Evidence of meeting #143 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 caf.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Sandra Perron  Senior Partner, A New Dynamic Enterprise Inc., As an Individual
Natalie MacDonald  As an Individual
Laura Nash  As an Individual
Julie S. Lalonde  As an Individual

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Please do.

9:30 a.m.

As an Individual

Natalie MacDonald

The third way is to really pay wholehearted attention to medical care for individuals within the CAF—women in the CAF—who are much more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

Thank you.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much.

Rachael Harder, you have the floor for seven minutes.

May 14th, 2019 / 9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Ms. MacDonald, do you want to expand on that any further? I'm happy to give you another minute or two.

9:30 a.m.

As an Individual

Natalie MacDonald

Thank you very much, Ms. Harder. I would because I actually did quite a bit of work to understand it.

The issue with policies is that they are defined for two-parent, traditional families and not for the single parent or the non-traditional family. That needs to be recognized. The military needs to move into 2019. The fact is that we have more single women who are doing everything that they can to be mother and officer at the same time, and we need to recognize that.

The flight policy that Ms. Nash referenced is the leave travel assistance. When she gave birth, she lost the benefit to be flown back to see her family while all her single friends got two free flights. There is something drastically wrong with that. It's blatantly discriminatory. The email she received that told her that, because she had a baby, she was being bumped down to a second-tier category to fly on Airbuses is blatant discrimination.

The furniture and effects policy that Ms. Nash referenced is about the relocation of furniture and personal effects. Ms. Nash was in the very same class as a male officer; he got room and board, and she didn't. I can't see anything more blatantly discriminatory than those policies that I referenced.

Then there is the day care. Having 20 day care spots for 3,000 people and a two-year wait list does not assist anyone. With great respect, the child will be grown by that time. People need day care if they are going to serve our country. Our children need to be looked after. If it's a single mom who is as courageous as Laura Nash, we need to have those day care spots available.

In the failure to accommodate, which I have seen for years and years, the CAF is allowed to discriminate. In the private sector, that really results in a huge lawsuit, but it's not the same in the CAF. There is a fine of maybe up to $2,000, and that's not adequate. The CAF has to recognize that someone's having a baby as a reason to move careers is an accommodation, not a blatant barrier to being able to switch jobs or redeploy. The CAF has to realize that it cannot threaten to terminate a woman's employment if she has a baby. If you do that in the private sector, as we all know, that will result in extraordinary damages, and that is the subject of my book—moral, punitive, tort actions, you name it in employment law. Those failures to accommodate are based on family status and marital status, and if it's not okay in the private sector, why is it all right in the CAF? There is no recognition of those rights.

Lastly, my third point that I spoke about is that the medical care is so lacking at this point. When on a temporary medical leave, such as Ms. Nash was on, or while on release under VAC, it is imperative that women get the therapy and the counselling that they need. It's the same situation as that of a man who has had his leg blown off. The woman needs the same therapy, and it is not there. There are no resources for counselling. There is no resource for depression, anxiety or chronic adjustment disorder. The suicide rate that has been stated in the Canadian statistics report frightens me, and we're only going to see an increase if we don't, in fact, provide these necessary things. You heard Ms. Nash's testimony about what she has been through. I've been with her every step of this four-way journey, and I can tell you that it broke my heart when Ms. Nash told me that she had been struggling to get a physician and to get a dentist to fix the bruxism that is a direct result of the discrimination and harassment.

I believe we have the ability to do this. I believe we need to turn our minds to it and really get into the legislation and changing the attitude of the CAF.

Thank you very much, Ms. Harder, for giving me more time. I appreciate that.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

You're welcome.

Ms. MacDonald, who's responsible for implementing these changes? How does this happen?

9:35 a.m.

As an Individual

Natalie MacDonald

I think this happens on a threefold level. I think that the individual CAF senior officers have to be involved with this. I think we have to have the Canadian Human Rights Commission involved to understand the blockage that's being created. Quite frankly, we need an excellent human resource organization to go in and revamp these policies and procedures. They need to be gender-blind and cognizant of what a woman goes through.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

We're now going to move over to Christine Moore.

Christine.

9:35 a.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

In 2005, I did my officer cadet training, which was provided at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu at the time. The harassment course was a one-hour mandatory class given in basic or officer cadet training. Most of the courses were given by male instructors and they also had to give the harassment class. Our impression was that the person giving the course saw it less like a reward and more like a punishment.

