Part I – Introduction & Context
This Summary Report shares the work, insights, and recommendations of the Survivor Support Consultation Group (SSCG) in fulfilment of its role.
The SSCG was formed in 2020 as one of the key commitments of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)–Department of National Defence (DND) Sexual Misconduct Class Action Settlement.
Through Schedule N of the Class Action, the parties agreed to a process and mandate to guide development of a comprehensive Survivor Support Strategy Framework and Implementation Plan, as well as a plan for ongoing survivor stakeholder engagement, while ensuring that subject matter expertise is integrated.
The SSCG brought together three class member representatives and three representatives of the DND/CAF. Our work was supported by three external subject matter experts (SMEs) with expertise on issues central to supporting survivors.
Despite the wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives amongst SSCG members and SMEs, we all came from a place of shared desire for, and commitment to, fostering real and transformative change with and for survivors, and an openness to reimagining support systems in order to advance that aim. As well, all came to the table with an openness to exploring the gendered and cultural dimensions of sexual misconduct, along with the way in which some populations within the CAF are at a greater risk of experiencing sexual misconduct and responses that do not adequately meet their needs.
In meeting our mandate, we strove to be evidence-informed, and to consider recommendations and advice from survivors, external SMEs, formal reviews, along with surveys and other research. We explored promising practices related to sexual misconduct and survivor support from Canada’s military allies and from other Canadian jurisdictions.
Over the course of its work, the SSCG held meetings that focused on reviewing relevant policies, procedures, and training through a series of informational presentations from key members and units of the DND/CAF community. These briefings from the DND/CAF provided opportunities to ask questions and reflect upon the CAF’s current approaches to providing support. The SSCG members shared their observations, experiences, and perspectives during spirited discussions, together with the three SMEs through their active participation and contributions to dialogue, the presentations they gave, and written reports they submitted.
A Rapidly Evolving Landscape
Pre-planning for the work of the SSCG envisioned that the group would meet in person, as possible, and hold in-person engagements with other key stakeholders. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SSCG had to adapt its plans and timelines, and met virtually throughout 2020-21.
Beyond the pandemic, the landscape around the SSCG continued to shift in significant ways. On 2 February 2021, Global News reported allegations of sexual misconduct against the recently retired Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS).Footnote 1 This news created shock waves and profound impacts throughout the CAF, as evidenced, for example, by the increased calls for support placed to the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC). Just three weeks later came further news that the current CDS was stepping aside after media inquiries confirmed that he was the subject of a sexual misconduct-related investigation.Footnote 2 On 31 March 2021, the Chief of Military Personnel likewise stepped aside amid allegations of sexual assault.Footnote 3
With such serious allegations surfacing, two separate House of Commons committees undertook studies on sexual misconduct in the CAF. The Standing Committee on National Defence (NDDN)Footnote 4 began its study on 19 February 2021, and the Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO)Footnote 5 on 23 March 2021. Although the two committees interviewed many of the same witnesses, NDDN focused more on the allegations from a political and accountability perspective, while FEWO focused on the experiences of those in the CAF who are survivors of sexual misconduct, particularly women.
Another notable development arose on 24 March 2021, when the CAF announced through a letter to all members that Operation HONOUR was coming to an end:
Operation HONOUR has culminated, and thus we will close it out, harvest what has worked, learn from what hasn’t, and develop a deliberate plan to go forward. We will better align the organizations and processes focused on culture change to achieve better effect.Footnote 6
The letter further signaled that the CAF was ready to explore external review and recommendations, as well as an independent reporting chain in order to deal with sexual misconduct and other problems.
