The military’s new Chief of Professional Conduct and Culture told MPs that her priorities are to review and improve the complaint system for dealing with sexual misconduct in the Forces, and to foster an environment where these abuses no longer happen.
Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan, who began the position in April, said on Tuesday that a review of the complaint process is necessary in order to determine how things should be fixed. She said the current system that deals with sexual misconduct needs to be improved so that it is centralized, efficient and more visible, and so there’s a standard process in place to respond to such incidents.
She also discussed how training for members of the Forces needs to be improved, because the current training isn’t preventing misconduct.
“We want this to be focused on inclusivity, on fostering an environment where people feel safe,” Lt.-Gen. Carignan said, adding that this approach will help establish trust between a team and its leader.
She also said that the Forces need to create an environment where these abuses are prevented from occurring in the first place, and where survivors feel supported. “We want to give greater agency and support to those who have experienced misconduct, see it from the eyes of the survivors,” she said.
Lt.-Gen. Carignan testified Tuesday before the House of Commons status of women committee, the first time she has appeared there since taking on her new position. The role was created by the Forces to help address allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse in the military, which includes an investigation into the conduct of former chief of the defence staff, Jonathan Vance.
In April, former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour was appointed by the federal government to examine sexual misconduct in the military, and provide recommendations on how the Forces can set up an independent reporting system for such incidents.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan have been questioned recently on what they knew about an allegation made three years ago against Mr. Vance.
Earlier this year, former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne testified at a defence committee meeting that he told Mr. Sajjan in 2018 about an allegation of inappropriate sexual behaviour against Mr. Vance. He said he tried to show Mr. Sajjan evidence, but that the Defence Minister didn’t want to see it. Mr. Sajjan said that he didn’t look at the evidence because he didn’t want there to be political interference in any investigation.
The Globe and Mail then reported that Mr. Sajjan’s chief of staff told Elder Marques, a former senior adviser in the PMO, about the allegation. This raised questions about what and when the PMO knew, and if the Prime Minister himself was aware of it.
On Friday, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, testified at the defence committee that her office didn’t know the details of the complaint, and that she didn’t inform the Prime Minister at that time. Mr. Trudeau has said he didn’t know until this year.
Mr. Vance denied any wrongdoing in an interview with Global News earlier this year, but otherwise has not commented.
In Question Period on Tuesday, Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole accused the PMO of covering up allegations of sexual harassment, and said that Ms. Telford must have known about the nature of the initial allegation because she had testified at committee that it wasn’t “a safety issue.”
“From the very beginning, we have taken seriously the responsibility of standing up for survivors,” the Prime Minister said in response. “Despite all the significant actions we’ve taken as a government, women and men who are survivors of sexual assault are still not getting the right support. That is why we are doing more. We will always take this seriously and put survivors’ interests first.”
On Monday, the Conference of Defence Associations and the CDA Institute released a statement on sexual misconduct and culture change in the Forces. “We applaud the creation of the Canadian Forces Chief of Professional Conduct and Culture,” the statement read.
“The mandate of this office will only be achieved if every member of the armed forces along with the community of institutional supporters and stakeholders take an interest and get involved in this critical transformation.”
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