Evidence of meeting #142 for Status of Women in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was military.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Paula MacDonald  As an Individual

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Good morning and welcome to meeting 142 of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

Today's meeting is in public as we continue our study on the treatment of women within the Department of National Defence.

For this, I am pleased to welcome, as an individual, Paula MacDonald. Paula will be presenting for seven minutes, and then we will start with questions.

Paula, I'm going to turn the floor over to you. You have seven minutes to present.

8:50 a.m.

Paula MacDonald As an Individual

Good morning, honourable members and chairperson.

I am pleased and hopeful to be given this opportunity to speak to you about my experiences with the Department of Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces as a woman who directly served her country between October 2014 to January 2016.

My military career was short, unfulfilling and painful. I voluntarily released from the service because my chain of command refused to reasonably address the behaviours of superiors who discriminated against my abilities and sexually harassed and objectified me. I was subjected to increasing levels of violence from service members who behaved inappropriately, and I left to protect my physical safety.

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Paula, could you slow down just a tad, and we'll go a little bit longer then.

8:50 a.m.

As an Individual

Paula MacDonald

Sure.

My case is currently proceeding to a hearing before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

I experienced gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment during my service as a reservist with 35 Field Ambulance, and during basic training at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. I reported the sexual and gender-based discrimination to the designated authorities in the chain of command. Unit-led investigations allowed individuals who behaved inappropriately to me to directly create military-led resolutions. The chain of command where the abuse took place maintained administrative authority over resolution methods, allowing the members who were directly involved in alleged human rights violations to decide how these matters would be addressed. Internal policies and procedures to protect against conflicts of interest were not enforced during military resolution processes.

The designated authorities in both local chains of command failed to address the harassment and discrimination I experienced. I was never interviewed by designated authorities regarding the incidents that occurred at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School. I attended this school around the same time CBC reported the deaths of seven young men by suicide and an outbreak of strep throat.

During the time I attended, many women voluntarily released from the Canadian Armed Forces. Their decisions were heavily influenced by training approaches used by military leadership. I can speak to the living conditions at the Mega at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School from a gendered and health and safety perspective.

Checks and balances to ensure military leadership abided by internal Canadian Armed Forces policies and procedures were not in place during four Canadian Armed Forces-led investigations that directly impacted my life. When I objected to sexual harassment, Canadian Armed Forces leadership determined I had poor leadership skills, subjecting me to more discrimination. The assessment skills of leaders who came to the determination speak volumes about the work that is needed to correct the outcomes of the hostile sexualized culture.

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Paula, could you slow down a tad again? They're having a bit of a problem in interpretation.

8:50 a.m.

As an Individual

Paula MacDonald

Okay.

The Canadian Armed Forces leadership failed to correctly apply the Canadian definition of sexual harassment, and even the internal Canadian Armed Forces definition of harassment within two of their investigations. These matters have yet to be addressed by our government and were amplified by internal methods developed by Canadian Armed Forces leadership.

I have been actively seeking resolution for these abuses produced by members of the Canadian Armed Forces for the last four and a half years and counting. Policies and procedures must be developed so that incidents of gender-based violence can be resolved quickly, efficiently, and with the victim's interests in mind.

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Just take your time, Paula. We'll stop the clock.

8:50 a.m.

As an Individual

Paula MacDonald

I believe these changes must be facilitated by the larger Canadian government, because internal DND systems, developed by the CAF leadership, favour superiors who behave abusively over victims of this abuse through unit-led investigations.

Four years have passed since the Marie Deschamps report was made public. A strong, sound strategy for facilitating administrative changes that would end the problems I encountered with unit-led investigations is present within this report, yet unadopted by our government.

Internal data management systems must be examined and redesigned to ensure that Canadian Armed Forces personnel are abiding by obligations stated in Canadian legislation that pertain to organizational management. More external oversight is required. Too much responsibility and ownership are placed on victims of discrimination to successfully resolve harmful sexual behaviour and gender-based discrimination in the CAF. Too much authority is given to perpetrators and leaders who fail to act when action is required.

