Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member of Parliament for Peterborough—Kawartha.
I rise today to discuss an important issue for the women and men who serve our country, and indeed for all Canadians: how we can best ensure that members of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are guaranteed a safe, respectful and harassment-free work environment.
All members of this House know that Canadians deserve nothing less, and our government will accept nothing less. Our government has always taken allegations of sexual misconduct extremely seriously. Whenever any allegations against anyone in the Canadian Armed Forces have been raised to him, regardless of rank or position, the Minister of National Defence has acted diligently and referred them to the relevant authorities.
When the Minister of National Defence was made aware of the allegations against the then chief of the defence staff in 2018, he acted immediately and they were referred to the Privy Council, which manages order in council appointments. This is the exact same process followed by the previous Conservative government, including the now Leader of the Opposition.
However, we know we need to do more and we need to create better systems. The minister and our entire government continue to take this issue extremely seriously. Though our work is nowhere near done, we have made progress. Our government established the sexual misconduct response centre, or SMRC, which offers members confidential support 24-7 anywhere in the world. I am happy to say that budget 2021 increases our investment in the SMRC.
Since the SMRC operates outside the military chain of command, reporting directly to the deputy minister, it allows affected persons to access support in a confidential manner. The SMRC offers many programs and services to help affected members. One of them is the response and support coordination program, which helps Canadian Armed Forces members navigate systems from the moment they make contact with the SMRC until they decide they no longer require support. At every step of the way, SMRC personnel accompany those affected by sexual violence, providing whatever support may be necessary.
Canadian Armed Forces members seeking information about the reporting process can contact the SMRC to explore their options while remaining anonymous. Civilian members of the defence team can also access support through the SMRC, as well as through the employee assistance program.
Though the SMRC is an important tool, we have not gotten this right yet and our work is far from over. That is why Canada’s defence team is in the midst of a top-to-bottom change of its institutional culture. This is the right thing to do. It is not just a moral imperative; it is also vital to the success of the Canadian Armed Forces now and into the future. Only when members have complete trust in one another can they perform at the highest levels as a team.
Our goal is to create a defence team where all members feel valued, included and supported by their peers and leaders, an organization where sexual misconduct is never ignored, minimized or excused. To achieve this transformation, we must make sure that members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence who have been affected by sexual misconduct are supported every step of the way.
Last week, we announced some steps to get us there. First of all, the Government of Canada has initiated an independent external comprehensive review led by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour. This review will look into harassment and sexual misconduct in DND and the Canadian Armed Forces and will examine policies, procedures, programs, practices and culture within national defence and make recommendations for improvement. We will learn from what did not work and build on what did.
Second, the Department of National Defence will work with Veterans Affairs Canada to develop a professionally co-facilitated peer support program to assist Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans who have suffered harm as a result of experiencing sexual misconduct in connection with their military service. This peer support program will be available online and in person and is fully resourced through funding included in budget 2021. Budget 2021 also includes funding to enhance other support services, including access to free, independent legal advice, and will help enable Canadian Armed Forces members to access support without making a formal complaint.
Third, we announced that Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan will begin a new role as the chief of professional conduct and culture, which will unify, integrate and coordinate all policies, programs and activities that currently address systemic misconduct across culture change.
In addition to these steps, our government is following through on its commitment to consult with victims of service offences, which will inform the development of the regulations needed to implement the declaration of victims rights from Bill C-77. National Defence has engaged directly with victims groups and will soon be launching an online questionnaire to collect anonymous feedback from DND employees and Canadian Armed Forces members. To the victims groups that have generously devoted their time and energy to sharing lived experiences and feedback with the government, I want to say this: We have heard everyone; we are taking action and there is much more to come.
Today, I want to highlight some of the resources available to Canadian Armed Forces members to access counselling, advice and other support services. The resources include Canadian Armed Forces medical centres, military chaplains, the Canadian Forces member assistance program, military family resource centres, and the family information line.
Another avenue for members to bring forward concerns or incidents is through one of the 16 complaint management centres, located across the country, under the integrated conflict and complaint management program. This service combines harassment, grievance and alternate dispute resolution approaches in a streamlined fashion. They report, track and resolve complaints of inappropriate behaviour like sexual harassment.
If the nature of the sexual misconduct requires the involvement of the military police and justice system, there are supports for Canadian Armed Forces members during this process as well. The military police have established six sexual offence response teams trained to handle sexual misconduct cases appropriately and with empathy. These teams are sensitive to survivors and help them connect with other resources and support systems they may need.
In addition, the director of military prosecutions has established the sexual misconduct action response team, made up of specially trained prosecutors. Their role, again, is to make sure survivors are treated with compassion and understanding, and that they receive the information and support they need throughout military justice proceedings.
We know that supporting survivors of sexual misconduct is essential, and that is why the military has taken steps to ensure that support is available and provided from the moment a person seeks advice or counsel through investigation and prosecution. Along with future changes, these steps will help build a healthy, safe and inclusive workplace where all people are supported and treated with respect.
We know that there is much more work to be done, and our government will continue consulting with experts and those who have been affected by sexual misconduct.
I know that together we will create a defence workplace where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. We will build the right systems so that when an incident occurs, members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence have access to a process that is sensitive, fair and compassionate. We are listening—