Madam Speaker, before I begin to discuss Motion No. 58, I need to briefly speak about the incredible loss that the people of London have suffered. An act of terror that occurred a few days ago took the lives of Salman, Yumna, Talat Afzaal and Madiha Salman and left Fayez recovering in hospital.
The heartbreak in our community is palpable, and that grief will take a long time to heal. It reminds me that every time I rise in this place I must keep the people I fight for in London—Fanshawe at the heart of what I say and what I do, the people who sent me here to bring their concerns forward, to deliberate on legislation and policies, to make sure those decisions will care for, treat fairly and improve their lives and, in fact, the lives of all people living in Canada. It must be beyond words that we work here in the House. Actions, after all, speak louder than those words.
To move the discussion on to the motion here today, one of those policies that can have a positive impact on the people in my riding is gender-based analysis plus. This analytical process, which provides an assessment method of systemic inequality as well as a means to assess how diverse groups of women, men and gender-diverse people may experience policies, programs and initiatives, is something the NDP supports fully.
The “plus” in GBA+ acknowledges the substantial differences, the multiple characteristics and intersections that contribute to who we are. GBA+ considers many other identity factors, such as race, ethnicity, religion, age and mental or physical disability and how the interaction between these factors influences the way we might experience government policies. New Democrats believe this, too, is a key part of the necessary analysis the government and all of its departments must apply.
In 2015, when the government committed to applying GBA+, including by mandating the minister of status of women to ensure that government policy, legislation and regulations are sensitive to the different impacts that decisions can have on men and women, we too were supportive.
Today, of course, we support the private member's motion, Motion No. 58.
I sit as a member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. We have spent the last few months studying sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces. We have heard clearly that the forces exist in a toxic culture and that without proper supports in place and without directly addressing the significant cultural issues within the military, many people will not want to enlist and retention will continue to be an issue.
In March 2021, Lieutenant-Colonel Eleanor Taylor, the deputy commander of 36 Canadian Brigade Group and a distinguished veteran of combat in Afghanistan, publicly resigned, saying in a Facebook post, “I am sickened by ongoing investigations of sexual misconduct among our key leaders. Unfortunately, I am not surprised. I am also certain that the scope of the problem has yet to be exposed. Throughout my career, I have observed insidious and inappropriate use of power for sexual exploitation.” That is an incredibly powerful statement.
We heard testimony at the status of women committee from several witnesses that in fact one cannot apply a GBA+ lens onto the military in this country because the culture of toxic masculinity is so pervasive that it is not taken seriously.
Christine Wood, chief of strategic engagement at It's Just 700, a volunteer-run organization that provides confidential peer support and information to members of the Canadian military who are survivors of work-related sexual trauma, appeared before our committee in April. When asked about GBA+ for programs to help military members, she said, “It's still...at that point where we talk about GBA+. It doesn't start with GBA+. Everyone kind of checks it as a box at the end of their design.” Ms. Wood also said, “I feel like women have never had a level playing field in the forces; we were mandated to be included.”
In 2016, the Office of the Auditor General published a report, “Canadian Armed Forces Recruitment and Retention”. The Auditor General said:
We found that although the Canadian Armed Forces had established a goal for the representation of women among its ranks, it set this overall goal with no specific targets by occupation. We also found that despite the fact that achieving this goal depends heavily on increased recruiting, the Canadian Armed Forces had not implemented any special employment equity measures. The goal was 25 percent during the audit period; meanwhile, women represented 14 percent of the Regular Force.
In 2019, the Canadian Armed Forces told the Standing Committee on the Status of Women that, as of February, women accounted for 15.7% of the Canadian Armed Forces workforce. Not only is the Canadian Armed Forces, with mandated targets on retention, not meeting its goals, but for those who are recruited, the toxic environment they are surrounded by creates trauma and forces women and people from many other backgrounds, abilities, sexual identities and orientation to be victimized, often repeatedly.
My concern in all of this, and the questions we must ask here are: Will the motion bring much-needed change to the armed forces? Will it push the government, the military or the Department of National Defence to do anything differently or to go further to implement GBA+ in retention and recruitment within the department or within our military? Will it actually help to create a healthy environment for the people recruited, or will we continue to see the exodus of those who gave up years serving their country and defending others because they can no longer deal with the violence, ridicule and trauma they face, and because they have to defend themselves as a matter of survival instead?
I believe that too often the Liberal government says what it knows people want to hear, but then it breaks promises and does not take the real action necessary to make a difference. I believe the government is too often concerned with only checking the box. This motion cannot serve as only checking a box. There are things the government must do here today, and even though it has already had six years, it could create real and substantive change. I have received so many emails and calls, and I have heard too many stories, from people impacted by this toxic culture not to act.
As I said earlier, New Democrats support this motion because we support a GBA+ approach to meeting recruitment and retention targets for underrepresented groups. The supports CAF members need go far beyond this motion, and despite the many additional reports and reviews the government may call for, it could act immediately.
The government could create a special program within the Canadian Armed Forces in the recruitment of women and underrepresented groups as recommended by the Auditor General in 2016. It could strengthen the federal Employment Equity Act to attach employment equity measures to all Canadian Armed Forces recruitment and retention programs. It could introduce legislation to establish a military ombudsman as a permanent and independent officer of Parliament. It could create an independent centre of accountability for sexual assault and harassment, entirely outside of the forces. It would be responsible for receiving reports of inappropriate sexual conduct and for preventing it, as well as for coordinating and monitoring training and victim support, monitoring accountability and research, and acting as a central authority for the collection of data.
The government could ensure that parents who are members of the Canadian Armed Forces have access to affordable child care services that meet their needs. It could create an inclusive, safe and respectful workplace for all members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and it could provide mandatory, comprehensive trauma-informed survivor-centred sexual misconduct training for members at all levels, including senior leadership, delivered by experts regularly and applied with a GBA+ lens.
The government could also reverse the decisions it has already made when it comes to the privatization of military services, as these have negative impacts on all members. It could stop outsourcing service contracts to private companies at military bases, which costs the government millions of dollars more than if it were to provide full-time unionized jobs. It could reinvest these millions of dollars by bringing federal public service jobs back to DND and into the Canadian Forces to provide services such as upgrading inferior housing, training personnel and developing genuine efforts to tackle systemic racism, discrimination and sexual harassment within the forces.
The government could reinvest this money to purchase equipment designed for women. It could implement the recommendations of not only the Deschamps report, but also those of the PSAC report released last November, entitled, “In the interest of safety and security:?The case for ending the privatization of Department of National Defence services.”
In conclusion, this motion is a drop in the bucket of what is actually required for substantive change in the Armed Forces. The Canadian government has a long way to go to ensure gender equality, and the enforcement of GBA+ must not only be considered a box to check. This motion cannot simply pay lip service to the incredible people who depend upon us to create responsible policies and legislation. The government must work harder to do what is truly necessary.