Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with the member for Calgary Shepard.
Normally when I rise in the House, I am very pleased to put words on the record about all the issues we talk about here, but today I rise with extreme frustration and disappointment concerning the sexual misconduct in the Canadian military, the lack of results from the Liberal government and the failure of the defence minister to take this issue seriously.
The Conservative motion on the table today rightfully calls for the resignation of the defence minister because of his record on this issue, and because of the men and women in our Canadian Armed Forces who have been sexually exploited and who he has let down.
I listened intently to the minister's speech today in response to our motion. I was waiting and hoping that he would express regret for his record on failing to address sexual misconduct in the military, but he did not. There was no personal acknowledgement that he had thus far failed to send a clear message to the most powerful men in our military, who report to him, that this behaviour will not be tolerated and that this culture is no longer acceptable.
The minister has been in charge of our military for over six years, yet in that time, and especially in the last five months, we have seen eight senior ranking military officials resign in disgrace over allegations of sexual misconduct under his watch. In the five months since the scandal concerning General Vance broke, who at the time was the head of our military, it has only gotten worse.
Most recently, Canadians learned that the man who has authority over the investigation of sexual misconduct went golfing with the man accused of that misconduct. After five months of headlines, they thought it would be okay to go golfing together, which is the clearest violation of conflict of interest that I have ever heard of.
When I saw that headline the other day about the golfing scandal, it truly sickened me to know how little has really changed after the last five months of repeated headlines and conversations about this scandal. I cannot imagine how that headline was received by the men and women in the military who have been raped, abused and mistreated by their superiors, and for them to know that nothing has changed.
This was after the minister answered dozens and dozens of questions in the House, in committee and from reporters on this issue since it broke in February. Time and time again, he has said that he is essentially proud of his progress on this issue, with that disclaimer of, “Oh, there's much more work to do, but don't worry, we'll get to it”.
Well, the fact that the man in charge of the investigation thought it would be acceptable to go golfing with his buddy, the man accused of the misconduct, is all the information I need to know about how this Liberal minister clearly failed to pass on the message he has so proudly shared in the House of Commons with members from all parties. He is happy to say the words to reporters, to the opposition and to his voters, but he is, apparently, incapable with following through, being a leader and laying down the law. He is the head of our military. The buck stops with the Liberal Minister of Defence.
When it comes to this culture of old boys' club men protecting each other from accountability for demeaning and disrespecting women in our military, the minister has demonstrated that he does not have the ability to follow through on his words. Otherwise, the golfing scandal would have never happened. That is why we are asking for his resignation today.
I want to speak for a moment about what it is like for the thousands of women in uniform who have served our country, and the millions more women in Canada who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. I say women, but of course, we know that men also experience this. In fact, 30% of the sexual misconduct complaints in our military are from men, so it is important that we do not forget them. However, I can only speak from a female perspective, and that is what I will be doing today.
I will use the example of the email that General Vance sent to his junior officer, whom he far outranked, because not only does it show what he thinks is acceptable behaviour, but it speaks perfectly to the broader issue of the power imbalances in the workplace when sexual relations are brought into it.
A junior ranking military official met General Vance at a function, and he offered her mentorship and career advice if she ever needed it. It is pretty exciting as a young, aspiring career woman to get an offer of mentorship by a superior, especially an older man, which is very valuable.
We live in a man's world, so we cannot put a price on that career advice, and I can imagine she was quite excited for the opportunity. However, when she emailed him for that career advice, he concluded his reply with, “Or...we could throw caution to the wind and escape to a clothing optional island in the Carribean...I hear the beer is good there... Cheers, JV”
Now, I do not know this woman, but I do know how she must have felt reading that email. She was probably excited to see the email pop up in her inbox, to see what he was going to say, but she opened it only to see that he was propositioning her for sex.
Make no mistake, this happens all the time, but when it happens, when one gets a message like that, whether it is in person, a text, an email or a phone call, a woman instantly gets a pit in her stomach. It is like a vice grip. Her heart starts beating. She may start to sweat. She is sickened with anxiety and dread because she knows in that instant that everything has changed for her, but not for him.
