Evidence of meeting #146 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

Alan Okros  As an Individual
Kristine St-Pierre  Director, The WPS Group
Virginia Tattersal  Deputy Commander, Military Personnel Generation, Department of National Defence
Lise Bourgon  Defence Champion, Women, Peace and Security, Department of National Defence
Sean Cantelon  Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services, Department of National Defence
Lisa Vandehei  Director of Gender, Diversity and Inclusion, Department of National Defence

10:05 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services, Department of National Defence

Sean Cantelon

I'd just add that the other formal part of that, which we've set up in partnership with this, is the Respect in the CAF program. Unlike the deployment training, this is available on all bases and run across the country specifically focused on the Canadian Armed Forces culture, but it also spills over to the community culture. We will also sponsor through the family resource centres and community workshops. That touches across the three paradigms of the original enrolment as a recruit, the deployment support and the Respect in the CAF program, focused on sort of the day-to-day lifestyle on base.

10:05 a.m.

Director of Gender, Diversity and Inclusion, Department of National Defence

Lisa Vandehei

I would add that the GBA+ efforts across the defence community are a complementary part of this effort. All the CAF members and public service members are responsible. For example, if they are putting in place a program or project or even landing a contract, they're responsible to go through a GBA+ analysis on the work that they are doing. It's not intuitive at first; it's not easy.

You're asking people to understand the lived experiences of other people who would be interfacing with this program or project. We now have a team of 13 people inside the defence team to assist people working through that process. As we partner with folks working through it, you can see the change in attitude. You can see the change in even the excitement level of saying, “Oh, I never understood how this could have affected someone that way. Thank you so much.” It's very gratifying to see that level of change just right before our eyes sometimes.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

That was my next question.

Have you noticed, over the course of time that you've been applying GBA+, that change at all levels? Do you see it taking place?

You just answered that question.

It's at other levels as well, I assume?

10:05 a.m.

BGen Virginia Tattersal

I would comment by using some practical examples at our recruit school.

One of the obstacles that the recruits go through involves essentially a set of monkey bars that they have to go hand over hand across. We recognized that the height was causing a lot of injuries, particularly for women with pelvic injuries if they fall. Normally women tend to be on the shorter side. They would fall a greater distance, and they would injure themselves, so we have changed the height of those bars.

Similarly, we looked at the training we conduct for their final leadership practicum in the field. They used to do a 13-kilometre march with a rucksack. We've now changed that because, again, we recognized that we were seeing a lot of injuries, particularly among women, which then forces them in a lot of cases to have to take a time out to heal and then come back to the training.

We've changed that training perspective. Now they do a 7-kilometre march and shoot activity. It seems small, but that's a practical example of how we're changing our thinking when we look at aspects of our training to recognize that it's not just the same old paradigm of 50 years ago.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Another question I have is that I know there have been gender advisers to help change the situation as well. Can you explain their role a little bit and how that has helped?

10:10 a.m.

BGen Lise Bourgon

The gender advisers are now in all of our major organizations: air force, navy and military personnel. Inside the institution, we have gender advisers who report to the commander directly on gender issues, and gender is more than male and female; it's GBA+, the full spectrum of age, religion, etc. The gender adviser is much more diversified.

We also have a structure of gender advisers in operation. The big Operation Impact, the eFP Battle Group, Operation Unifier, in Mali, NMI have dedicated gender advisers who are there working for the commander to bring that gender perspective for the success of operations. They're deployed.

There's also, on the other deployments, a gender focal point, GFP. It's like a gender adviser. They are dual-hatted. It's not their sole responsibility, but they are responsible to the commander to bring that gender perspective.

We institutionalized the gender adviser role with the general adviser and the GFP.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you.

Ms. Harder, for seven minutes.

May 28th, 2019 / 10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

Over the last number of years, there have been a variety of articles that have come forward as well as a survey that was done by StatsCan with regard to sexual assault within the military. Of course, most recently there was the Auditor General's report that came out with regard to Operation Honour. Before that in 2016, there was another report that came forward by the Auditor General with regard to the participation of women in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Ms. Tattersal, when you gave your opening remarks, you mentioned that the Canadian Armed Forces had a goal of achieving a 25% composition of women by 2026, and you called this a lofty goal or an ambitious target.