Approximately one month later, on 19 April 2021, Budget 2021 included major announcements related to sexual misconduct in the CAF. It outlined investments of $236.2 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, and $33.5 million per year ongoing to the DND and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), including $158.5 million over 5 years and $29.9 million per year ongoing funded from existing resources to expand work on military sexual misconduct. Specific announcements related to survivor support included to:
- “strengthen accountability mechanisms, promote culture change in the military, and provide a safe place for survivors to report misconduct and access the services they need”
- “implement new external oversight mechanisms to bring greater independence to the processes of reporting and adjudicating sexual misconduct within the military”
- “enhance internal support services to victims, including access to free, independent legal advice and enabling military members to access services without making a formal complaint”
- expand the existing sexual assault contribution program to provide support to community- based sexual assault service providers outside major urban military centres
- increase the reach of the SMRC’s Response and Support Coordination (RSC) Program to additional locations across Canada
- pilot online and in-person peer support groups for CAF members and veterans who experienced sexual misconduct during their service, tailored to military experienceFootnote 7
On 29 April 2021, the Minister of National Defence (MND) announced the launch of an independent external comprehensive review of current policies, procedures, programs, practices, and culture within the DND/CAF, with the aim of examining harassment and sexual misconduct, identifying barriers to reporting, and assessing the adequacy of the response when reports are made.Footnote 8 The Review is being conducted by Madame Louise Arbour, whose mandate includes to provide recommendations aimed at preventing and eradicating harassment and sexual misconduct, through interim assessments and recommendations as well as a final report.Footnote 9
As we were preparing this Summary Report, the Third Independent Review Authority concluded; the MND tabled the report in Parliament on 1 June 2021. In the report, the Honourable Morris J. Fish provides the MND with 107 recommendations, a majority of which pertain to the military justice system, including how issues of sexual misconduct are addressed.Footnote 10 Chapter 2 of the report is devoted to the issue of sexual misconduct, and sets out three priority areas for recommendations: removing the present duty of those affected by sexual misconduct to report their experience to the chain of command; providing free and independent legal advice to those affected by sexual misconduct; and implementing as quickly as possible the Declaration of Victims Rights provided for in Bill C-77.Footnote 11
Finally, on 17 June 2021, FEWO tabled its reportFootnote 12 in the House of Commons. The report provides 21 recommendations for the Defence Team to address sexual misconduct in the CAF, which focus on: addressing reports of sexual misconduct in the CAF; holding senior leadership accountable; and creating a safe and inclusive workplace. FEWO’s report requires a Government Response to be tabled by 14 October 2021. While the NDDN likewise worked to draft a report, it ultimately did not finalize and table it before the committee rose for the summer break.
Collectively, these recent watershed developments present an important opportunity to reach more survivors and close the service gaps that far too many experience. One of the key challenges is how to build on the momentum created through these events and continue to expand and enhance support services to reach all survivors of sexual misconduct – but to do so in a way that is attuned to, and driven by, the wishes of survivors themselves.
The deeply troubling allegations that have been emerging anew are adding to uncertainty and lack of trust with regard to the DND/CAF’s commitment, resolve, and ability to undertake transformative change. It is quite likely – in fact, almost certain – that the distrust we have seen amongst CAF members, former and current, and others, including amongst the SSCG and its SMEs from time to time, will continue.
Concern regarding the DND/CAF’s culture, policies, and procedures around sexual misconduct is not a new development. We can expect that it will continue as the Defence Team works to rebuild trust and enhance survivor support.
The SSCG and its SMEs held a meeting on 4 March 2021 to reflect on the recent media disclosures and allegations. We are particularly concerned about the possibility that the current quickly evolving landscape could lead to uncertainty and have the unintended consequence of discouraging survivors from seeking support. CAF members who have experienced sexual misconduct must continue to be encouraged to seek confidential support from the SMRC or another qualified resource.
In our view – having spent many hours over the last several months listening, discussing, and debating about these issues and challenges – the CAF community is at an important point of inflection. In one direction on the curve, the DND/CAF can institutionalize recent changes announced this year, such as through significant investments promised in Budget 2021, but insufficiently address the culture and, in all likelihood, continue to face a crisis of confidence and leave sexual misconduct as an ongoing problem with survivors unable to access the kind of support they need and deserve. Or, in the other direction, we can embrace together the opportunity to make significant and lasting progress.
Our position is that the approach we have set forth in this Summary Report – one that emphasizes the need to undertake broader, more holistic, inclusive, and collaborative engagement – is an important step towards building better support for survivors. We acknowledge, however, that the opportunity could easily be lost if appropriate leadership is not exercised, if deep dialogue and listening do not happen, and if the community as a whole fails to both expect and fully mobilize real and transformative culture change.
If the opportunity is lost, the consequence will be more testimonials like the many we have heard in public fora such as in the news, on social media, in Parliamentary Committee meetings, and in private conversations with survivors this year. Testimonials of CAF members, current and former, and others who have directly experienced sexual misconduct. Testimonials of harm, fear, fractured trust, trauma, moral injury, institutional betrayal, spiritual wounding, secondary victimization through unsupportive responses and retaliation, and truncated careers. Testimonials that bear little resemblance to the expressed values of the CAF.
The SSCG believes that there is a need to apply three core principles to the development of a Survivor Support Strategy. They are:
- cultural humility
These three principles should be understood as cutting across all of the key themes and recommendations identified in this Summary Report. For example, a key next step is to undertake engagement with diverse survivors and stakeholders to fine tune details of a Survivor Support Strategy and implementation plan. That process, and all other engagement processes related to addressing sexual misconduct in the CAF, should use the above three principles as a cornerstone and guide.
