged and the higher leadership is protected from information about what is occurring on the ground. In fact, the CDS’s instructions to COs indicate that ROs are unlikely to even hear about a harassment incident unless and until a written complaint is filed. Ultimately, many of those who used the formal complaint process were left scarred. One interviewee described the experience as “atrocious”, and a number stated that they would not do it again.

Just to sum up here, I'll add one more point on the collection of data:

Finally, the ERA found that data with respect to harassment complaints, investigations, and outcomes are not recorded in a systematic way. Although several members indicated that it would be possible to simply enter data with respect to sexual harassment complaints in logs already in use, this is not currently taking place. The Harassment Complaint Tracking System appears unreliable for many reasons, including the lack of clear instructions as to how and when to file reports, confusion over coding systems, and the absence of any sanction where members simply fail to use the tracking system. The Significant Incident Report (SIR) system appears to be more widely used but, as its name indicates, only tracks the most serious incidents. Further, the ERA was warned about the unreliability of the Canadian Forces Health Information System (CFHIS).

The end result is a general absence of any means of assessing the frequency of reported incidents or how these incidents were dealt with—including whether investigations were carried out, the length of time between when a complaint was lodged and any resolution achieved, and the nature of the ultimate sanction, if any. This makes it impossible for the CAF to measure the overall accountability of the chain of command in responding to harassment complaints. This lack of accountability allows those in command to minimize or ignore complaints if they choose, and those who breach the policies on sexual harassment to do so with impunity.

There are a number of serious problems with the investigation process, so what are the avenues for improvement to those? Some of them are:

Overall, the ERA found that the harassment complaint process is overly complex, emphasizes informal resolution to the detriment of victims, and impedes the CAF from fully confronting and resolving incidents of sexual harassment. As such, three important steps should be taken to improve the harassment complaint process.

First, as previously discussed, complainants should be able to report complaints of sexual harassment to the CASAH, acting as an independent authority outside of the CAF, and should have control over whether the complaint triggers a formal complaint process, including a possible investigation. If a victim chooses not to initiate an investigation, he or she should still have access to support and advice. If the complainant decides to commence a formal complaint process, the complaint would trigger the administrative investigation process.

Second, the process should be simplified and streamlined. Formal complaints should be channelled directly to a grievance procedure before a CO acting as an adjudicator, rather than emphasizing the use of self-help techniques, or requiring the [complainant] to pass through numerous members in the chain of command and then through the formal investigation process. This would have the advantage of making sure that incidents of sexual harassment would come to the attention of the CO as quickly as possible. The griever and the respondent would both be offered assistance to advise and support them with respect to the grievance procedures. Similar to the current practice for harassment complaints, the CO could have the option of requesting an HI to conduct a more in-depth investigation. Both parties would also have the right to submit a written statement to the CO. The respondent would be entitled to procedural fairness, including disclosure of the relevant information.

Finally, the third recommendation reads:

...the policy should significantly reduce the emphasis on ADR and low-level resolution of complaints. Requiring the victim to confront his or her harasser, particularly where there is an imbalance of power, will be inappropriate in most instances. While the CO should give the grievor the option of utilizing the most appropriate ADR mechanism, it should be made clear to her [or him] that this is only one option, and is entirely voluntary.

The proposed model allows the member to have access to a simplified process—one that is reduced from three stages to just one. In addition, under this model, the CO retains better control of his or her unit and is able to intervene at a much earlier stage.

To summarize that recommendation, it reads:

Simplify the harassment process by:

Directing formal complaints to COs acting as adjudicators in a grievance. [and]

Reducing emphasis on ADR.

As I said, sexual assault is dealt with differently, and I'll go over the processes and recommendations related to it in my next intervention.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

2:30 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you very much, Mr. Bagnell.

Mr. Robillard, the floor is now yours.

April 19th, 2021 / 2:30 p.m.


Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

I would now like to continue on the subject of the SMRC, the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre. It operates within the Department of National Defence and reports directly to the Deputy Minister of National Defence, outside and independently from the chain of command.

