Madam Speaker, Canada's military is in crisis on the defence minister's watch. An institution that has been revered for over a hundred years, Canada's military has liberated occupied nations, fought for democracy, freedom and peace, and brought honour and respect to our country and Canadian citizens. Now it is facing some of the darkest days in its history.
Canada's military is entrusted with protecting and preserving Canadian values, but it must also embody them. However, serious abuse of power, sexual misconduct and discrimination at the highest levels in Canada's military continue unchecked, and the defence minister and the Prime Minister have failed to act. That is why today's opposition day motion calls on the House of Commons to censure the Minister of Defence, and why it is so important.
Members of the government will cry that today's motion amounts to nothing more than petty partisan politics. That, in itself, is evidence that the current government understands neither its sworn obligation, nor the dire situation that Canada's military is in.
Members of Parliament are elected to govern, and governing is much more than merely passing laws. Governing, at its most fundamental, is about ensuring that those entrusted with leading the country embody the values of honesty and integrity that Canadians expect, and are held to account when they have broken that most sacred trust.
In his direction to ministers in 2015, the Prime Minister charged them with “[c]reating the culture of integrity and accountability that allows [them] to earn and keep the trust of Canadians”. The Prime Minister went on to say, “Whether a Minister has discharged responsibilities appropriately is a matter of political judgment by Parliament.” Therefore, any attempt to characterize today's opposition day motion as partisan or petty politics must be vehemently rejected. It is the role of Parliament to judge a minister, and not one we take lightly. Today, this House of Commons is fulfilling that most difficult and serious responsibility.
The defence minister has not acted with integrity and accountability. Instead, he has consistently misrepresented the facts, refused to answer direct questions, failed to implement important changes to improve the military's culture and turned a blind eye to serious allegations.
In 2018, allegations of serious misconduct were made against the former chief of the defence staff, General Vance. For three years, the defence minister knew, and key officials in the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council and the minister's office knew, and they all did nothing. No one else would have known, if two parliamentary committees, the defence committee and the status of women committee, had not decided to study this serious military misconduct.
What Canadians have learned through the testimony at those committees and in the media has simply shaken us to our core: hours and hours of jarring testimony detailing accounts of abusive power, misogyny, rape, sexual harassment and discrimination.
We heard testimony of investigations that were never carried out or were covered up, evidence that was lost or tampered with, and serious crimes that were pleaded down to an administrative slap on the wrist, purged from the records and simply forgotten. We heard from victims who were threatened into silence and themselves blamed for what had happened to them. They told us how their careers were destroyed and they were drummed out of the military. Perhaps most tragically, we heard from victims who believe they will never be able to get justice for what happened to them.
To quote retired Colonel Bernie Boland, “The entire institutional weight, influence, power, intellect and knowledge is directed against [victims] rather than what it's purportedly supposed to be.... Equal justice for all is not being applied here at all.”
All of this, in Canada's military? How could this possibly happen in a country like Canada, where justice, accountability and the rule of law are our foundation?
The former chief of the defence staff, General Vance, the highest military officer; then his replacement, Admiral McDonald; Vice-Admiral Edmundson; General Fortin; General Rouleau; and Vice-Admiral Baines are all either under police investigation or have had to step aside for questionable conduct. Even more general and flag officers are complicit, through their actions or their silence.
The failure of Canada's military starts at the top of the chain of command, and the top is the defence minister. Under the National Defence Act, the defence minister is responsible for the management and direction of the Canadian Forces, and it is his duty to hold those at the most senior levels to the highest standards. A military has great power. It is the one group of people in Canadian society entrusted with the ability to bear arms and to commit acts of violence on behalf of the country. In a democracy, citizens need to know that the military is held in check by our elected officials.
The minister had a responsibility to take swift and immediate action regarding the allegations against Vance, but for three years he did nothing. While he may not have conducted the investigation himself, it was up to him to ensure that one was done. As elected officials, our loyalty is to country first, before party and before individuals; we are here to act in the best interest of the country.
That is what we also ask of our military, and Lieutenant-Commander Trotter risked his personal well-being to do what is right. He said, “as an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces I swore an oath to Queen and country to fulfill my duties, and there's the old adage of service before self. There may be blowback. There may be career implications”. He further stated, “My personal conviction as an officer of the Canadian Armed Forces is that I will put the service and my service members above my own needs and safety.”
Canadians rely on ministers to do the same, to put this country and Parliament before themselves and to accept responsibility when they fail to do so. However, after months of questions in the House and numerous appearances at committee, not once has the defence minister accepted any responsibility. Not once has he said he should have done something differently and, most important, not once has he committed to holding accountable those who have failed in their duty. Lasting change will only come when those who have failed are held accountable.
Governing does not mean to delegate and disappear. It means ensuring that government departments and public servants deliver the services Canadians need, to the standards they expect and in a manner that brings honour and pride to Canada as a nation. When it comes to the conduct at the highest level of the Canadian Armed Forces, the defence minister and the Prime Minister say it is not up to them.
If the defence minister and the Prime Minister are not responsible, then who is? The defence minister has clearly shown that he will not accept responsibility. He will not act honourably, admit he has failed in his duties and resign, and the Prime Minister will not hold him accountable and fire him. Rather than standing up for women, the Prime Minister has reinforced an entrenched and toxic military culture. His inaction has emboldened the old boys' club and denied women the opportunity to be believed.
Women in the military have earned the right to serve equally with respect. All men and women in uniform have sworn to give their lives for their country. In return, their elected officials must vigorously ensure they are protected by Canadian values.
Service to country is who I am at my core. My father was a major-general who served in the military. I followed him, like many others, in uniform and was honoured to wear the Canadian flag on my sleeve.
The defence minister has lost the trust and confidence of the military and Canadians. The crisis in Canada's military will not end until the defence minister is censured. I implore all of my colleagues in the House to support this motion and censure the defence minister.