Key Themes, Goals, and Recommendations
In the course of our work together, the SSCG heard about gaps and barriers that stand in the way of CAF members who have experienced sexual misconduct from being fully supported. Based on meetings, presentations, discussions, and analysis of research on promising practices in supporting survivors, we share, in this Summary Report: our overarching observations; identified priority areas of action (i.e. goals); and recommendations.
Generally, the goals and recommendations provided in this Summary Report can be thought of as addressing five key themes and, as such, are organized that way. The key themes include:
- engagement, partnerships, and research
- support, especially to address service gaps
- communication and information
The goals included here must be discussed and tested in conversation with many others through a holistic engagement process that includes the experiences and expertise from diverse survivors, advocates, SMEs, and CAF members from all ranks.
As well, the goals and recommendations outlined in this Summary Report are not meant to be exhaustive. The SSCG explored numerous topics and issues; these have been noted for follow up in further work to develop a Survivor Support Strategy.
Some issues raised during the consultation process were seen in different ways by group members. As such, our Summary Report does not necessarily represent unanimity of opinion among all members on all points. The issues and challenges presented by sexual misconduct in the military are difficult and complex, and so it is to be expected that there are multiple perspectives on how to intervene.
We also approach these recommendations with the knowledge that recent events have been incredibly challenging and difficult for so many members of the CAF community, but in particular survivors of sexual misconduct. While we have sought to address some of the concerns in our recommendations, we also recognize that the discussion continues to evolve around us as we conclude our work.
Overall, our recommendations are intended as a foundation from which to build and move ahead with further work to develop a Survivor Support Strategy and implementation plan for CAF members affected by sexual misconduct.
The Need to Ground Efforts in Culture Change
As alluded to already, a central observation of the SSCG’s work and resulting recommendations is that efforts to enhance survivor support are inextricably linked to, and cannot be compartmentalized from, the DND/CAF’s broader initiatives focused on awareness and prevention, organizational culture change, increasing the diversity of the CAF, and addressing hateful conduct. All of these share a common moral imperative to move toward compassion, respect, dignity, and inclusivity for all, and a need to recognize that the ultimate goal must be to prevent sexual misconduct and other forms of harm from happening in the first place. Indeed, a central observation and finding of the SSCG is that work to develop a Survivor Support Strategy must be framed by, and linked to, prevention and culture change initiatives, and vice versa. There is no real support without prevention and culture change. And adopting holistic approaches to support is a cornerstone of prevention and culture change. Thus, all of these initiatives must be joined up to the greatest extent possible.
Experiences of sexual misconduct in the CAF were publicly brought forward in 1998, and again in 2014, through national reporting in the media. Those reports came with calls for changes to the overall CAF culture, and for improved response and support for those affected.
Deeper insight into the need for improved support was gained through the External Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the CAF. The Review examined CAF policies, procedures, and programs related to sexual misconduct, including their effectiveness. Based on extensive interviews and focus groups through which it heard from over 700 individuals, and through a review of relevant CAF policies, programs, and procedures, the resulting final report by the External Review Authority (ERA) [Deschamps Report]Footnote 14, released in March 2015, emphasized the need for dedicated resources, policies, and strategies to support affected members. The Deschamps Report:
- provided ten recommendations, which continue to play a guiding role today
- concluded that sexual misconduct in the CAF is a serious problem
- emphasized the need for dedicated resources, policies, and strategies to support those affected by sexual misconduct
- underscored that support must be complemented by ongoing measures focused on culture change, coordination and monitoring, accountability, training and awareness, prevention, and research and data
A central finding of the ERA was that there is an underlying sexualized culture in the CAF – one that is conducive to more serious incidents of sexual harassment and assault, and particularly hostile to women and 2SLGBTQ+ people. The Deschamps Report affirmed the importance of strengthening support to members affected by sexual misconduct, for example, by: creating a centre independent from the CAF to receive reports of sexual misconduct and provide support; simplifying and streamlining reporting processes; and improving investigation processes and overall response to those affected.
The CAF’s initial response to the Review, the April 2015 CAF Action PlanFootnote 15, included supporting members affected by sexual misconduct as one of four interconnected lines of effort, along with understanding sexual misconduct in the CAF, responding effectively to incidents of sexual misconduct, and preventing incidents.
Related efforts in 2015 to reinforce support included the establishment of:
- Operation HONOUR – An Operation Order that set out the CAF’s mission to eliminate sexual misconduct. Reporting to the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, the Directorate Professional Military Conduct – Operation HONOUR (DPMC-OpH)Footnote 16 served as the CAF Office of Primary Interest for Operation HONOUR, and was tasked with putting in place institutional change efforts to address sexual misconduct and promote a culture of respect and dignity for all. Operation HONOUR included enhancing support to affected members as its main effort.
