The Statement of Defence Ethics

24. The Statement of Defence Ethics Footnote 2 consists of three main parts: first, a declaration identifying who is bound by it and why; second, an hierarchical set of three ethical principles; and finally, a list of six core ethical obligations. The three ethical principles refer to universal ethical obligations owed to humanity, society, and lawful authority and are considered to be in order of precedence. (Rescher,1990) That means that in Canada, as in other modern liberal democracies, the principle of the rule of law is generally recognised as a defining characteristic of a liberal democracy. At the same time, the interpretation and application of this principle is rooted in the more general obligation to a democratic and free society. Ultimately, however, our highest and most overriding obligation is to humanity. In recent times this has been made more poignant, in the negative, by the use in international law of the expression “crimes perpetrated against humanity”. All behaviour in the defence community should pass the test of these three hierarchical ethical principles.

25. In contrast, the six ethical obligations are considered standards of conduct that have equal weight. This means that, all else being equal, the defence community should be equally committed to satisfying the demands of any one of these six ethical obligations whenever the performance of defence roles and duties invokes them specifically. However, ethical issues are often complex and involve competing claims. In such circumstances, ethical obligations will necessarily compete in determining the right thing to do and the multiplicity of factors to be considered will often leave us with ethically ambiguous choices. When this occurs, the three ethical principles should serve as aids for establishing priorities.

26. Before going on, a few words are necessary on the issue of change with respect to the Statement of Defence Ethics. There is no doubt that Canadian society and its institutions will undergo changes over time and, not surprisingly, that the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence will do so too. Although small changes occur regularly, there are other historical circumstances that are more noticeable and bring with them stronger demands for institutional changes. The Constitution Act, 1982, with its Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is an example of a significant change that has made great demands for institutional change. The Statement of Defence Ethics contains a set of core ethical principles and obligations that respond well to the ethical needs of the defence community. If changes to it are deemed necessary in the future, these changes will respect the unique character of the defence institutions only if they are inspired by the fundamental principles of the free and democratic society that gave rise to the Statement in the first place.

Hierarchy of General Principles

27. The Statement of Defence Ethics contains a hierarchy of three general principles: (1) Respect the dignity of all persons; (2) Serve Canada before self; and (3) Obey and support lawful authority. The ordering of these principles reflects the relative importance of the obligations of our nation’s military institution to the human community in general, to the Canadian society, and to lawful authority. (Rescher, 1990) All three principles contain something essential to understanding ourselves as Canadians. The ordering of the principles can be justified by referring to democratic traditions that include covenants such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the fundamental values entrenched in the Canadian constitution. It can also be justified in terms of major ethical theories. In practical terms and as a general rule, the ordering means that Principle I takes precedence over Principles II and III, and that Principle II takes precedence over Principle III.

28. Principle I: Respect the Dignity of all Persons. This ethical principle reflects the primacy in the public domain of our common identity as members of one human family over our identities as members of a particular race, religion, nationality, or ethnic group. This common identity is rooted in the biological unity of humankind, in its unique cognitive abilities, and in its distinctive behavioural and social characteristics. At a minimum, adhering to this principle means that we cannot torture, do violence to, brutalize, injure, coerce, bully, deceive, manipulate, use as expendable, treat unjustly, discriminate against, harass, or otherwise ill-treat another human being. At a minimum and more positively, this principle also requires respect for the intrinsic worth of every person and the treatment of all persons with tolerance and consideration. In other words, it means that we must treat others always as ‘ends,’ and not as objects or mere means to an end. Finally, this principle requires respecting the basic rights and freedoms that have come to be recognized as intrinsic and defining characteristics of the dignity of persons. We should not, therefore, without some compelling and overriding reason, deprive any person or group of these basic rights and freedoms.

29. The obligations that flow from this ethical principle are binding in all circumstances and, in that sense, universal. In our modern democracies, exceptions to these obligations are sanctioned only in terms consistent with principles that gave rise to the democracy itself. The most notable exception occurs in the context of war and other uses of military force. For example, just-war theory explains that an exception to the harm-avoidance obligations of Principle I is justifiable if the controlled use of violence primarily serves the interests of justice, human rights, and other ethical principles and if military operations are conducted according to the international laws of war. This means that norms pertaining to the lawful use of armed force must be based on ethically justifiable exceptions to universal norms against intentional killing, harm to others, and acts of destruction that are usually binding. The aim of war is not war itself but the establishment of a state of peace.