The services of the SMRC are available all across Canada and in all operational theatres around the world, through internal and external partnerships and organizations. Those services include support, such as referrals for Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members. Those services are provided by the Directorate Professional Military Conduct (DPMC). This is the strategic level planning and coordination organization leading the CAF's institutional change efforts to address sexual misconduct and promote a focus on the dignity and respect of the individual.

The Director General of the SMRC reports directly to the Deputy Minister of National Defence, with the goal of ensuring the independence of the services provided to members of the Canadian Armed Forces affected by sexual misconduct.

The SMRC provides services primarily, but not exclusively, to regular forces, to members of the Reserve, to cadets, to the Rangers, and to the chain of command.

As part of its mandate, the SMRC also provides advice and guidance to the Directorate Professional Military Conduct, DPMC, on all matters related to sexual misconduct.

In addition, in order to change the current culture in the CAF, the SMRC provides counselling services to members of the Canadian Armed Forces. The counsellors listen without judgment to the victims and try to understand each situation. They work together with the victims and with other counsellors so that the victims can make informed decisions. They recognize, respect and try to understand the needs of the members of the Canadian Armed Forces who consult them.

They are also sensitive to the members' feelings, their hurts, their needs, their concerns and their fears. The calls have no time limit, so that as much time as possible can be spent with each member, in the victim's language of choice. That is very important for French-speaking victims so that they do not feel even more disadvantaged.

The counsellors also inform the victims about what the SMRC can and cannot do, in order to refer them to other competent services as required.

Moreover, because of the topic our committee is studying at the moment, it is our responsibility to focus on the victims and the survivors. Their health and well-being are and must be our priority. That is why we must concentrate on our recommendations, in order to honour our commitment to the Canadian Armed Forces.

I will now leave the floor to my colleagues, but I will be coming back to this critical topic later.

2:35 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you, Mr. Robillard.

Mr. Spengemann, please go ahead.

2:35 p.m.


Sven Spengemann Liberal Mississauga—Lakeshore, ON

Madam Chair, thank you very much.

I'd like to thank my colleagues for their fulsome interventions as well. We have a lot of good substance on the floor this afternoon.

Madam Chair, I want to circle back to the Wigston report, which I had introduced earlier with respect to its executive summary. I want to circle back briefly to a comment by Air Chief Marshal Wigston in the introduction in which he refers to two components of the work to change the culture. The first of which, of course, is that it's “the right thing to do”. It is morally wrong what is happening in the Canadian Forces and, as we saw, in so many other forces, including the British armed forces.

The second argument he makes is that it is not only morally the right thing to do to achieve culture, but all of us who do this across jurisdictions will achieve a better armed forces system in the process. He calls it “performance enhancing”, the conclusion being that anybody who engages in sexual misconduct, harassment or worse actually weakens the defence forces, weakens every member currently serving, and then by reputation, also past serving in the forces. I think that was a point very much worth highlighting.

Following up on Mr. Wernick's testimony, colleagues have also referred to the fact that there are a number of other countries that are dealing with this. It's by far not Canada alone. Any country, basically, that has armed forces that are subject to democratic control are facing similar issues. That's not for a moment to say that as Canadians we have to worry about this less because other countries are equally handling this unsuccessfully or incompletely so far. It's the opposite. It's acknowledging that this is a systemic problem that has to do with the culture of masculinity that's been described by many of our witnesses across jurisdictions and across allies.

In some brief research this morning, Madam Chair—I think I spent 15 or 20 minutes looking at this issue—I discovered that there were questions, and in many cases initiatives, in Sweden, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and in the United States in addition to the work that I described earlier with respect to DCAF, the centre for the democratic control of the armed forces in Geneva, and also NATO, which had looked at this issue.

For the benefit of our analysts, who I am very happy to see online—and I'd like to thank them, through you, Madam Chair, for their tremendous work in preparing our draft report—I think it's important to flag that this is a pan-jurisdictional issue with comparative elements and comparative opportunities.