You state here that we're making progress. As of January 2019 there were 1,316 more women in the Canadian Armed Forces as compared to 2015. The Auditor General, in the report of 2016, said the success of recruiting women was negligible, that there weren't necessarily the programs or the commitment to recruiting women that were expected.

Do you want to comment on that or offer your reflections?

10:10 a.m.

BGen Virginia Tattersal

Certainly. It's 2019, and since assuming command in 2017, we have focused a lot of effort on recruiting women. As I mentioned, we trialled Women in Force, because we understand that women, and most millennials—because we got comments “Why did you do this just for women, why not for men?”—want to be able to kick the tires, take it around the block and get a sense of what it is.

We conducted a tiger team that essentially reviewed all of the practices that we were doing in recruiting with assistance from the PCO hub to look at the language we were using in our ads. Was it too male-specific? Could we change the wording?

We've done a lot of work in the social media sphere and with our ads to present women within the context of the Canadian Armed Forces, sometimes to our detriment, because one of the things that women do not want is to actually be singled out. It actually works against us where they see just commercial after commercial and all you see is a group of women, because it gives them the sense that they're nothing more than just a figure, they're not actually part of the forces.

We are certainly making progress, but we face the same challenge that we do for recruiting any of the other EE groups within Canada or even Canadian citizens in general. That is the fact that most Canadians, while they know we have a military, really don't know what the military does. They think we're primarily focused on peacekeeping and humanitarian, and they certainly aren't aware of the opportunities available.

If the broader Canadian public doesn't have that awareness, then you can certainly assume that neither do young women have that awareness of what it is we do. We get out into the social media sphere and do recruiter for a day activities, where we will have a young woman who's serving answer questions. We have featured videos, where we provide an opportunity to see what our training is like for both men and women.

It's slow progress, because we're battling that overall general lack of awareness. We are making inroads, we continue to increase the number of women. We have a number of other initiatives that I could describe. It's a long list that we're building. It is slowly making progress, but the biggest challenge is to increase awareness among all Canadians that the Canadian Armed Forces is not just the infanteer you see in Saving Private Ryan. It's everything from padres to electricians to aircraft pilots to doctors to logisticians.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

I think you raise a good point. That brings me to my next question.

The face of the military is changing. What it does is changing. As a result, then, women and men can step into a variety of roles that maybe in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s were not a part of the military, but now are.

As a result, it seems appropriate that a woman would be able to enter into the military and have a family, and that she should reasonably be able to expect adequate day care spaces and accommodation for family life. Are there steps being taken within the Canadian Armed Forces for those accommodations to be made in order to make sure that women can, in fact, raise a family and be a part of the military?

10:15 a.m.

BGen Lise Bourgon

I'm married and I have two lovely children, so I'll answer that one from my personal point of view. The Morale and Welfare Services and the military family resource centre are there to provide support. Family is the strength behind the uniform. We understand the requirements of women—and men—because as we go forward, the new millennial is looking at that quality of life, of being there for their children. It's not only a female issue, it's also and more permanently becoming a male issue. Access to day care, supporting...I am a military spouse; my husband was military. Throughout our careers, the military has done an exceptional job of balancing our requirements when I was deploying and he was staying behind with the children, and when he was deploying and I was staying behind with the children. At the end of the day, they could have forced one of us out but they would have lost someone, and retention is key.

It's a small force, but we are managing people more and more. We care about our people. Retention is key, and there are quite a lot of initiatives to support both women and men.

10:15 a.m.

BGen Virginia Tattersal

To add to that, we provide the same benefits as the federal government to women who choose to have a family and to their partners in terms of the MATA/PATA benefits. We pay equally, so there's no difference in pay between men and women, nor in their benefits in terms of the allowances they receive. They have the same opportunities. We don't judge individuals on the basis of gender. From my experience on my own base, Borden, there is a day care on the base that we work very hard to ensure can support the population on that base. We have been engaged with the infrastructure and with the Canadian Forces Housing Agency to provide more accommodation. Obviously that has financial implications. There's only so much money we are able to put into new infrastructure.