- The SMRC – An independent centre reporting to the DM of National Defence that provides confidential support services to CAF members affected by sexual misconduct, as well as guidance and recommendations to the DND/CAF on related policies and programs.
Since the Deschamps Report, the message that support must be enhanced has consistently been re- affirmed in reports and reviews, validated by the available research and data, and – most importantly – made abundantly clear by survivors of sexual misconduct themselves.
In 2016, the DPMC-OpHFootnote 17, in cooperation with the SMRC, along with various internal and external stakeholders, examined existing services and undertook a comparative Victim Needs Analysis with services provided by others (e.g. Allied nations, the Canadian public and private sector), to identify key service provision gaps. The analysis identified several gaps with respect to support for those affected by sexual misconduct in the CAF, such as:
- Limited capacity in providing specialized support that is responsive to the specific needs of men and 2SLGBTQ+ people
- Inconsistencies and a lack of standardization in the level of specialized care and support available across organizations and regions across Canada, as well as in the context of deployed operations and in postings or assignments outside Canada (OUTCAN), including a lack uniformity in standards and availability of Sexual Assault Examination Kits (SAEKs)
- Limited options for seeking support within the chain of command without triggering an investigation, in the context of the duty to report
- Lack of alternative reporting options such as restricted reporting through third party organizations
- Limited continuity of service across providers, particularly once members leave the CAF
- Lack of CAF-supported access to legal assistance and/or legal advice
- Lack of structured options for peer support within the CAF
In 2017, the DND/CAF released Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy (SSE) which, in acknowledgment of ongoing gaps and challenges, included as one of its priorities to: “Provide a full range of victim and survivor support services to [CAF] members.”Footnote 18
And in 2018, a further call to commitment was articulated in the Office of the Auditor General Review of the CAF’s Response to Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour (OAG Review)Footnote 19 which examined the progress made by the CAF in taking action to respond to, understand, and prevent sexual misconduct, and to support those affected by it. The audit scope included Regular and Reserve Force members of the CAF. While acknowledging improvements made so far, the Review concluded that the CAF had not yet fully accomplished what it had intended in responding to and supporting those affected, and that some members still do not feel safe and/or supported (see Box 2, “2018 OAG Review”). Key gaps were identified in relation to:
- Awareness – No single, consistent list of services; and less awareness of services outside the National Capital Region
- Coordination – Fragmented approach to support; lack of coordination and information sharing between services; uncertainty about the role of specific services (e.g. whether a support service or formal reporting body); and those affected having to consult more than one source before finding the support needed
- Availability and access – Limited hours of operation for some services; reduced services based on location; no in-person support at the SMRC; and CAF mobile apps are not always available on international operations
- Subject matter expertise – Not all service providers had enough specialized training to respond to those affected by sexual misconduct
The OAG’s main recommendation regarding support was that the CAF:
“…establish an integrated, national approach to victim support to ensure it fully addresses the needs of any member who is affected by [sexual misconduct]. The approach should ensure that members have access to a consistent level of service and specialized support regardless of where they are serving.”
Subsequent to the OAG review, as part of a broader research program to support Operation HONOUR, the Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis (DGMPRA) conducted a Victim Support Study on behalf of the DPMC-OpH to better understand the experiences of people who sought and/or received support after being affected by sexual misconduct while serving in the CAF. The research project began in 2017 and was completed in mid-2018. As part of that research, 67 serving and retired members of the Regular and Reserve Forces were interviewed to explore their lived experiences in relation to: the types of help they had sought, both formal and informal; the quality of care received; and challenges and gaps in available services. While the majority of participants felt supported by at least one CAF representative after being affected by sexual misconduct, most participants reported numerous negative experiences while seeking support and felt some degree of dissatisfaction with the CAF response to these incidents, and with the level of care and/or support they received overall.Footnote 20 Challenges were particularly noted in relation to workplace support and accommodation. Many of the limitations identified in the study supported the findings previously reported elsewhere.
This broad context and history is important to understanding the work of the SSCG.
Since the time of the Deschamps Report, changes have been made to improve the way in which:
- the chain of command responds to incidents
- military police and legal authorities treat affected members and their cases
- specific support services are provided
- data are collected and trends are monitored
A number of orders, policies, directives, and other foundational documents have also been developed to improve the overall response to sexual misconduct.
However, important support-related gaps and barriers have remained despite the numerous recommendations made in these previous reports and initiatives to tackle the gendered and sexualized culture within the CAF. How to close these gaps to better support survivors of sexual misconduct, and how to effectively bring in the perspectives of key stakeholders while doing so, is the central focus of the work of the SSCG.
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