I'd like to get back into the Wigston report in a bit more detail. The introduction actually highlights the fact that the Wigston report itself refers to Canada and the Canadian experience. What we say and do will not only achieve change here, but will also very potentially and very tangibly influence the policy opportunities and opportunities for progress on the part of our allies, especially the ones we work with most closely, including the Five Eyes.

Madam Chair, the Wigston report makes the following identifying statement with respect to the issue we're studying. It says:

For the purpose of this report we defined inappropriate behaviours as those which: breach laws, norms of behaviour or core values and standards, including sexual offences and bullying, harassment and discrimination, that harm or risk harming individuals, teams and operational effectiveness, and that bring or risk bringing the reputation of individuals, units, the Service or Defence into disrepute.

That is the definition that they have adopted. I put it to colleagues for their consideration.

The report continues to say that:

The Armed Forces and Civil Service operate to different terms and conditions of service, however Defence people exist within a shared culture and environment. The report focuses on the Armed Forces, regular and reserve, however it identifies opportunities to work better as a whole force, including the MOD Civil Service, wherever we can. The need to adopt a whole force approach is reinforced by the lessons of others, in particular the Canadian Armed Forces who went through an extensive process of review in 2015.

Madam Chair, that's just to underscore the point I made a minute ago with respect to the Canadian experience actually being looked at by other forces as well. The review that's being referenced there is the ERA that my colleague, Mr. Bagnell, just took a detailed look at in his previous intervention.

The Wigston report itself then comprises three separate sections. Part 1 is an assessment of the current situation in the United Kingdom. Part 2 considers what more could be done to stop inappropriate behaviours from occurring, and part 3 makes recommendations on what more could be done to deal with inappropriate behaviours when they have happened.

The report states:

A key recommendation of Part 3 is the establishment of a new Defence Authority responsible for cultures and inappropriate behaviours, external to the single Services' chain of command and responsible to a Defence Senior Responsible [officer], emulating the successful models of the Canadian Armed Forces, Australian Defence Force and United States military.

For context, Madam Chair, this report of course was put out in 2019, some two years ago and prior to the specific incidents that this committee is also studying.

Mr. Bagnell, in his previous intervention, made reference to a very important component of the external review authority, or the ERA, which is the question of data. Here, I think, the British experience is also helpful to this committee in its deliberations as we go forward in the coming weeks.

Under the subheading “Management information”, the chief air marshal says the following:

To build a comprehensive picture of the behaviours and culture of any organisation, it is necessary to have a single repository where all key data is collated, monitored, tracked and analysed. The resulting intelligence can then be used to inform the chain of command to address issues at the earliest opportunity by enabling resources to be directed to specific hot-spots—situations with a high risk of victimisation for example—or to specific types of behaviour.

Annual statistical data and courts martial outcomes from cases in the Service Justice System, the Service Complaints system and surveys, as well as reports from the single Services, demonstrate a significant effort to capture available information. We observe that the convergence of data and information within each Service lacks depth and [that] there is no coherent analysis at MOD-level. Serious cases within the Service Justice System and the Service Complaints system capture broad headline data sets, such as gender, age, type of offence [and] complaint, but this is superficial and at present there is insufficient metadata captured to provide an appropriate level of insight, nor is there a consistent approach across minority groups. Furthermore, we do not automatically receive comprehensive data or information on cases dealt with in the Civil Courts, so [we] cannot describe the full scale of the issue within Defence at the most serious level; this would require a change to primary legislation. We judge that better and more coherent data would provide actionable information for the chain of command at all levels—and centrally for Defence—to identify where additional training, support and intervention is most needed.

Madam Chair, I'm going to get into some of the recommendations that are being made, but I would preface the fact that mentioning the recommendations does not necessarily mean that we should accept them. In fact, in some cases we may legislatively—by virtue of our customs, procedures and constitutional structure—not be able to adopt them as easily, but they are here for us to consider because, in my submission, they have the right level of granularity. They have the right level of specificity. They will move us forward.