When Canadian Armed Forces leadership failed to address the harassment, I had to release from the service to protect myself. I was subjected to increasing aggression and violent behaviours from non-commissioned members engrossed in the hostile culture. I find this response from individuals tasked with protecting our country unacceptable, and I hope you do too.

I believe external oversight is required and DND should consider moving administrative authorities to address sexual misconduct from the chain of command when situations require these measures to produce reliable results. Failures by the government to develop and execute policies and procedures that effectively protect the rights of minority groups within our government create inequalities within our society. Groups like women are not afforded equal protection or full participation because of these failures within our administration and management systems.

Canada is a nation that has excellent laws that promise protection and equal participation for all of its citizens. Women experiencing gender-based violence in the Canadian Armed Forces do not have equal access to public resources used to facilitate justice. Rather, administrative systems favour individuals in power positions who abuse their positional authority. Victims pay the financial, emotional and physical costs created by oversights in the administration of justice.

I wish to enable you to facilitate effective measures that will address the outcomes of the hostile sexualized culture within the forces. To assist you with this objective, I must help you with your understanding of the inner workings of the military administration and training systems from the perspective of an individual who came forward with harassment allegations.

It is my belief that failures within the CAF management served to facilitate sexual harassment and exploitation of subordinates. I feel that service members deserve to enjoy the same standard of living they fight for other Canadians to enjoy. To achieve this state of being, we must alter the management mechanisms that govern their daily life.

I will draw from my lived experience with military administration systems to help you grow in your understanding of how things really function in the Canadian Armed Forces with respect to the treatment of women in DND.

I look forward to answering your questions.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Paula, thank you very much for your testimony.

We will be doing our first round of questioning, with seven minutes each.

I'll turn the floor over to Sonia Sidhu. Sonia, you have seven minutes.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Paula, for giving your testimony.

I'm from Brampton. We have two Legion branches in Brampton: Royal Canadian Legion Branch 609 and Royal Canadian Legion Branch 15.

Within DND, women hold 40% of positions; within the Canadian Armed Forces, they hold just 15.7%. Do you think these kinds of incidents contribute to women's under-representation in the Canadian Armed Forces?

8:55 a.m.

As an Individual

Paula MacDonald

I do. I think it's also built into their training system, into how they go about training and trying to teach people how to be a soldier. I feel it creates an unhealthy, unsafe environment for women who are trying to enter the forces. Having more women in these positions would be helpful.

Some of the women who make it into the forces also end up participating in the hostile sexualized culture that's there. It has to be looked at all around, from a human rights perspective, how they're designing their training and facilitating their management, in order to make it a place that reflects Canadian values.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

Have you noticed any improvement since 2015?

8:55 a.m.

As an Individual

Paula MacDonald

I think some improvements have been occurring since 2015, although I feel it should and could be moving a lot faster than what's happening. I think it is a crisis situation within the Canadian Armed Forces.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

How could the federal government help to create a safer and more inclusive workplace free from violence?

8:55 a.m.

As an Individual

Paula MacDonald

I think the points in the Marie Deschamps report, where the administrative powers have to be removed from the chain of command, would definitely help in investigating incidents, and more oversight has to be given to military members so they're abiding by internal policies and procedures.

My case speaks to the leadership not abiding by their own internal policies and procedures, making the situation worse. Some sort of balance has to be put in place to ensure they're following through with what they say they're doing.

I don't think it's there, and I don't think it will be there until the administrative system changes how the reporting is done so there isn't a direct conflict of interest in terms of having good order and discipline, or the idea that there's good order and discipline, in the chain of command. You can't have a direct reporting relationship between the person who's deciding and the person who's collecting all the information. It has to be separated.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

Thank you.

I'm also a member of the Standing Committee on Health. Our members are working on a study of the LGBTQ2 community. Do you find these people still face a level of discrimination within the CAF?

9 a.m.

As an Individual

Paula MacDonald

When I was in the Canadian Armed Forces, anyone who had characteristics that were considered feminine faced discrimination, to the point where.... For example, my course instructors wanted me to shave my head, to behave like a man. They had different things posted within the training environment saying, “If you can't take out harassment, you're a weak woman.”