With respect to career policy, we certainly endeavour as best we can to post service couples together and to support families.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent, thank you very much.

Irene, you have seven minutes.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you very much for bringing this perspective.

I'm going to throw out some questions, and please feel free to answer or add to whatever responses I get. I would like to begin with Brigadier-General Tattersal. You talked about the strength of diversity, and absolutely, when we look at any community, that diversity of perspectives and life experiences is indeed our strength. We've also heard that there's a pressure to conform to the male norm in the military. I wonder if you could comment on that.

10:20 a.m.

BGen Virginia Tattersal

My comment would be from my perspective, from my own personal experience. I would have to ask: What is that male norm? I have always looked to those around me and those for whom I've worked as to their strengths, how they conducted themselves and what I could learn from them that would help me to be a better leader. Whether we could consider the fact that if they were in a room and they had a point to make, they would speak up.... Did I learn from that? Yes, I learned that if I wanted to be heard, I needed to speak up. That doesn't necessarily mean I am being forced to adopt more of a male persona. I am doing, I think, what any woman in any occupation does. You look for success to see what is going to enable you to be successful.

In our recruiting, and certainly in our training at recruit school, we do not reinforce any sort of paradigm that says, “You must fit into this block.” Are there things we could look at to change from a GBA+ perspective and how we assess our leadership models? I think there's scope for that, but I don't think I'm any more male than any of you sitting around the table in terms of my characteristics and strengths.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you.

I came from the teaching realm and I can tell you: when the first female vice-principal at the high school level emerged, it was tough for her. They put her through the ropes. This would be in, I don't know, the late 1980s, not that long ago.

You talked about attracting women who had been released and wanting to bring them back. I wondered what the process was and what kind of success you had. Perhaps you could even identify for us the reason they were released in the first place.

10:20 a.m.

BGen Virginia Tattersal

It was a letter-writing campaign where we went out to women who had released within a five-year time frame. The five-year time frame was so that we don't need to repeat any of the foundational training because they would have had skill fade.

The response was actually very low. We should not have been surprised because the primary reasons that women will release.... Certainly there are those who will release because they have had a terrible experience, but a lot of women will release because they have family pressures for which they are making a life decision that they cannot continue in the military. We would have been naive to expect that within five years some of those family situations would change, particularly if it had to do with raising children.

Similarly, a lot of women will release at certain points because of medical injuries. Again, if they are released for a medical injury, the likelihood is that they may not have recovered or healed from that particular injury within five years.

The reasons—and I have just given you three—why they got out hadn't changed, ergo they weren't interested in coming back into the Canadian Armed Forces.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Okay.

Is it time for a female chief of the defence staff?

10:20 a.m.

BGen Virginia Tattersal

It's time for a female chief of the defence staff if they have the right experience and the right personal capabilities to assume that job.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Given all of that, do you see a future where we would have a female?

10:20 a.m.

BGen Virginia Tattersal

Absolutely.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Okay. That's good.

Brigadier-General Bourgon, you're the defence champion. I thank you for that.

You spoke about peacekeeping. We heard that there is an important role for women in terms of peacekeeping. Given some of the negatives, like the experience in Haiti and other places, could you speak about the strength that women bring to that role?

10:25 a.m.

BGen Lise Bourgon

Diversity is a strength. Women and men think differently. They bring different perspectives. The more diverse your workforce, the better the solutions will be. In the same way, women peacekeepers can connect with the communities more easily—especially to the women in that community.

Having that strength and capability to connect with the communities, as well as understanding the issues on the ground and being able to solve them is key. It's key to operational success. That's why we're doing it. We're following the UN gender parity with the numbers that we provide in our workforce to the UN peacekeepers.

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

You talked about the crisis on the ground. We know that when Canadians go into crisis situations there's rape, there's displacement and there are all kinds of quite horrendous experiences that the population has been traumatized with.

How are women important in dealing with that? Do you have any direct experience?

10:25 a.m.

BGen Lise Bourgon

I don't have direct deployment experience, but we understand the importance of women on the ground to be there and to be able to communicate. People who have been victims of sexual assault will feel more comfortable approaching women soldiers. That is a known fact. Having women there facilitates that communication and that exchange of information, which is key from an operational perspective.