Thank you, Madam Chair, and members of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.
Sexual misconduct remains a serious issue in our military, and the recent allegations against senior military leaders are incredibly concerning. There are points that I hope all members of this committee agree upon. Sexual misconduct, sexual violence, assault and harassment are unacceptable. They are unacceptable in Canadian society. They are not acceptable in the Parliament of Canada. They are definitely not acceptable in the Canadian Armed Forces or the Department of National Defence.
I look forward to the recommendations of this committee to see what more we can do. I believe it is important for the committee to hear from experts such as Rear-Admiral Rebecca Patterson, Dr. Denise Preston, Professor Maya Eichler and Brigadier-General Atherton, all of whom would be able to provide their own expertise to help the committee develop strong, concrete recommendations.
Sexual misconduct, harassment and inappropriate behaviour are not acceptable. We must call them out for what they are: an abuse of power. Such behaviour is contrary to our values as Canadians and harmful to the Canadian Forces operational effectiveness. We want to prevent it. We want to be there for survivors and their support networks. We want to ensure that those who come forward feel safe, supported and confident that they will be heard when they report sexual misconduct and harassment.
Eliminating all forms of misconduct and abuse of power and creating a safe work environment for everyone in the defence team has always been a top priority for me as Minister of National Defence. However, recent media reports show that many members of the Canadian Armed Forces still do not feel safe to come forward. We know we must do more to make sure that every Canadian Armed Forces member feels safe to come forward and that we will be ready to support them when they do.
We are committed to addressing all allegations, no matter the rank and no matter the position, while also providing the best support possible to those who have been affected. That's why we must continue pressing forward with our mission to eliminate all forms of sexual misconduct in all ranks. It's why we're moving forward with an independent reporting structure to look at all allegations, as I noted earlier this month. We have put in place a wide range of services to support those who have been impacted, as well as a number of ways they can report incidents.
I'd like to tell you about some of the resources that are available now.
For both military and civilian members, we have services like the employee assistance program and the member assistance program, which provide 24/7 access to professional, short-term counselling for affected defence team members and their families. Additionally, the sexual misconduct response centre is a key resource for those in our organizations who are affected by sexual misconduct. It is independent from the military chain of command and reports directly to the deputy minister of national defence. Although its primary mandate is to serve Canadian Armed Forces members, the SMRC offers 24/7 confidential support and counselling services to anyone who reaches out.
Dr. Preston and her team help members navigate the various support services available to them, both inside and outside the department. They can help members access the right mechanisms to report incidents of sexual misconduct, including the military liaison team, which is made up of a military police liaison officer, a special military advisor and a military liaison officer.
Those who work at SMRC are dedicated to their work. They are experts in their field and can give members advice about how to make a complaint or about what is involved in an investigative process. They can facilitate reporting if the member chooses to do so. The SMRC can also assign a dedicated counsellor to support members through the process, including advocating for them, accompanying them to appointments and assisting them with workplace accommodations.
They are also working with affected members to develop new programs and create a national survivor support strategy. The SMRC offers crucial expert guidance and recommendations that shape the policies and programs that target sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. It advises us on how to evaluate and report on their effectiveness.
Beyond the SMRC, members can also reach out to chaplain services, military family resource centres, the employee assistance program, the family information line or anyone across the chain of command to get the help they need.
These resources are critical to supporting those affected by sexual misconduct, but they are just part of our larger efforts to build a safe and inclusive workplace for all members of our defence team. We're working to eliminate the toxic masculinity that forms part of our military culture and keeps us from moving forward, the outdated and toxic traditions that valorize toughness and aggression over emotional intelligence and co-operation, and any part of our culture that contributes to bullying, harassment and other inappropriate behaviours.
Identifying and eliminating these harmful cultural dynamics is a key feature of the path to dignity and respect, our culture change strategy designed to prevent and address sexual misconduct in the military. Sexual misconduct must never be minimized, ignored or excused. We must prevent it from happening in the first place. We must reduce the risks and threats to people, their health and their well-being. This is one important step in making our institution more progressive, welcoming and inclusive.
At the same time, we remain committed to increasing the number of women that we recruit, retain and promote in our ranks. Women belong at every level of our organization. I'm proud of the leadership we are seeing in both our institution and our operations. We know that having a diversity of voices at the table makes us more agile and effective.
We know we have to keep pushing forward. We still have a lot of work to do. We cannot rest, because as Canadian society evolves, the Canadian Armed Forces must evolve with it. We need to prevent any form of misconduct from occurring. This can only happen with true culture change. That means having more diversity in leadership roles. In 2015 the Canadian Armed Forces had six women general or flag officers. Now we have 14, and soon we will have the first woman vice-chief of the defence staff. Creating a pipeline for women leaders has been one of my top priorities, because this will make the change permanent, outlasting any government and outlasting any minister.
Madam Chair, real, concrete and important steps are being taken to eliminate sexual misconduct from all corners of our organization, but our efforts will not stop here. We must and we will do more. Trust has been broken, and it's going to take some serious work to rebuild it. We are focused on doing everything possible to prevent and eliminate sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. We will eliminate the culture of toxic masculinity that still exists. We will make sure those who have experienced misconduct feel safe and supported when they come forward. We will build a more inclusive, welcoming Canadian Armed Forces that better reflect and represent the Canadians they protect each and every day.
We know we must take bold action to provide everyone on the defence team with a safe and respectful work environment, one where dignity and respect for all is embraced by each person, and one that retains the positive aspects of the Canadian Armed Forces culture that we see today—a flexible, dedicated, professional force that is ready to help at a moment's notice, at home and abroad.
Madam Chair, thank you for your time. I look forward to your questions.