30. Principle II: Serve Canada before Self. This principle reflects the fundamental character of government in our modern liberal democracies: to serve the people. It justifies the functional objective of the Department and the Canadian Forces and expresses a basic ethical attitude required of every member of the Defence Team. For all who are part of government, and especially for the military, this principle reflects the need to respect a hierarchy between public and private goods. As such, it asserts that the legitimate collective interests of society take precedence over purely organizational interests, and similarly, that institutional interests take precedence over purely personal interests. As an ethical criterion, the public interest refers to tangible objectives such as the physical protection and security of Canada and Canadians, the prudent and efficient use of public money and materiel, and the responsible stewardship of the environment and our natural resources. Serving Canada also includes important intangibles, such as peace, order and public well-being, and the ideals of justice, liberty, and equality. Together, these democratic ideals and these tangible and intangible objectives define a way of life that is worth defending.

31. Principle III: Obey and Support Lawful Authority. This principle reflects an essential and defining characteristic of our modern democracies: the rule of law. No one is above the law. In matters of national defence, the general will of a nation is exercised through a duly elected government and, through delegation of authority, a clearly defined chain of command. Accordingly, this principle not only imposes a duty to comply with and support government legislation and policy in one's professional role, but by extension, a duty to obey and support the lawful policies, directives, and orders of superiors in the chain of command, subject only to the ethical dictates of Principles I and II. Individuals exercising authority in the chain of command are expected to let ethical considerations impose reasonable limits on the legitimate use of that authority, an imperative that is especially critical in militarily charged environments. The practise of this principle necessarily exposes everyone in defence to the dilemma inherent in service to the nation. This dilemma occurs whenever the demands of legitimate authority compete with the dictates of personal conscience and generates an ethical tension that cannot be avoided. In a military environment, a tension can easily be generated between the duty to carry out orders and the duty to avoid doing acts considered fundamentally wrong based on personal belief (including what may seem like transgressions to the laws of engagement). More that any other, the practise of this principle puts each person squarely in front of the fact that he or she is ultimately responsible for his or her actions.

Six Core Ethical Obligations

32. The Statement of Defence Ethics contains six core defence ethical obligations: integrity, loyalty, courage, honesty, fairness, and responsibility. There is no hierarchy established among these six ethical obligations. In other words, they have equal weight and, all else being equal; each one must be respected. These obligations embrace fundamental values that run through the military as a profession, the public-service, and our democratic society. These six ethical obligations represent a core of ethical obligations around which other related ethical obligations naturally cluster. In what follows, each obligation is discussed and reference is made to other ethical values related to it.

33. Integrity. Although the six obligations are considered to be equally binding, there is no doubt that “integrity”, meaning the requirement to consistently give precedence to ethical values in our decisions and actions, enjoys a privileged status. As a result, it has been shown first in the list of ethical obligations. For over two thousand years, integrity has meant a sense of wholeness, of completeness, of being undivided. (Carter, 1996; Paine, 1997) It is the crucial component of identity, both for a person and an organization. It necessarily and immediately refers to values such as honesty and fairness, to the reliability and trustworthiness that are intrinsic to loyalty, and to the exercise of responsibility in difficult situations. For the Canadian Forces and its members and the Department of National Defence and its employees, integrity implies a consistent alignment of moral awareness – discerning what is right and what is wrong. It requires balanced judgement and action consistent with such judgements. It also requires a sustained exercise of ethics throughout the organization and in all organizational practices. To maintain a healthy sense of ethical wholeness, integrity implies the practice of explaining openly and publicly why particular actions have been taken and why particular policies are in place. Integrity is absolutely essential for group cohesion. Integrity feeds the courage required to take action in the face of physical and moral challenges, and when necessary, to do so at the risk of one’s life.

34. Loyalty. The obligation of loyalty is rooted first and foremost in a faithful commitment to something that has purpose, meaning, and value. That means that the ethical worth of loyalty is a function of the value we attribute to the object of the loyalty. For the Canadian Forces and its members and the Department of National Defence and its employees, loyalty means standing by their commitments to the nation. These commitments subordinate themselves only to those principles that define us as human beings and members of a democracy. For them, to be loyal is to put the interests of someone or something else ahead of other interests, including personal interests. For Defence Team members, the obligation of loyalty is made explicit in the oath of allegiance given on enrolment in the Canadian Forces and on appointment to the Public Service. With this solemn promise, the member and the employee symbolically acknowledge the rule of law as paramount and the head of state as the ultimate object of professional loyalty. It is understandable, therefore, that the ethical worth of loyalty should be closely related to the three ethical principals in the Statement of Defence Ethics. In particular, the ethical principle Obey and support lawful authority requires all members of the Defence Team to comply with the policies and directives of the Government and their superiors, subject only to the limitations of lawfulness and ethical permissibility. Although the military duty of obedience to superiors’ will and direction is reinforced by military law, it is important to stress that it is neither absolute nor total. Nevertheless, any decision by military members not to obey orders should be exercised with a presumption that the orders may well be legitimate. In addition, any decision of non-compliance to orders should be exercised with great care and an awareness that it will probably result in disciplinary action.