I am not sure whether his comment was flippant or deliberate, and I am not sure which one is worse, but with it General Vance changed the entire dynamic of that relationship. Why is that? These types of relations are against the rules in the military, which he would have well known. If these were unwanted advances, which clearly they were, now the junior member had to deal with an ordeal that she did not ask for.
Now it is a situation that she is going to stress over. She is going to lose sleep over it and try to navigate it without damaging her career. This woman had to figure out how to push back and say she was not interested without damaging his ego. All women in this chamber will know that when a man makes advances they do not want there is that nervous laughter: “Ha, ha, so funny. Get your hand off me”. I think all the women in this chamber have probably experienced that at some point or another.
Every woman I know certainly has had to deal with this at some point in her career, and it is particularly insidious when it is at the workplace. Perhaps there is an aggressive drunk at a bar. We know the feeling of dread and of having to try our best to let these men down gently so we do not hurt their egos. Make no mistake, I have met thousands of men who are amazing allies to women, but I have come across those insidious men in my career and in my life.
A woman knows that if she does not tread carefully, verbal abuse can ensue or perhaps violence. It can affect her career if her name comes up for a promotion, for example, or for a new posting or new opportunity, and the old boys are talking about who they are going to pick for that promotion or that new posting. She knows that if she hurts a man's ego with her response, it might affect the reference he would give her when her name comes up. Let us be real here. That is what is going on. That is what women have to deal with when unwanted sexual advances come their way from male superiors in the workplace, and this happens all the time.
It is particularly insidious at work because it affects a woman's career. Everything that she put work into is at stake in that ridiculous moment when someone thoughtlessly says something to her. General Vance did that to this servicewoman. He might not have given it a second thought, but if that is the case, that is how detached from reality he really is. That is how drunk on power he and his fellow high-ranking military officers really are. They have no idea what it is like for the women they do these things to.
We know this kind of behaviour is just the tip of the iceberg. It is symbolic of a greater problem. Women have been sexually abused, raped and harassed day in and day out in our military, all while trying to do their jobs, keep their heads down and advance their careers like everybody else.
There are land mines like this everywhere for women as they rise up the ranks in their careers. I know it. I have lived it, just like millions of other women. I am not unique, but it is real and it happens every single day.
What is most disappointing is that the Liberal government was elected twice on its feminist promises and credentials, yet here we are six years later with no feminist change seen in our military. The defence minister has spoken at length about this, yet nothing has happened. The scandals just keep rolling out. Every day there is a new headline. These men thought that going golfing during an ongoing sexual misconduct investigation was somehow acceptable just a few days ago. That is the minister's record on this issue. That is why we are calling for him to resign.
Before I conclude, I have two quick things to say. I want to seriously thank the Conservative members on the defence committee for their dedication and their tireless effort. I am very proud to serve alongside them. They have been tireless in their pursuit of justice for the women and men who have been mistreated in our military.
To the men and women in our military who have suffered through this hell, and I do not choose that word lightly, I say we are with them. We have their backs and we will not stop until there is a reckoning in our Canadian military.
I will conclude with a message to women Liberal MPs in the House. I know that they are all proud feminists, but now is the time to walk the talk. If they are going to go door to door in the next election and tout their feminist credentials, they have to stand up for women when it counts. It counts today.
The minister has failed the women in our military. He has failed to stand up for them. He has failed to fulfill his duty and hold these powerful men accountable. He has failed to send the message that it is not okay to go golfing with the accused when an investigation is going on. There is no way around it. There is no other way they can try to spin it. That is the reality.
I know that in their hearts the Liberal members, particularly the women, know what I am saying is correct. The minister might be a nice guy, but that is not the point. He clearly cannot fulfill his duty.
In conclusion, the current minister has proved he cannot defend women who have been sexually harassed, raped and abused. The women in our military only need seven Liberal MPs to abstain or, better yet, vote for his resignation. He could still be an MP, but he should not have control over changing the culture in our military after he has let us down as women so profoundly. I would ask seven Liberal MPs to please consider this and do the right thing.