With that in mind, I would like to mention three recommendations that the chief air marshal has put forward under “Management information”.

The first is:

Defence must improve the level of detail and metadata captured on serious unacceptable behaviour as well as instances of lower severity, to provide a single comprehensive picture of inappropriate behaviours across the organisation.

The second is:

Defence should consider amending primary legislation to require the sharing of information from the civilian Criminal Justice System.

The third under this rubric is:

Defence should develop performance measures relating to inappropriate behaviours for use at Defence Board, Executive Committee and Performance and Risk Reviews.

Madam Chair, with this recommendation, you'll recall a brief exchange I had with Rear-Admiral Patterson. I asked her if there was an option to include gender equality championships—I think that's the way I put it at the time—in performance evaluations within the the Canadian Forces. Her initial reaction was “Absolutely”, so there may be some ground here, based on this very specific British recommendation, for us to make a recommendation in parallel in our system that would achieve culture change and progress.

The report also makes recommendations with respect to the use of surveys. Again, this is not for us to accept. It's for us to debate and potentially to accept what we find appropriate and constructive. The report reads as follows:

Defence should conduct a harassment survey in 2021 building on the Army Sexual Harassment Survey 2018, informed by an independent advisory group. In line with recommendation 3.1, Defence should consider a “call for evidence” on inappropriate behaviours in conjunction with this survey, in order to provide supporting detail to the survey.

In parallel with that, it states:

Defence should better coordinate and focus the bullying, harassment and discrimination elements of continuous attitude surveys to improve understanding, reduce duplication and streamline data analysis. Use of contemporary, on-line survey formats should also be considered.

This is a set of very tangible, very specific recommendations that go to the issue of data management. A first step is to call the problem what it is and I think in many respects this committee has done that. Getting the data that speaks to the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the problem is equally important, and then having the opportunity to actually analyze the data at the right level, with the right specificity and granularity, is crucial to taking us forward.

The report makes a recommendation under “Climate assessments”. “Climate” in this context is not in the context of climate change but with respect to the work atmosphere and climate.

The report says:

A proactive process for assessing the Command climate and behaviours is now well-established across all three Services. The Army has developed and matured a tiered process, including the completion of focus-group based analysis within units, led by trained facilitators. The Naval Service conduct a similar advisory process as do the Royal Air Force. This approach, utilising focus groups, by trained facilitators, is seen as leading practice and is utilised by other nations and organisations including the United States military. Such data, although confidential, can be analysed centrally and utilised as a tool to understand behavioural themes.

There you can see that the reference in this report, just in the few brief sections that I outlined, to both Canada and the United States really puts us onto, in some ways, a common denominator with our allies with respect to the nature of the problem, not only acknowledging that we have the problem but also finding potential solutions. These two suggestions here vis-à-vis Canada and the U.S., adopted by the British report, indicate that collaboration and joint problem-solving may well be worth our while. At a minimum, taking account of and reviewing the reports by leading countries in our group of allies and friends would be extremely worthwhile for this committee.

The recommendation that follows from this is that “Climate assessments and advisory visits should be sustained and exploited across Defence.”

I'll finish with the recommendation on “Values and standards” and I'll come back in subsequent interventions.

It says:

Each Service has established and operates a core set of values and standards. These values and standards, developed over time and from extensive operational testing, reflect the unique culture, ethos and operating environments of the respective Armed Forces and Civil [defence]. Values and standards for the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force are well established, comprehensively communicated and understood. The governance surrounding the Civil Service Code is less well recognised, as noted in the Sue Owen Review, which observed that in some workplaces, “staff are looking for a more explicit articulation of the behaviours they should expect to see.” Communication of the Civil Service Code must therefore be amplified and include military line managers of civilians.

The recommendation that follows is that:

Single Service values and standards should be sustained but communication of the Civil Service Code should be amplified.

This is also relevant.

Again, page by page, I'm surprised at how poignant these recommendations are, specifically with respect to the issue in Canada also potentially or actually involving civilian employees of the Canadian Forces.