They're trying to build the idea that for you to be strong, you have to have all these characteristics based on a masculine identity, as opposed to being able to view strength as coming from a feminine identity.

Anyone who has feminine characteristics, in my opinion, would have a hard time in the Canadian Armed Forces.

May 9th, 2019 / 9 a.m.

Liberal

Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

Thank you.

Do you think that giving a strong role to women in the CAF would change the culture?

9 a.m.

As an Individual

Paula MacDonald

Yes, and I think that has to come from the top down. If you have strong women who enter the Canadian Armed Forces from the bottom up, they're most likely going to experience what I experienced. They just won't be able to succeed in that environment.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

Thank you.

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Rachael Harder, you have the floor for seven minutes.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

Ms. MacDonald, thank you so much for being with us today, and for being willing to share your story. Certainly you are an example to many in your fortitude and resilience.

One of the things I'm curious about is this. In your testimony, I would identify that you're talking about both policy and practice. Do you believe that it is policy that needs to change, or practice, or is it both?

9 a.m.

As an Individual

9 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Could you explain that further?

9 a.m.

As an Individual

Paula MacDonald

I believe it's the management structure that has to change. There has to be more oversight put in, and we have to look at how policy is being facilitated in the Canadian Armed Forces. There were different kinds of issues when I went into the Canadian Armed Forces. Some of the issues had to do with human resource management policies and selection and recruiting policies, where the front-line recruiters in the management system all the way up to the colonels, in terms of the section of personnel selection, were not abiding by evidence-based practices to recruit and select personnel. They had out-of-date practices that were not in tune with getting the right people into the right positions.

An example would be that they were using the same types of selection and skill criteria for a social work officer that they would use for an engineering officer. That is just different. It's a different type of criteria, a different type of skill set, and they didn't really understand that. There were issues in terms of the overall knowledge and skill set of the individuals who were placed in leadership positions in the Canadian Armed Forces. That boils down to how we are educating our military members in terms of their curriculum in the school system that we're putting them through, and then there were issues in terms of the reporting and management structure that was put in place.

Whenever I experienced sexual harassment, I reported it to my chain of command. My chain of command didn't do anything about it. There was a 17-year-old girl who was working in the armoury with me, and that to me looked like a child protection issue, because she was under age. She was asking for help, and there was a lot of lewd behaviour of an escalating gender-based violence method. So I went to the people who were in the appropriate positions and I reported the violence. They didn't do anything.

Then I consulted with community-based members, and I ended up talking to the Saint John city police. The Saint John city police informed the chain of command or they informed the military police. Then the members of my chain of command, who didn't act beforehand, retaliated against me. They had to do an investigation and they had to do something about it within their internal management system. They retaliated against me and tried to have me declared mentally unfit for service and stop my application for direct entry social work officer from going through.

After that happened, I contacted the ombudsman. The ombudsman told me that I had to file a complaint. I filed a complaint back with my chain of command, which was filing the complaint directly with the individuals who tried to have me declared medically unfit for service. Then I also filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission can't come in and help you unless you've exhausted all internal military grievance procedures. What I found was that the military would behave grossly and completely inappropriately and then they would just create a new harassment resolution method to try to make amends for what they did before.

That was a continuous cycle that went on for three investigations for the harassment that happened at the armoury in Saint John, New Brunswick, and one investigation that I wasn't allowed to participate or speak in for the things that were going on at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School. Then the commission stepped in. It's going before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

But there are issues with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, as well. I'm not legally protected. It's legal processes that are being used, and I have to try to represent myself. I'm not a lawyer. I'm a social worker, so it's hard for me to know how to go through all those processes and procedures and figure out how to do that.

The Canadian Armed Forces are represented by the Attorney General's office. They have publicly funded legal representation. The Canadian Human Rights Commission is there to represent the interests of Canada. That is not well-defined in terms of whether or not the victim will be protected in terms of what happened with them. I have to figure out how to protect myself in that situation.

I can't get any reimbursement for legal costs. I have to fund that all on my own, whereas the perpetrators have unlimited funding for their legal expenses paid for by the country. I find that to be unfair.