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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks at an announcement on fighter jets as General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff looks on at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Dec. 12, 2017.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Most Canadians do not have confidence that the Canadian military can change its culture, and believe the federal government is doing a poor job dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct and discrimination in the forces, a new Nanos Research survey shows.

The Canadian Armed Forces have faced criticism amid military police investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct involving former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance, his successor Admiral Art McDonald, and Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson.

Twenty-six per cent of those surveyed by Nanos Research said they are not confident that the military can change its culture in the long run to be welcoming to everyone; 30 per cent said they are somewhat not confident. Only 13 per cent said they are confident and 29 per cent said they are somewhat confident. The rest said they are unsure.

The Nanos survey, which was commissioned by The Globe and Mail and CTV News, found that a majority of Canadians believe that the government is handling the situation poorly. Twenty-one per cent of respondents said the Liberal government is doing a very poor job, and 33 per cent said it is doing a poor job, at investigating allegations of sexual misconduct and discrimination in the forces. One per cent said Ottawa is doing a very good job, 7 per cent said it is doing a good job and 27 per cent said it is doing an average job. Ten per cent of respondents said they are not sure.

It also shows that older Canadians are particularly critical of the way the government has reacted. Twenty-five per cent of respondents over the age of 55 said Ottawa is doing a very poor job, compared with 15 per cent of respondents aged 18 to 34.

In recent weeks, the Liberal government has faced political pressure from opposition parties over how it addressed concerns about Mr. Vance.

Conservative MP James Bezan said the morale of the Forces has been greatly damaged because of the allegations rocking the military.

“I believe trust in leadership and trust in the political leadership of the current government has eroded to a level that leads a lot of members questioning their own participation in the Forces.”

A culture change requires effort at all levels within the Forces, the Department of National Defence (DND) and the government, he said, adding that proper processes and mechanisms must be in place so that those who serve in uniform can do so in a harassment-free environment.

Global News was first to report that Mr. Vance is facing accusations of inappropriate behaviour with two female subordinates while he was chief of the defence staff. Mr. Vance has denied any wrongdoing. He was appointed chief of the defence staff, head of the Canadian Armed Forces, in 2015 and retired last year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week that he did not personally know of the situation regarding Mr. Vance. However, the matter was brought to the attention of his office in 2018, The Globe reported.

Questions around how Mr. Trudeau’s government responded began in early March, when former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne testified before a parliamentary committee that he tried to show Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan evidence of an allegation and that the minister refused to see what he had.

Mr. Sajjan told the House of Commons defence committee that he did everything he could, including alerting his chief of staff, who flagged the matter with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

The PMO followed up with the Privy Council Office (PCO), the department that supports the prime minister and cabinet. The PCO’S Janine Sherman met with Mr. Walbourne, but was not able to obtain any more information. Mr. Walbourne has said repeatedly that he did not have the complainant’s permission to investigate, and that he had to respect her wishes.

Todd Lane, a spokesman for Mr. Sajjan, said that the minister has been working with the acting chief of defence staff, the deputy minister and stakeholders on how to regain the trust of those affected by all forms of sexual misconduct.

“As the minister has stated, the time for patience is over,” Mr. Lane said. “We must change the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces to create a safe and welcoming workplace. We need to make sure that no member is afraid to bring forward any form of complaint and if or when they do, that they feel supported.”

Mr. Sajjan, the Forces and the DND are developing a plan focused on culture change, Mr. Lane added.

“We need to redouble our efforts to change the culture of toxic masculinity and eliminate sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. We owe it to our members and to Canadians to get this right.”

Nanos Research randomly surveyed 1,007 Canadians, 18 years or older, and participants were recruited by live agents by phone, both landline and cell, and in a survey administered online. The margin of error for the survey is 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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