35. For many, keeping promises represents an essential ethical obligation related to loyalty. Since loyalty implies fulfilling commitments, it also carries with it a sense of making and honouring promises. Promises generate expectations on which people and lives depend. Promises may be explicit or inferred from practices over time. Promises constitute the foundation of every employment relationship and of every superior-subordinate relationship. The range of promises upon which personnel have founded expectations includes everything from Canadian Forces Administrative Orders, contracts, and collective agreements to implied contracts, verbal undertakings by superiors, and the “social contract” between the Canadian people and those who serve their interests. When people in an organization make and do not keep important promises, many take that to be proof of a lack of loyalty. Regardless of whether promises are made by superiors or subordinates in the chain of command or by others outside that chain, keeping or not honouring promises has serious effects.

36. Courage. As commonly understood, courage involves facing up to and dealing with anything that is recognized as dangerous, difficult, or a cause of pain, instead of avoiding it. For military personnel, danger and risk are inherent features of military service. Courage is demonstrated in their willingness to confront physical dangers and take life-threatening risks when carrying out assigned missions or when the safety of others is in peril. For both public servants and military personnel, courage is demonstrated when they seek out and use legitimate voice mechanisms. It is also demonstrated when they take a stand publicly, if necessary, for the democratic and ethical values inherent in fulfilling their responsibilities. In a broader context, courage is similar to loyalty in that its ultimate ethical worth is not inherent to itself but necessarily refers to the purpose involved. For example, courage is intimately related to integrity, since it takes courage to maintain our personal sense of wholeness. When professional duty and responsibility require it, the obligation to be courageous implies tenaciously challenging policies, plans, and practices that are legally, ethically, or professionally flawed.

37. Honesty. To be honest is to practice frankness, sincerity, and openness in our dealings with others. In the public domain, it is to use appropriately and prudently the public resources held in trust and to use them for the purposes for which they are intended without being wasted. Honesty is commonly associated with not lying, cheating, or stealing. Thus, to speak of honesty is to invoke a multiplicity of proscriptions: personnel will avoid conflicts of interest, will not take advantage of their positions for personal gain, will not steal or pilfer from the public purse, will not falsify or inflate claims for services rendered or expenses incurred, will not misuse resources held in trust, and will not provide unnecessary services at unnecessary expense. Finally, honesty carries with it the obligations of a witness, the obligation not to remain silent when aware of abuse, harassment, misuse, waste, fraud, and conflicts of interest.

38. Although honesty is singled out in the Statement of Defence Ethics, it naturally brings to mind other ethical obligations. In most cases, actions and practices that are considered honest may also be characterized as being truthful, genuine, trustworthy, and possessing candour. To illustrate the interconnectedness of ethical obligations, let us look at how truthfulness and candour, although distinct from it, overlap with honesty. Truthfulness tends to focus on the factual aspect of the claims we make. For example, it is a quality of statements that are expected to be in accordance with facts, that agree with and can be verified with reality, and that are accurate. In contrast, honesty focuses on the intentions and the beliefs of the individuals making claims. Thus, we could judge an individual to have been very honest in his or her testimony, yet invoke facts to demonstrate that he or she was totally wrong. In such a situation, we naturally distinguish between error in judgement and wilful lying. Although considerations of privilege or sensitivity may justify withholding factual information from third parties in specific types of circumstances, the obligations of honesty and truthfulness clearly do not support lying, deception, or withholding information for decision-making that could prevent probable injury. Candour is another ethical obligation that overlaps with the meaning of honesty. What distinguishes candour from the obligations of honesty and truthfulness is the emphasis that candour clearly places on providing full disclosure of information, including explaining the significance of certain kinds of information, that might affect the decision-making and actions of others. In a defence context, its is easy to appreciate that these three ethical obligations – honesty, truthfulness, and candour – are critical in assessing military capabilities and deficiencies and that they are indispensable to sound policy formulation and decision-making. Inaccurate reporting and less-than-full disclosure can result in military calamities or other outcomes that discredit the organization and undermine trust and confidence.

39. Fairness. In general, fairness implies treating people, groups, and situations justly, equitably, and without bias. To be fair, a decision or outcome must be in accordance with some accepted standard of rightness, which in some circumstances, include criteria of care. For example, decisions adversely affecting the lives of personnel may be objectively necessary and legally justified. However, it would be unfair to implement them with very little care for the lives of the people affected. Fairness, particularly when exercising the public trust, requires decisions and outcomes that focus on others and the public interest without reference to one’s own personal preferences. Fair treatment by superiors and administrators is an indispensable requirement for subordinate trust and loyalty in its leadership and in the organization.

