The Canadian Armed Forces must learn why approaches to address sexual misconduct in the military have not worked, the acting chief of the defence staff said Tuesday, while he emphasized the need to confront the use and abuse of power in its culture.
During testimony before the House of Commons status of women committee, Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre said the Forces are at an “inflection point” that must be acted upon to make it a better place to serve for all Canadians.
“We don’t pretend to have all the answers; I certainly don’t,” he said, adding that the Forces are in the process of rapidly developing a future plan.
“We’ve got to be very open to ideas coming from the grassroots level, coming from outside experts.”
Lt.-Gen. Eyre said that sexual-misconduct training is conducted annually for all members of the Forces but in his view, that is not enough.
“It’s going to be a constant drumbeat of reminding our members what right looks like,” he said. “In terms of gaps in that training, as I rapidly get my feet under me in this job, some of the gaps are becoming apparent, such as power dynamics and understanding the use and abuse of power in a hierarchy like our own.”
Lt.-Gen. Eyre’s testimony is taking place at a particularly challenging time for the military and amid concerns about its response to sexual misconduct. He assumed his current role after Admiral Art McDonald stepped aside. Adm. McDonald is now the subject of an investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS). A separate probe is under way for former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance.
The acting head of the Forces said one of the things he has immediately asked for in his new capacity is a playbook to help him deal with any incidents of senior leader misconduct. He said the document is currently in a draft form but committed to sharing it when it is completed.
He said that a project designed to address sexual misconduct, known as Operation Honour, may have come to an end.
“With Op Honour, I believe and I’ve heard from many that perhaps this mission has culminated,” he said, adding that the Forces must look at what has worked and go forward with a plan that includes military members and public-servant colleagues.
Operation Honour, established in 2015, was designed to eliminate harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour within the Forces. The mission was established after former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps issued a report on sexual misconduct within the military.
The report detailed a highly sexualized culture in the Forces that is hostile to women and LGBTQ members.
During recent testimony before the House of Commons national defence committee, Ms. Deschamps said she was left with the impression that little has changed since her findings were released.
She said that the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, designed to provide confidential support services to Forces members who are affected by sexual misconduct, should be mandated as the primary authority to receive reports of misconduct. She added that it is “incredible” the centre does not already have that mandate.
Ms. Deschamps also said the centre should be the lead authority for gathering data, another recommendation that she made previously. She said giving the centre this responsibility, or at least giving it access to data, should be a priority.
Mr. Vance presented himself as a champion of Operation Honour, she said, adding that recent allegations affect its credibility. However, she said, the strategy was followed by another one, The Path to Dignity and Respect, which coincided with his departure.
“I think the Canadian Armed Forces should double their efforts to build up or rebuild its credibility,” she said of the new strategy. “I don’t think they should drop the ball now. That would be the worst thing that could happen.”
In 2015, Ms. Deschamps’ report stressed the need for a reporting mechanism outside of the chain of command. She noted that military organizations, such as in the U.S., Australia and France, have created independent offices to receive reports of sexual misconduct, as well as to provide victim support, conduct training and track data.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this month that his government intends to create an independent process for reporting allegations of sexual misconduct in the Forces.
The Liberal government has faced criticism from opposition parties over how it handled allegations of misconduct involving Mr. Vance.
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