There really is some substance here, some fodder for deliberation and some opportunities to achieve real and tangible progress. As we go through these experiences in other countries, I would encourage all my colleagues to take note, and also our analysts, and I look forward to reactions from members of the committee.

I'll leave it there for the moment.

Thank you.

2:45 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you very much.

Mr. Baker is up next, please.

2:45 p.m.


Yvan Baker Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Thanks very much, Chair.

I want to thank my colleagues for speaking to a number of the important considerations that we should take into account for this study. I think Mr. Spengemann's interventions on the Wigston report are important. They underline that other militaries have been trying to resolve some of the same issues that we're trying to resolve here in this committee. I think it's sound advice on Mr. Spengemann's part that we strongly consider the specifics of what's in the Wigston report. There's probably a lot there that we could learn and that we could consider in applying solutions to the problem of sexual misconduct here in the Canadian Armed Forces.

I thought the interventions by my other colleagues were also quite welcome. I appreciated Mr. Bagnell's comments about the processes that are followed. There's a lot, I think, in terms of the processes that are followed that we need to learn from and clearly adjust to here in Canada.

I want to go back to an issue that I was speaking about earlier—culture. I think when I left off last time, I was talking about some specific examples cited in the Deschamps report about the kinds of treatment that women who are serving in the armed forces are often subjected to. I want to continue on that theme.

I will read from the Deschamps report, which speaks to how women deal with that in particular:

Ultimately, many women report having to develop a thick skin and to becoming desensitized to a culture of sexually inappropriate conduct. LGBTQ members also report a similarly degrading environment. Notably, while the ERA heard numerous comments about the hostile environment that results from this pervasive low-level harassment, fewer participants reported instances of quid pro quo harassment (in which an individual feels pressured to accept unwelcome sexual conduct in exchange for some workplace benefit or to avoid some detrimental action against her). The ERA found, therefore, that members of the [Canadian Armed Forces] are less likely to be faced with quid pro quo harassment than they are to be affected by an overall organizational culture that conveys demeaning and negative attitudes about the role and value of women.

Perhaps not surprisingly, male and female members of the [Canadian Armed Forces] generally reported vastly different perceptions of the occurrence of inappropriate sexual conduct. While most male participants in the Review recognized that the experiences of their female colleagues are different, many of these male interviewees did not perceive that there is pervasive inappropriate sexual conduct in the [Canadian Armed Forces]. Rather, many men perceived the treatment of women in the military to be similar to what they would experience in broader Canadian society, and some felt that women in fact fare better in the [Canadian Armed Forces] than men do. Others argued that inappropriate incidents are simply inevitable as a result of the integration of women into the [Canadian Armed Forces], or expressed the view that a certain degree of aggression is appropriate in the military. In particular, most men did not view sexual language as harassing, and thought that attempts to “police” language would be “ridiculous”; as one male participant stated, “girls that come to the Army know what to expect”.

This is just horrendous. I think it speaks to the specifics of some of the things that we heard from victims, that we heard from women, and that some of our witnesses have spoken to.

The report continues:

While women of a higher rank seemingly do not suffer as much from the sexualized environment, the ERA found that this is largely because members appear to internalize the prevailing sexualized culture as they move up through the organization. Whether to achieve their career goals or as a coping mechanism, female NCOs and higher-ranking women tend to adapt their own conduct [Technical difficulty—Editor] the organization.

What I'm trying to underline here for our colleagues is the tremendous number of coping mechanisms that are put in place by women according to the Deschamps report and echoed by our witnesses.

I'm going to leave it there, Chair.

2:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Go ahead, Ms. Vandenbeld.

2:55 p.m.


Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

I have a proposed amendment. I would like to amend the motion to read, “That the Standing Committee on National Defence, concerning its study on addressing sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces, including the allegations against the former chief of the defence staff...”

Madam Chair, I may not have a motion at this time, so I'm going to allow Mr. Baker to continue talking. I am very sorry, Madam Chair.

2:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

It's 2:55.

This meeting is suspended until further notice.

[The meeting was suspended at 2:55 p.m., Monday, April 19]

[The meeting resumed at 1:07 p.m., Friday, April 23]

2:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

I call this meeting back to order.

This is a resumption of meeting number 26 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence, which started on Monday, April 19, 2021.

Mr. Bezan, your motion is still on the floor.

2:55 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Madam Chair, I'm pleased to withdraw the motion, so that we can get on with our business at hand.

2:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you very much.

We need unanimous consent to withdraw the motion. Are there any objections?

(Motion withdrawn)

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), and the motion adopted by the committee on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, the committee is resuming its study of addressing sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces, including the allegations against former Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance.

With us today by video conference, we have Mr. Elder Marques, former senior adviser to the Prime Minister.

After opening remarks, we will proceed with the round of questions.

Welcome, Mr. Marques.

I invite you to make your opening statement.

2:55 p.m.

Elder Marques As an Individual

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

I want to begin by thanking you and the committee for the invitation to appear before you today. I'm happy to help support the committee's study into these issues, because they are of the utmost importance, not only to the Canadian Armed Forces but, frankly, to all Canadians.

My hope is that the committee will use this study in a non-partisan way to identify and recommend the changes needed to improve both the structure and the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces. Canadians deserve to be confident that all of our institutions are well equipped to identify and root out all forms of harassment, and that includes ensuring that the survivors of harassment are supported and protected and that there are no systemic barriers to their ability to access justice.

I will try to be as helpful as I can be to the committee today, but I should note at the outset that I am almost exclusively relying on my independent recollection of events that occurred more than three years ago.

As the committee is aware, I am no longer a public office-holder. I left the Prime Minister's Office in December, 2019, and I left the government last year.

I am here today voluntarily. To be clear, I never refused to be here and have only been co-operative in my dealings with the clerk of the committee.

With that said, I'm pleased to share the recollection that I have of these events and to take your questions today.

Either late on March 1 or early on March 2, 2018, the chief of staff to the Prime Minister or her assistant asked me to get back to the chief of staff to the Minister of National Defence on an issue relating to the CDS. At that time, I was senior adviser to the Prime Minister, working in the Prime Minister's Office.

I spoke with the chief of staff to the Minister of National Defence that same day. She advised me that the ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, who was then Gary Walbourne, had initiated an unscheduled discussion alone with her minister. In that meeting, she told me, Mr. Walbourne had raised an allegation of personal misconduct against the CDS, and there were no other details provided.

The important, sensitive and unusual nature of this matter was immediately obvious to me, even in the absence of any details regarding the allegation. I immediately brought this issue directly to the Clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to the cabinet, who was then Michael Wernick. I advised the chief of staff to the Prime Minister that I was taking this step, and I then kept her apprised as matters developed.

I met with Mr. Wernick at least twice that morning. He advised me, I believe after having sought legal advice, that the matter would be dealt with by Janine Sherman, deputy secretary to the cabinet, who was responsible for senior personnel.

My discussions with Ms. Sherman were about the PCO's taking carriage of the matter, including providing assistance and advice to Mr. Walbourne and taking steps to move any investigation forward in an appropriate manner. I wanted to ensure that Mr. Walbourne received this advice in writing so as to limit any risk of a misunderstanding or a miscommunication, and I also wanted to ensure that he received that advice promptly.

At no point did I offer any opinions on the nature of what the appropriate procedural next steps were, as it was not my place to do so.

My understanding is that the Privy Council Office engaged quickly with the public service lawyers to determine the best way forward. They provided me with draft language that the Minister of National Defence or his team could use to send to Mr. Walbourne. That draft language suggested that Mr. Walbourne should speak directly with the Privy Council Office, noting that the matter concerned a Governor in Council appointment.

