The military, plagued with a crisis of sexual-misconduct allegations, believes it will take five years to make an irreversible change in how it operates, its chief of professional conduct and culture says.
At a briefing on Thursday, Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan laid out internal plans to address the issue.
Lt.-Gen. Carignan said continuing efforts include “extensive consultations” across the entire defence team. The discussions began in October, and will proceed until February to allow military and civilian members to share their perspective on the state of the Forces culture and their suggestions for what can be done to create a safer workplace, she said.
“The horizon that I’m working with right now is five years” to effect change, she said, adding that the Canadian Armed Forces will have to be constantly “vigilant” about its culture.
Lt.-Gen. Carignan also said she believes change is possible.
“In my 35 years of service, I have never seen such engagement and commitment to the issue of culture change as it is right now,” she said.
While sexual misconduct is not a new concern, the problem has escalated to crisis proportions this year, including allegations against high-ranking members.
Earlier this week, Defence Minister Anita Anand, Chief of Defence Staff Wayne Eyre and Deputy Minister Jody Thomas apologized to victims and acknowledged institutional failures. The apology was a key aspect of the federal government’s $600-million settlement agreement with current and former service members in class-action lawsuits related to sexual misconduct.
The apology will not be enough though, Lt.-Gen. Carignan said Thursday, adding that “the time has come for action.”
In response to mounting concerns and political criticism, Ottawa appointed former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour in April to examine sexual harassment and misconduct in the military. Her work is designed to chart a path to an independent reporting system.
Lt.-Gen. Carignan was named to her position at the same time. She said on Thursday that since then, more than 200 people have been tasked with doing the “crucial work” of driving change within the Forces.
Lt.-Gen. Carignan also said she has weekly meetings with Ms. Anand to discuss the work under way.
In a mandate letter issued on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Ms. Anand to implement on a priority basis Ms. Arbour’s recommendations, including external oversight of the reporting, investigation and adjudication of complaints outside the chain of command.
Ms. Arbour is to provide a final review within a year, although the timeline could be adjusted if there are unforeseen delays for reasons such as COVID-19 constraints.
In November, Ms. Anand announced that the investigation and prosecution of sexual-misconduct cases in the CAF would be moved from the military justice system to the civilian system. The government took this step after Ms. Arbour called for such change in a set of interim recommendations.
Denise Preston, executive director of the Department of National Defence’s sexual-misconduct response centre, said on Thursday that the department is working with survivors of sexual misconduct to create a peer support system, a type of counselling that draws on the experience of others. The department expects to be able to launch the program by June of next year, she said.
Earlier this year, Dr. Preston told a parliamentary committee that peer support was not currently offered to sexual-trauma survivors in the military.
Dr. Preston also said on Thursday a program is being developed to provide independent legal advice. She noted provinces and territories have similar programs. There is a need to end the inequity for military victims, she added, noting the program is expected to be in place by early in the next fiscal year.
She said work is under way to determine who would be entitled to this support.
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.