Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the motion the Leader of the Opposition has put forward. He presents this motion in an attempt to wage personal and partisan attacks rather than focusing on our members who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces. He is a veteran. I am a veteran, and I expect better.
I will not, and I repeat, will not gloss over the fact the defence team is going through a very difficult time right now, particularly those who are survivors of sexual harassment, assault and abuse of power. As the largest and most diverse employer in Canada, the defence team is a microcosm of our Canadian society. We see the same problems reflected in our organizations that we see play out in other areas of our society.
We have had to reckon with inequality, systemic racism, sexual misconduct and abuse of power. It is uncomfortable. It is painful, and it is inconsistent with our ideals as Canadians and as human beings.
The experiences we have heard over the past few months from those who have experienced sexual harassment and assault in the Canadian Armed Forces is appalling. To every member of the Canadian Armed Forces, and to every person in the Department of National Defence who has been affected by sexual harassment and violence, I am truly sorry. Whether it was recently, 10 years ago, 20 years ago or 30 years ago, we were not there to support them.
As somebody who has put on the uniform, I know the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence need to do better. We all need to do better. I know our current reporting systems are not enough. Too often, people do not feel able to report misconduct our of fear of reprisal and retribution. This has to change, and this will change.
It is why I asked Madam Louise Arbour, former Supreme Court justice, to lead an independent external comprehensive review of our institutional policies and culture. Over the coming months, we expect Madam Arbour to provide concrete recommendations on how the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence can set up an independent external reporting system for defence team members that meets the needs of those who have been impacted by sexual misconduct.
We know we have a lot more to do to regain our members' trust. We are committed to making a lasting change, one that sheds the toxic and outdated values, practices and policies that harmed our people.
This motion from the Leader of the Opposition is not about supporting our members. In fact, the opposition had the opportunity time and time again in this very Parliament to be part of the solution. Instead, opposition members have consistently chosen to obstruct the progress.
In the past weeks, the Leader of the Opposition and his party voted against almost a quarter of a billion dollars to help eliminate sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces in budget 2021. They voted against supporting peer-to-peer services. They voted against increasing access to the sexual misconduct response centre for members of the Canadian Armed Forces. In fact, the leader of the official opposition and his party voted against our commitment to implement new external oversight mechanisms to bring greater independence to the processes of reporting and adjudicating sexual misconduct within the military.
This is staggering hypocrisy from the Leader of the Opposition and the Conservative Party, which should not be unexpected from the Conservatives. They have done this at every turn. If the Conservatives want to talk about fighter jets, let us talk about the Conservative record on fighter jets.
After years of cuts from the Conservatives, our air force could not generate enough aircraft to answer our NATO and NORAD commitments at the same time. We are committed to procuring 88 advanced fighter jets to show our friends and allies we will be there for them when we are called upon, and we have stepped up. How they chose the number of 65, I do not know, but I am going to guess they needed to cut. They needed to balance their budget.
When it comes to our contribution in the fight against Daesh, our work alongside our coalition partners has reached success. I will not be apologetic for our government's stance and the operations we have conducted with our allies. By increasing our ground presence, along with that of our partners and allies, the coalitions worked to reduce Daesh's territorial control by over 98% on the ground.
When the Conservatives sat back, Liberals stepped forward. We worked with the U.S., NATO, regional partners and allies to increase peace and stability in the region. Just a few months ago, we announced that we would extend our work in the Middle East by deploying up to 850 Canadian Armed Forces personnel to support the global coalition, the NATO mission in Iraq and capacity-building activities in Jordan and Lebanon because we know this is a regional issue. Canada will remain a reliable partner in multinational operations around the world.
If the Leader of the Opposition wants to claim a cover-up, he should look no further than himself. We want to talk about preventing things from happening. We learned from media reports that the leader of the official opposition himself was aware of allegations of sexual misconduct regarding General Vance prior to his appointment as chief of the defence staff, an allegation from the general's time in Gagetown, as it was reported. It was an allegation that the leader of the official opposition said that he had investigated.
The former national security advisor, Richard Fadden, said to a parliamentary committee that this is not true. Let me quote Mr. Fadden. Speaking of when General Vance was stationed in Naples, he said, “I did a bit of an inquiry into what was happening with a lady who subsequently became his wife. That was the extent of the involvement.”
After this non-investigation, it seems that the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service received political pressure to stop its investigation into Vance, an investigation that just happen to end right before his swearing in as chief of the defence staff under the Conservative government.
The Leader of the Opposition continues to say that he passed along sexual misconduct allegations by General Vance in July 15. He continues to claim that those were looked into, despite evidence to the contrary. I ask this House, how can the Leader of the Opposition's story be credible if General Vance was appointed after no investigation of the knowledge that the leader had? Almost immediately after the allegations were made, pressure was brought to bear and the investigation was suddenly dropped.
Unlike the Conservatives, I know how important our people in the Canadian Armed Forces are. That is why they are at the very centre of our defence policy. Chapter number one states that.
Women are working tirelessly to create a culture of dignity, respect and inclusion for all members, to ensure that the organization is truly as diverse as the Canada it serves, and to be the employer of choice for Canadians of every background, not just for the few that some members want. Our defence policy, “Strong, Secure, Engaged”, commits to promoting diversity and inclusion as core institutional values.