It was quite another matter for the first aid classes, for example. They were often given by other instructors. Medics were brought in to teach the first aid classes because it was considered that the on-site instructors perhaps did not have the necessary skill level.

In your opinion, should harassment classes be given by experts, civilian or military, who would be properly trained in the area, instead of giving the task to general training instructors?

Do you feel that one hour is enough? If not, how much time should be spent on the class in basic training or officer cadet training?

9:35 a.m.

As an Individual

Julie S. Lalonde

That is an excellent question.

In my opinion, we clearly need the training to be more thorough. We know that one hour is absolutely not enough, whether it is in an office, on the Hill, or in a primary school. One hour is useless; it is just a start.

Also, if people do not have follow-up courses six or eight months after training on the role of peers and on bystander intervention, they will forget what they have learned and they will lose the confidence they need to act.

At the moment, a lot of people intervene as bystanders, but without the victims’ permission. So they witness something happening and tell themselves that they have to do something so that, if it becomes public, people will know that they have done the right thing. So they rush to file a complaint without the victims’ permission. The victims lose the courage to do anything, because they did not give permission. That then dissuades other people from doing anything because complaints are left with no follow-up.

We clearly need training on the role of bystanders that is at least three, four or five hours long. The training should be followed by a refresher course after six or eight months to focus on the tools and also to give people the confidence to do something. That is what is missing.

We absolutely know that the people giving the training must be experts. I have no confidence that the army currently has any experts. We also know that the most effective model is a course given by a man and a woman together. That way, they can consolidate their power, and can also give each other more confidence. In fact, we know that the format that works best is when the woman is the expert and the man is there to support her and corroborate what she is saying. We are seeing that this works in any context. In my opinion, particularly in the army, the training must be given by a man and a woman together. I feel that that is the key.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

If we made changes, for example, so that a one-day training course is given by specialist instructors at the beginning of one’s career, with refresher courses every six months, you believe that it would be more effective than what currently exists. Is that correct?

9:40 a.m.

As an Individual

Julie S. Lalonde

Absolutely.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Thank you very much, Ms. Lalonde.

Ms. MacDonald, could you tell me what you think about the following practice? It is an open question.

Before they start their basic or leadership training, all future soldiers must go to a medical centre where they go through various tests to check their proficiencies. All women also have to have a pregnancy test to prove that they are not pregnant before they begin the course.

What do you think of that practice?

9:40 a.m.

As an Individual

Natalie MacDonald

I think it's blatant discrimination.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Thank you very much.

Of course, women often end up as heads of single-parent families, but there are also men in that situation. I get the impression that the army has a major problem with heads of single parent families. Generally speaking, it is more difficult to manage their postings. So they are pushed to leave the armed forces, especially if they are in the lower ranks, like private, corporal, officer cadet, second lieutenant and lieutenant. The situation is not as bad for members with 20 years of service, because they can be found more administrative jobs where they will not have to be deployed.

In your experience, are single parents pushed towards the door or made to feel that they no longer want to stay because of the atmosphere and the comments? I am not talking about the administrative or financial aspects.

I feel it was very clear in Ms. Nash’s case.

What do you think about the whole thing, Ms. Perron?

9:40 a.m.

Senior Partner, A New Dynamic Enterprise Inc., As an Individual

Sandra Perron

My career was a little before Ms. Nash’s. Those who have read my book know that I made another decision. For those who do not know me, I was in the infantry. During my career, I had two abortions in order to make my career the priority. My first abortion was because I had been raped in the Canadian Armed Forces; the second was because I was going to lose my career in the infantry if I had a child. So I arranged things for the benefit of my career so that I could succeed in the infantry.

People talk about changing policies and rules. I feel that the Canadian Forces will never have enough policies, rules, standard operating procedures, orders and royal decrees to solve the problems or the challenges faced by heads of single-parent families.

The leadership culture in the Canadian Armed Forces must be changed so that leaders can make decisions without always going by the book. I am sure that, if Ms. Nash’s superior officers were in court, they would say that they had followed the rules. They have to be given the power they need so that they can say that they have dealt with each particular situation.

Leadership is not treating everybody in the same way; it's treating everybody fairly.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you very much, Sandra.

Mrs. Salma Zahid, you have seven minutes.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair, and to the witnesses. Thanks, Ms. Nash and Ms. Perron for sharing your stories with us. It's very heartbreaking.