As of that point, the Privy Council Office had the matter in its hands, and my involvement effectively ended. While I was hopeful that this potentially serious issue could be investigated effectively, I did not have a further role in that process, nor do I believe it would have been appropriate for me to have one. At no time, for example, did I ever attempt to contact or speak with Mr. Walbourne.

Later on, though I cannot recall the date, I was made aware that the Privy Council Office had, in fact, spoken with Mr. Walbourne, but that he had indicated the Canadian Armed Forces member in question did not want her information shared. I understood at that time that Mr. Walbourne was going to continue to seek that consent so that the matter could be investigated, but it was not clear whether or not he would obtain it.

At no point did anyone advise me that the file was in some way closed.

My understanding was that the PCO would leave the file open in case there was further information that would allow an investigation to proceed. Essentially, my involvement in this matter was limited to promptly bringing the issue to the PCO, sharing the entirety of the limited information I had, and asking PCO to take whatever steps it could to ensure that matters were investigated and that Mr. Walbourne was provided with advice.

It was apparent to me at that time—and absolutely remains so in hindsight—that an allegation of this sort about a Governor in Council appointee should not be investigated in some kind of ad hoc way by members of cabinet, including the Minister of National Defence or the Prime Minister, or by political staff members. The best way in those circumstances is to ask the non-partisan public service, with its institutional and legal resources, to identify the path forward and work with whoever possessed the information—in this case, Mr. Walbourne—to permit the allegation to be investigated. That is what took place here.

The Privy Council is uniquely placed in the machinery of government. The Clerk of the Privy Council is also head of the public service. PCO has expertise in all issues dealing with the appointment, tenure, and performance of Governor in Council appointees. The Privy Council also has immediate access to the best legal advice on matters of public administration and public policy, and in my experience of nearly five years in the Government of Canada, the leadership of the Privy Council Office works in ways that are responsible, professional and non-partisan.

I had every confidence that the Privy Council Office would take the steps that it could to have matters investigated, and if gaps needed to be filled, that it would propose new procedures to fill those gaps. In this specific case, at no point did anyone in the public service or among political staff ever suggest anything other than ensuring that the matters in issue were investigated appropriately, and I believe everyone acted in good faith trying to ensure that happened.

Indeed, my recollection is that despite a lack of detail surrounding the nature of the allegation, everyone appreciated the potential gravity of the issue. Once I informed the PCO of an allegation and I received their confirmation that they would be taking further steps, I had no further involvement in this matter. In my view, the proper entities were managing the issue and would follow appropriate procedures. That could include briefing staff and the PMO, or the Prime Minister himself, but at an appropriate time. I have no recollection of personally briefing the Prime Minister on these issues, nor was I ever made aware of any such briefing.

I would now be pleased to take questions that the committee may have for me.

2:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you very much, Mr. Marques.

Mr. Bezan, over to you.

2:55 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Thank you, Madam Chair. I just want to thank Mr. Marques for appearing today and being available.

Your testimony is very important to the study at hand here. I agree with you that we want to stamp out sexual misconduct, but I think your recollection of what's happened three years ago has led to the crisis that we're in now. I just want to make sure I understand what your testimony was today, because the defence minister, when he appeared on April 6, said that Zita Astravas communicated first with the PCO and then with you. However, you're saying that the chief of staff to the Prime Minister contacted you and then contacted Ms. Astravas. I just want to make sure we have this straight.

2:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Elder Marques

I'm happy to give you my best recollection to try to be most helpful. I am really on this point going from my recollection that my contact with the minister's chief of staff came following a request from someone in my office, who I believe was the chief of staff or her assistant, to call her. To the best of my recollection, that's how that happened. I don't believe that at that time she had already spoken with someone in the Privy Council Office, but I don't know.

In any event, I engaged the Privy Council Office almost immediately, and so I don't think.... Although I understand that you're asking to make sure the chronology is clear, I suspect not much would actually turn on it, because I think very quickly everyone had the same information, which was very limited, and we quickly moved to asking the Privy Council to now take carriage of that matter and do what it could with that information to try to have an investigation ultimately take place.