We have taken a number of steps to increase representation of women and other unrepresented populations at all levels of the organization. Right now, Lieutenant-General Carignan is the chief of professional conduct and culture at the organization. She and her team will unify and coordinate the ongoing and evolving efforts to create positive and lasting change across the defence team.
At NATO's Allied Joint Forces Command Naples, we have Lieutenant-General Joe Paul, a member of the Huron-Wendat First Nation as deputy command. While he is there, he will help to prepare, plan and conduct military operations in order to preserve the peace, security, and territorial integrity of all NATO alliance members. This sends a powerful message to the indigenous community of our alliance.
Over the coming weeks, Lieutenant-General Fran Allen will become Canada's first female vice-chief of the defence staff. All these members are deserving of these important roles, and they help build a senior leadership that is more representative of the Canadians they serve each and every day.
We have also integrated gender-based analysis plus across all our policies, programs and services to remove barriers to inclusion and better support our personnel. We are addressing all forms of hateful conduct in our organizations with anti-racism and anti-harassment efforts. This is why last year I created an advisory panel on systemic racism and discrimination with Captain Door Gibson, Sergeant Derek Montour, Major Sandra Perron and Major-General Ed Fitch, who are all retired.
They have lived experiences of facing discrimination, anti-Semitism and anti-indigenous prejudice, and they are working to help build a Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence that are more welcoming and inclusive for our members. Their recommendations will make sure that people within the military, including instructors, are better supported and free from discrimination, racism and harmful behaviour, whether they are women; Black, indigenous and people of colour; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, two-spirited, LGBTQ members of the community; or part of a religious minority.
Along with the anti-racism secretariat, this work will help the defence team eliminate all forms of racism, prejudice, bias, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and white supremacy from within our organization.
Where the previous government did little to improve things for those who wear the uniform, and removed the training, the sharp training that was there, we have taken action. In 2019, we received royal assent for Bill C-77, historic legislation to evolve the military justice system by aligning it with the civilian justice system in important ways, while remaining responsive to the unique needs of our Canadian Armed Forces. The act enshrines victims' rights into the code of service discipline. We are working with our members so the regulations for that bill meet the needs of the survivors, rather than the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence.
Earlier this month, we tabled a third independent review of the National Defence Act by former Supreme Court justice Morris Fish. This is one of the most comprehensive independent reviews of the military justice system in a decade. Justice Fish's recommendations provide one of the largest overhauls of the National Defence Act and the Canadian military justice system in recent memory.
I have accepted the 107 recommendations in principle. As we speak, we have already begun to implement 36 of those recommendations to further improve the military justice system to bring greater confidence to our members, who wear the maple leaf on their shoulder.
All this work is in addition to the independent external comprehensive review that former Justice Louise Arbour is leading to help us build on and refine our efforts to address and prevent sexual misconduct in our organizations. Over the coming months, Madam Arbour will provide concrete recommendations for how the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence could set up an independent external reporting system for defence team members that meets the needs of those who have been impacted by sexual misconduct.
This system needs to be focused on those who have been impacted by misconduct, be responsive to their needs and be outside the chain of command and the Department of National Defence. Any less cannot be accepted, and any less will not be accepted.
Madam Arbour and her team will provide significant direction on how we must evolve to support affected people, and how we can ensure that every incident is handled appropriately. Part of this work also includes looking into the current structures in the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence and the sexual misconduct response centre to see how we could strengthen them to provide greater confidence to those who need support.
We will also examine the performance evaluation promotion system in the Canadian Armed Forces with a focus on how leaders are selected and trained. This review will also look at the military justice system's policies, procedures and practices to see how we could make this system more responsive to the needs of those who have experienced misconduct while holding perpetrators accountable. As Madam Arbour does this important work, she will be able to provide interim recommendations to the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence, and we commit to acting upon it immediately.
As we continue our work with the defence team, we have created a new organization of professional conduct and culture under the leadership of its chief, General Carignan. This will be responsible for carrying out and creating the conditions for cultural transformation by unifying, integrating, and coordinating the ongoing efforts across the Department of National Defence.
Their goal is to ensure that our actions and behaviour reflect the very best parts of our organizations of Canadian society. Their efforts will closely align with the work being carried out by the external review and will be informed by best practices, as well as experts, advocates and those who have lived experiences, inside and outside our institutions, at all levels.
We are dedicated to creating lasting cultural change across the defence team, change that is enduring and that meets the needs of those who have experienced sexual harassment and violence. The motion that the Leader of the Opposition has put forward does nothing to help those in the Canadian Armed Forces. It is more focused on personal attacks and petty games, something that I have unfortunately been far too accustomed to. That is okay.
It is disappointing, though, but it comes as no surprise from a party that is focused more on fanning the flames of division, a party that refused to acknowledge structural racism, like the Leader of the Opposition did in September of last year, or in the midst of a pandemic when Dr. Theresa Tam, who is Canada's chief public health officer, had her loyalty to our country questioned, because of her name and the colour of her skin, by a Conservative MP. It is a party that voted against a motion to condemn Islamophobia.
The Leader of the Opposition based his entire leadership campaign around the slogan “Take Back Canada”. From whom?
This motion is below the dignity of the House, but it is clear that is exactly the type of divisive and dog-whistle politics on which the Conservative opposition depends.