My first question is for Ms. Nash. I'm very saddened to hear about the choice you were forced to make between your child and your career. As a mother of two boys, I know that as a mother I would always put my child first.

Could you please help us understand, given the demands of a naval career and the likelihood of a time away at sea, how the CAF should adjust its policies and structure to recognize the challenges faced by mothers, particularly single parents?

9:45 a.m.

As an Individual

Laura Nash

I've heard that some seagoing vessels have schedules that are, for example, three months on, three months off. That would work, because I could have sent my son to my parents for three months and sailed, and then come back and spent three months with my son. It's a big sacrifice. I would have been sad being away from him for three months, but that's what I was doing anyway in my trade. It would have been fine.

The problem with the navy schedule now is that you can go to sea for one day and then come back for five, then go to sea for three days and then come back for a week, then go to sea for three months and then come back for a month. It's completely erratic.

That's okay because it's operational, so if the ship needs to sail that way, that's fine, but if you had the option for members to be there for three months, so they could do the erratic sailing for those three months, and then the other three months would be with their families or be doing administrative work, training or something, that would really help.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

We have heard in previous testimony for this study that they were also challenged by the Human Rights Commission process, requiring that all internal avenues within your workplace be exhausted first and that those internal processes be stalled. One suggestion we heard is that the complaint process within CAF be handled by a separate organization outside the complainant's chain of command. Do you think that would be beneficial?

9:45 a.m.

As an Individual

Laura Nash

Yes. The first grievance I filed was about a woman named Karen Bellehumeur, and the person who took that grievance on to solve it was her friend who had his office right next to hers. When I had my grievance meeting, I had to wait outside their offices while they were laughing, joking and talking. Maybe they were purposely doing it to me. When they were done being friends, they would go into their offices and he would say, “Okay, you can come in now.” I don't see how that was fair or that any result would have gone in my favour.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Ms. MacDonald, would you like to add to that?

9:45 a.m.

As an Individual

Natalie MacDonald

I certainly agree with Ms. Nash. From what I, Ms. Nash and my firm have been through, we have to do something about that, because that's not justice. It's not helping us, and it's certainly not helping Ms. Nash.

Ms. Nash has been put into economic, physical and social peril as a result of what's happened to her. She absolutely needs to have her complaint heard in front of individuals who would have expertise in her grievance. That's what I fear is lacking in the grievance process, which is why I spoke about the idea of actually getting rid of paragraph 41(1)(a) of the act. It's simply to stop the CHRC from blocking legitimate complaints from coming forward. As we all know, the tribunals across Canada, both provincially and, of course, federally, are there because they have the expertise, so we need to allow individuals, particularly within the CAF, to use them.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

My next question is for Ms. Perron. You mentioned in your testimony support for military families. We have a low ratio of women in the armed forces and spouses, women, who are looking after their families. Although it was not in Canada, I grew up as the daughter of an army officer, so I know the stress that families go through. What suggestions do you have with regard to support for families?

9:50 a.m.

Senior Partner, A New Dynamic Enterprise Inc., As an Individual

Sandra Perron

Presently the MFRCs, the military family resource centres, are doing some initiatives to help support the families. They are developing networks of support so that people like Ms. Nash will perhaps have a clan or a network where they can help out with day care and extended leave care. The family centres need to not always follow the rules and regulations and policies in the military. They need to go outside of that and look at specific cases and ad lib as they go in order to support the individual cases with very particular situations.

One of the things I currently hear as I do the recruits across the country is that women have been from the get-go of their careers unrooted, derooted, uprooted from their families. They don't have the parents or the mothers-in-law to take care of their children. The MFRCs, most of their initiatives right now are addressing or targeting how to help women rather than also putting pressure on the men to help women. That's my primary focus, as well as things like the Silver Cross Mothers.

We have an initiative wherein a Silver Cross mother is chosen every year to lay a wreath on November 11 at the Cenotaph. This perpetuates the notion that women are the primary caregivers and more responsible for the children. We should have Silver Cross families or Silver Cross parents so that, first of all, the stigma is removed. Men should be treated fairly, too. We ought not perpetuate this idea that only women suffer when they lose a child. It also signals diversity. Our soldiers today have sometimes two fathers or two mothers or grandparents. How do you chose? Let's have Silver Cross parents, Silver Cross families.

By the way, I have suggested this to the Royal Canadian Legion, the Governor General, the Minister of National Defence, and the Minister of Veterans Affairs. They all got a letter from me, and yet we still have Silver Cross Mothers.