Evidence of meeting #125 for Public Accounts in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was victims.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Andrew Hayes  Deputy Auditor General, Office of the Auditor General
Jody Thomas  Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence
Robyn Roy  Director, Office of the Auditor General
Paul Wynnyk  Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, Department of National Defence
Rachael Harder  Lethbridge, CPC
Charles Lamarre  Commander, Military Personnel Command, Department of National Defence
Pat Kelly  Calgary Rocky Ridge, CPC
Randeep Sarai  Surrey Centre, Lib.
Denise Preston  Executive Director, Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, Department of National Defence

10 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

It was a poor choice of words.

10 a.m.

LGen Paul Wynnyk

As we go forward, once again, though, I think that many of the issues we're talking about—and I stress this once again—can only be driven by the chain of command. We do have under the SMRC, under Dr. Preston, an independent authority, independent of the Canadian Armed Forces, which once again can provide that oversight and input, hold us to account as we go forward and verify things as we go forward.

I'm quite satisfied that the division of responsibilities is very clear now, but once again, to effect the change that we seek to change, it has to be driven by the institution itself, by the chain of command.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, General Wynnyk.

We'll now move to Monsieur Massé.

January 29th, 2019 / 10 a.m.

Liberal

Rémi Massé Liberal Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

I had a quick question.

Correct me if I am wrong, but, as I understand it, under the Privacy Act, the chain of command will sometimes not inform victims whether administrative measures have been taken, which can lead some members in uniform to believe that nothing has happened.

How do those responsible have to go about making sure that victims' needs are met in terms of follow-up, resources and services?

10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

There are a number of aspects to privacy and anonymity in this process. We're not because of privacy protecting perpetrators or people who have behaved inappropriately. Where we're focused on privacy is actually on the anonymity of person reporting the problem, generally at their request. We always protect their anonymity if they've asked us to do so. That's where the SMRC.... Denise can certainly speak to this in great detail. When that's the anonymity process and that conversation goes back and forth to the determination that the person affected wants to make a formal report, at that point the chain of command is made aware, but one of the key things about the SMRC is protecting the anonymity of the person who calls in.

10 a.m.

Executive Director, Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, Department of National Defence

Denise Preston

Yes, that's absolutely true. When callers contact the centre, we essentially leave it up to them in terms of how much or how little they want to tell us about their circumstance and their personal information. Sometimes people choose not to give us names. Quite frequently, they choose not to give us locations or what environment or base they belong to, because they're trying to protect themselves. We certainly respect that, so nothing is recorded in our database. The other thing is that our database is completely protected within the centre. There is no one outside the centre who would have access to the database.

With respect to your original point, which is the fact that people who have made complaints don't actually get informed about administrative actions taken, you're absolutely right. We hear this from callers. There is a significant frustration about the lack of closure for them. Certainly, it's recognized within the victim world more generally, not just in the CAF but in Canadian society, that the need for information is critical and in fact is a right. According to the Victims Bill of Rights, they have a right to a certain amount of information. Information is power for people. It's powerful to let them feel heard, validated and safe.

10 a.m.

LGen Charles Lamarre

I would also like to answer Mr. Massé's question.

As for the necessary processes, we can take disciplinary measures against anyone who has broken the rules, either by a summary trial or by taking the case to a court martial. Then, certain steps would have to be followed. If a person is found guilty, disciplinary measures would be possible. The process is open.

Administratively, we can take various measures in order to react to unacceptable situations. For example, we can review the career of the individuals in question, or decide to discharge them for doing things that are not acceptable in the Canadian Armed Forces.

The process already considers the frustration of victims that Mrs. Preston has just told us about. Only the Chief of the Defence Staff is able to discharge from the Canadian Forces those who say that have been assaulted in one way or the other. That is important for them. If individuals have been sexually assaulted in any way whatsoever, before their careers come to an end or they are discharged, only the Chief of the Defence Staff himself is in a position to discharge them from the Canadian Forces. It must be certain that those individuals have received all the medical care and support they need and, before their discharge, they must be made aware of the disciplinary and administrative measures that have been taken against their abusers.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Rémi Massé Liberal Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Thank you.

Clearly, this is a matter of trust. Before they can report their abusers, victims or potential victims have to have trust in the process.

My last question goes to Mrs. Preston.

Do you think that the new processes in place will encourage more victims to report their abusers?

10:05 a.m.

Executive Director, Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, Department of National Defence

Denise Preston

I think it's absolutely true that the more affected people, the complainants, are included in the process, allowed to participate, to receive information and to provide information to have their views taken into consideration, the better it is for them, the more empowering it is, the more safe they feel and the more healing it is for them.

The other thing that I would add is that one of the service enhancements that we're doing—it was recommended by the OAG, but it was also an enhancement that we had started developing already—is to institute what we're calling a case management process. What that would mean is that one of our counsellors would be assigned to a member from the time that a first report or disclosure is made. They would have a consistent point of contact that would help them navigate the process from beginning to end, whether that means helping with filling out forms, accompanying them to appointments, providing information, or whatever their needs are. That's the role that this person would play. I think that will go a long way to helping as well, because they will then not be left in the dark. When people are in the dark, they always make negative assumptions that are not necessarily factual.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

I would also remind our committee that we do have committee business, so we'll be in camera.