40. The obligation of fairness applies to both administrative and disciplinary matters, and requires not only fair outcomes, but fair procedures for determining those outcomes. In many cases, decisions and outcomes are considered fair if rewards, benefits, penalties, and burdens are distributed according to some objective standard of merit or desert and not arbitrarily. Procedures are considered fair if subordinates are duly informed of the nature of any matter that directly affects them; if they are given adequate notice of any associated hearing or administrative process; if the conduct of hearings and reviews is impartial; if they are given an opportunity to state their views and, if necessary, challenge information presented; and if they have access to an appellate review. The obligation of fairness also means not discriminating against any person or group based on a personal characteristic that is irrelevant to the nature of the decision being rendered or outcome being determined.

41. Since fairness carries with it a requirement to be unbiased, impartiality is an ethical obligation closely related to it. As an obligation to individual members of the public, government suppliers and contractors, and other third parties, impartiality includes providing equality of opportunity in access to employment and services, following fair administrative and management procedures, and applying policies and rules non-preferentially and without bias. For example, in situations where two or more groups or populations are protected by the Canadian Forces, or receive aid and assistance from the Defence Team, impartiality requires that all parties be treated with respect, equal consideration, and without discrimination. However, the obligation to fairness implies avoiding a blind impartiality that is so rigid that it is indifferent and unresponsive to human suffering. Ultimately, fairness requires a fine balance between being impartial and our sense of humanity and justice.

42. Responsibility. If integrity implies a sense of wholeness, of completeness, and of being undivided, responsibility is the ethical obligation that exercises and maintains integrity. On the one hand, responsibility implies that individuals and organizations readily and fully assume what is expected of them. On the other hand, it also means that they are expected to be answerable to someone for their decisions and outcomes. Responsibility requires that individuals and organizations demonstrate the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and that they practice and value what is right. In what follows, we discuss the relationship between responsibility and accountability. In addition, we single out a special link between responsibility and the welfare of others by discussing the obligations of care, of ensuring competence, and of non-injury.

43. Accountability involves an obligation to account to someone for what one is expected or obligated to do. It carries with it the obligation to provide information that is complete and accurate. It requires explanations that facilitate evaluations on the adequacy of performance and services rendered, including procedures followed and outcomes achieved. Just as the Minister is answerable to Parliament and to the Canadian public for the Department and the Canadian Forces as a whole, the obligation of accountability means that public service employees and Canadian Forces members are individually answerable to their superiors for their performance and, within reasonable limits, for the foreseeable results of their decisions and actions.

44. Responsibility requires balancing rationality with care, and acting accordingly. There is no doubt that responsibility carries with it a sense of being responsible for the well-being of those we lead and whose care is in our hands. Care must be practiced in any dependent relationship, but it is especially binding on those with relatively greater power. The ethical responsibility to look after military subordinates is a particularly important one because mutual dependence is critical in military operations and because military superiors are granted exceptional power and authority over their subordinates. Consequently, care and consideration of subordinates involve more than minimum duties of non-injury, impartiality, and related obligations. Subject only to the requirements of the defence mission and the limitations that resources impose, the obligation of care includes a positive duty to reciprocate the trust, loyalty, and service of subordinates by providing for their general welfare and well-being through appropriate policies, programs, and support services. The power of the defence organization is felt by military members and employees every day. Being responsible implies making sure that this power is exercised in a humane and caring way.

45. In any profession or job, competency is important, but it is that more critical for defence personnel because of the gravity of the consequences of errors. Thus, being responsible entails ensuring that personnel are able to dependably and reliably assume commitments and duties. This is accomplished in large part through professional development. Professional development refers to the planned and progressive process of training, education, employment, and other experiences which prepare Defence Team members to perform their assigned tasks and roles to support operational requirements and departmental goals. The obligation to provide opportunities for the role-related professional development of Defence Team members follows directly from the collective obligation of the Department and the Canadian Forces to provide competent service to Canada and Canadians.

46. A special word needs to be said about the relationship between being responsible and the obligation to non-injury. In general, non-injury requires us to avoid harm and injury to others. This obligation derives from the universal value placed on the inherent worth of the each human being and the inviolability of certain basic human rights. It is also a consequence of our natural ability to empathise with other human being beings. As a universal value, the obligation of non-injury represents a basic safeguard to all other ethical values. That means that any contemplated decision or outcome that can be justified primarily on the basis of justice, care, or mission accomplishment but will, nevertheless, cause injury or harm, must be avoided if possible. This ethical obligation has been formalised for military operations through the codification of many kinds of prohibited conduct. In that sense, the international laws of war attest to the importance of avoiding needless cruelties and limiting the use of military force to the minimum required.

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