Mandate letters released Thursday by the Prime Minister’s Office outlined the key tasks and priorities set for cabinet ministers appointed following the most recent federal election.
Anand’s letter puts her focus squarely on the reckoning that has engulfed the Canadian military over the past 11 months following exclusive reporting that began by Global News in February 2021 into allegations of sexual misconduct against senior military brass.
“As Minister of National Defence, your immediate priority is to take concrete steps to build an inclusive and diverse Defence Team, characterized by a healthy workplace free from harassment, discrimination, sexual misconduct and violence,” Trudeau directed in the letter.
“This includes bringing forward the necessary reforms on a priority basis to create the foundation for meaningful and lasting change in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), a vital national institution.”
In particular, the letter reaffirms the direction for Anand to “institute external oversight over the reporting, investigation and adjudication of complaints, outside the chain of command.”
Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour is currently leading an external, independent review tasked with identifying recommendations for how best to set up an independent reporting structure for survivors and victims of military sexual misconduct.
Her final report is expected in the spring.
When Arbour was tasked with that review in April 2021, the government also appointed Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan to the newly created post as chief of professional conduct and culture. Her role is focused on leading organizational reform within the Canadian Forces and on Thursday, she offered a timeline for some of the work ahead in a briefing with journalists.
Carignan said work began in October on consultation with members aimed to better understand the culture and conduct issues within the military, and that should wrap up in February 2022.
So far, 149 sessions have been held through those consultations with some 5,500 members taking part.
The feedback clearly shows members of the military are “hungry for change,” she said. When asked what makes her confident there will be real change now compared to previous initiatives by the military to tackle sexual misconduct, she pointed to several factors.
“At the very senior leadership, the chief of defence is very much engaged, the deputy minister is very much engaged,” said Carignan.
“What was not obvious to us collectively around the table is now being discussed and seen, which is a great difference. Five years ago, if I were to ask around the table, ‘What are we doing about culture?’ I would get silence,” she added.
“That’s not the case now.”
The update came just days after Anand joined Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre and Jody Thomas, deputy minister of the defence department, to offer a historic apology to survivors and victims of military sexual misconduct.
Carignan said while she had known about what would be included in the apology before it was delivered, hearing it offered struck a chord.
“I had not forecasted how much this would be affecting me as a military member,” she said.
“I had heard the words before but Monday, when I sat down and took the time to hear the apology, I was extremely touched by what was said.”
She described the apology as “a small step towards the future.”