Mr. Kelly.

10:05 a.m.

Calgary Rocky Ridge, CPC

Pat Kelly

I'll be quick so that maybe I can help my colleagues. I'm so generous this morning that I'm happy to do that.

I have a couple of quick questions. Hopefully we can get concise answers.

We've already heard about the problems about data collection. I'd like to ask Ms. Thomas clearly: Do you agree with Mr. Hayes' observation that the forces did not have a performance measurement or framework to measure and that the information the forces collected on incidents is of poor quality?

10:05 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

Yes, I absolutely agree. We had a lot of numbers, but they didn't give a lot of information. It wasn't data, and it wasn't information; it was just numbers. The ability to delve into the numbers, the number of incidents in this space over the course of the year, was not then being used to understand what the root causes were in that location.

10:10 a.m.

Calgary Rocky Ridge, CPC

Pat Kelly

Okay. Why was that?

10:10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

I think that it was due to a lack of understanding of what was required of the team looking at this issue. I think the information was incomplete, and so there was a desire not to draw the wrong conclusions, but instead it left a gap.

10:10 a.m.

Calgary Rocky Ridge, CPC

Pat Kelly

What can you do to ensure that five years from now we don't have another Auditor General's report before this committee, and a future deputy minister in your place throws their hands up and says something similar in terms of an answer?

10:10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

We certainly have you to report to on how we are doing with our data collection and our management action plan. We have a data problem in Defence. We've been in front of this committee before—

10:10 a.m.

Calgary Rocky Ridge, CPC

Pat Kelly

Yes, and other departments, not just Defence.

10:10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

—and we have taken this very seriously. I have invested in a data analytics group that is going to oversee, develop and direct how we manage data in the Department of National Defence. It will be done consistently. It will be done across every senior, major branch. Dr. Preston is already working with that group to build its datasets, to understand what we need to collect and what it means when we collect something.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Kelly. I'll steal some of your time.

Ms. Thomas, you just mentioned some of the bases, and that word jumped out at me. I'm wondering, in the whole study of sexual assault within the defence forces, do you have the data? Is it that you may have dictated the importance of this protocol, but certain bases maybe just didn't see it as strong a directive as other bases saw it, while some bases took it as a higher priority? Was there a division in those bases where there was more?

The second question I would ask is, do you have the data with ages? Is a lot of this right in the field? How much of it is at headquarters? How much is on those military bases?

10:10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

I'll ask General Wynnyk to jump in as well. We do have the data. We can provide it to you.

Certainly, when Madame Deschamps did her report, she was very clear that the disparity between rank and authority and power was one core problem within the organization. Senior leaders with more junior, younger members was where the inappropriate behaviour—whether comments, etc., harassment, up to assault—was taking place.

Recent data—and again, we'll provide it to you—is showing that it's more peer-to-peer. It's still a problem, absolutely. I'm not diminishing it, but it's a different problem we have to deal with.

10:10 a.m.

LGen Paul Wynnyk

With regard to your question on bases, I don't think there's been a perceptible difference in reporting at bases. Once again, there's absolute buy-in from the senior leadership level; it's just how it trickles down over time. We don't have any evidence, with the data we do have, to suggest that some areas have under-reported.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

Ms. Preston.

10:10 a.m.

Executive Director, Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, Department of National Defence

Denise Preston

Yes, I could just speak a little bit about the data. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I'm aware of some of the trends in the data. To respond to your question, what we do find is that the primary age group that's being targeted is that 19- to 25-year-old group, and that's also the primary group where the accused or the perpetrators are. We know that it is a phenomenon in the younger population.

What we do know in terms of looking at some of the gender differences—these come from the StatsCan survey—is that women are more likely to be assaulted or harassed by someone in the chain of command, someone senior to them, whereas for male victims it's more likely to be peer-on-peer.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Interesting. Thank you.

Mr. Arya.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Chandra Arya Liberal Nepean, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Chair, when you asked my colleague Mr. Massé to ask his questions, he appeared a bit unprepared. We have to excuse him because he is ready to leave the committee and act as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Innovation. I think he already took one step out.

I would like to recognize the remarks made by Ms. Thomas. I listened to her. It was very refreshing, quite open and frank. For example, she said they have not always been successful in putting people's needs first. Despite their best efforts and good intentions, as the Auditor General has identified, there was an important but entirely unintended consequence of the duty to report.

She also admitted that they have learned since then and they know that some people experienced repercussions as the reporting system launched a process they did not want. Along the same lines, she said that the more they learn, the better they will be at preventing sexual misconduct and supporting people affected by it.

I think this gives me assurance that going forward, this particular subject will be handled very diligently and in a very speedy way.

Now, my question is about one of the recommendations of the Auditor General, that the members have access to a consistent level of service and specialized support, regardless of where they are serving. My question to Ms. Thomas—and maybe Dr. Preston—is about disclosure and handling of complaints. Will this be more difficult when the victim is serving abroad, or in a place like a ship or a submarine?