Defence Minister Anita Anand has unveiled what she describes as “an ambitious roadmap” to reform the Canadian Armed Forces’ culture amid what experts have called a sexual misconduct “crisis.”
In a new report tabled to Parliament on Tuesday, Anand said she had directed the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces to pursue “an all-hands on deck effort” to address the dozens of recommendations made by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour when she released her long-anticipated report into the culture of the Canadian military in May.
“The Canadian Armed Forces is in a recruitment challenge, and we need to hold the confidence of the Canadian public to say this is an institution that is undergoing cultural change and this cultural change will continue to occur,” Anand said after tabling her report in the House of Commons Tuesday morning.
“My goal is to put in place the institutional reforms necessary so that cultural change can last,” she told reporters in Ottawa.
The review was formally launched a year before the report was released — in May 2021 — in response to exclusive reporting by Global News into allegations of sexual misconduct at the highest ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Anand said that while substantive work is underway with action already being taken on 17 of Arbour’s 48 recommendations, much remains to be done.
“I reject none of the 48 recommendations that Madame Arbour has made, and am committed to moving forward on all of them,” Anand said in her report.
“This is an ambitious roadmap for reform developed through months of work and consultation.
“Going forward, we will continue to put our shoulders to the wheel, to deliver substantive changes in the Department of National Defence and to the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Anand had been scheduled to table her report to Parliament on Monday afternoon, however, all House of Commons business was cancelled for the day upon the news of the death of Winnipeg MP and former Liberal cabinet minister Jim Carr.
What is being implemented?
Arbour had raised serious concerns about Canadian military colleges in her initial report, urging reforms of the institutions she said are too often seen as “untouchable” but that play a key role in training future leaders of the Canadian Forces.
Anand said she “strongly affirms that the culture in these institutions must change significantly.”
“The Minister has therefore directed a review of CMCs (Canadian Military Colleges).”
Anand said the department is working to outline the terms of reference for that review and determine qualifications for the 23 people who will sit on that review board. Work on that review is expected to begin in 2023.
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Arbour had recommended that Criminal Code sexual offences be removed from the jurisdiction of the CAF, and they should be prosecuted exclusively in civilian criminal courts in all cases. Anand had announced last fall that she would act on this via an interim recommendation issued by Arbour, but the decision has since spurred jurisdictional questions about the resources dedicated to sexual offences in the civilian court systems.
“The implementation of this recommendation raises several important multi-jurisdictional and multidepartmental considerations that DND/CAF has been directed to work through with FPT partners and other actors,” Anand said.
To implement this, the federal defence minister said a committee will convene in the near term to discuss next steps on how to address those questions.
In accepting Arbour’s recommendations about addressing sexual misconduct, Anand said the DND and CAF will establish a working group to examine and update all internal policies so they are aligned with the Criminal Code of Canada, Canada Labour Code and Canadian Human Rights Act.
Arbour had recommended in her report that all CAF members involved in a personal relationship with one another inform their chain of command.
Anand said because of privacy rights and to protect vulnerable members who may not be comfortable sharing their sexuality, CAF members will not be directed to disclose all of their personal relationships.
Instead, concrete guidance will be given on when CAF members must notify their chain of command of personal relationships.
Arbour’s highly anticipated report described the military as an institution that is fundamentally out of sync with the values of Canadian society.
In it, Arbour warned that the top ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces are “incapable” of recognizing the “deficient” parts of a culture that entrenches sexual misconduct and abuse of power.
The report made 48 recommendations, charting out a new path to fundamentally change the way military sexual misconduct allegations are reported and handled, and to restore confidence in the Canadian Forces, which is struggling to recruit new members amid the controversy.
Global News first brought to light allegations in February 2021 of sexual misconduct against senior leaders in the Canadian Armed Forces — the first of dozens of exclusive reports into such allegations and the military’s handling of them over the past 18 months.
'Dragging their feet': Arbour raises concerns about progress
Appearing at a defence committee meeting later on Tuesday, Arbour said she has concerns about the progress being made so far and about whether there is a clear plan to act on each recommendation Anand said she would accept.
Arbour pointed to fundamental challenges she said lie within the Canadian military that will make any reforms difficult — key among those, the military’s resistance to change.
“At all levels, the Canadian Forces need to turn to the outside world. There needs to be a change in culture, and there is a lot of resistance to this,” Arbour told the committee.
“The CAF needs to evolve in line with the Canadian society. They’re very slow to do this and they tend to focus on homogeneity, tradition and autonomy. The culture is hypersexualized and hyper-masculine, and this has been exposed by many other people.”
Arbour also pointed specifically to concerns on the progress on implementing her interim recommendation from last fall that sexual offences be handled by civilian courts, not the military justice system.
While Anand ordered that such cases be referred to civilian authorities last year in some cases, Arbour said there should be no cases where those are left in the hands of the military and called for a full separation.
“As long as concurrent jurisdiction remains, the evidence so far indicates, frankly, that the CAF will continue to consider itself the primary jurisdiction and surprisingly, civilian authorities seem very happy to decline to exercise their own jurisdiction,” she told MPs.
“Removing the competence of military courts over these offences requires an act of Parliament but simply yielding to the concurrent competence of civilian courts doesn’t require an act of Parliament. It requires an operational policy decision. It’s very obvious to me that those involved in that process are dragging their feet.”
Arbour said the fact the reviews proposed by Anand are all internal “misses entirely the central point of my report, which is the need for CAF to open up to a lot more external, not just scrutiny but input.”
Lindsay Mathyssen, an MP for the New Democratic Party (NDP), said Anand’s report was more of the same from the government, pressing the Liberals to take action.
“Service members have had enough reports and commitments without real action from the Liberals,” she said at the defence committee meeting
“New Democrats will keep pushing this government to act quickly to implement all of the recommendations and deliver justice to service members.”
Anand said DND and CAF officials will continue to provide regular updates on their progress in the implementation of Arbour’s recommendations, adding that culture change will take time.
“This time it is different. We are here with a roadmap for progress and we will continue to update you and hold ourselves to be accountable,” she said.
— with files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly and Aaron D’Andrea