Part III – General Observations of the SSCG

General Observations

While not meant to be exhaustive, the SSCG offers the following general observations which emerged over the course of our work together and served as a backdrop against which we formed our recommendations.

The military context, structure, and culture give rise to unique challenges and impacts

Experiences such as sexual harassment and sexual assault are not new in the military, nor are they unique to the CAF. However, there is a uniqueness to sexual misconduct in the CAF given the nature of military organizations as “total institutions” where “members of the military live, work, train and socialize together within a closely regulated environment”.Footnote 28

Some aspects of military service that would not typically apply in the civilian context include, for example, the:

  • acceptance of unlimited liability by all CAF membersFootnote 29
  • principle of serving Canada before selfFootnote 30
  • realities associated with universality of serviceFootnote 31
  • possibility of remote assignments and deployments abroad, and associated realities of postings and deployments (e.g. physical separation from normal support persons and systems; close living proximity with non-familial individuals; and inability to separate work and personal realms)
  • command system, with its gendered, hierarchical rank structure, and inherent power imbalances which reflect and reinforce patriarchal, colonialist, heteronormative, and ableist systems and ways of organizing
  • dominance of a hyper-masculine ‘warrior’ ideal
  • preparation, through training, to be exposed to, and commit, violence
  • existence of a separate and distinct justice system
  • reality that trust and group cohesion are so critical to mission success
  • high degree of inter-connectedness of social networks
  • barriers to changing occupations
  • policies regarding living arrangements
  • policies regarding expected conduct and consequences of not complying
  • duty to reportFootnote 32

This context creates particular challenges with respect to reporting incidents of sexual misconduct and seeking and accessing support.

Both within and outside the military, sexual misconduct can have physical, psychological, familial, emotional, spiritual, social, career, and financial impacts that can be immediate and/or persist longer term. However, some aspects of the military context lend additional complexity and can serve to amplify impacts in specific ways. Consider, for example, that:

  • The affected person can have repeated contact with and/or be in very close proximity to the person(s) who harmed them
  • The affected person may have limited contact with family and their support network, or face challenges in accessing support services, increasing their vulnerability
  • Experiences can be overlaid with a profound sense of betrayal – not only by the person(s) who harmed them but also the institution (i.e. “institutional betrayal”), particularly if the incident is mishandled by the institution and its representativesFootnote 33
  • Relatedly, experiences of sexual misconduct may result in “moral injury” and/or “spiritual wounding” in their contradiction to deeply held moral beliefs, values, and expectations
  • The cultural emphasis on team cohesion adds social pressure to refrain from reporting and to accept the behaviours as the cost of belonging and collective unity
  • The affected person may live in fear of potential career implications (e.g. reprisal, getting sent home from deployment, damage to reputation, disrupted career advancement, loss of privacy)

There are also unique logistical considerations when it comes to developing a robust system of support for the CAF

A support system for CAF members affected by sexual misconduct must take into account specific operational realities. Some examples include the:

  • Location of members who are at units on bases and wings around the world; in Primary Reserve and Canadian Ranger Units not co-located with CAF bases or wings, and who may need to undertake significant travel to access support; in remote locations (e.g. ships, austere locations, Canadian Embassies, and NATO and foreign learning institutions); and serving in various time zones
  • Potential for inconsistent or limited access to services and communication systems, for example, in the context of: operational deployments; taskings overseas and Special Forces deployments to undisclosed locations; reliance on military allies or host nation countries with varying support services and standards of care, different languages and cultural beliefs; or reliance, amongst Canadian Rangers, on remote northern communities with limited support services
  • Existence of variations in entitlements to benefits and support between Regular Force and Reserve Force members, and across Reservists, based on the type of service under which an individual serves (i.e. Class A, B, or C)

A ‘one-size-fits all’ approach to support does not work

Every affected member’s journey is different – from their lived experiences, to the types of support they want and need, and length of time during which support is needed. A member’s experience is uniquely shaped by factors such as, but not limited to, their personal history (including history of trauma), gender, race, age, rank, culture, and community.

Tailored approaches are needed.

The CAF must learn to “lean in” to listen to best practices and lessons learned elsewhere

While there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to survivor support, there are acknowledged best practices when it comes to designing effective support systems.

Collectively, what we have learned from those affected by sexual misconduct and from the broader knowledge base, including in the civilian context, is that there are some fairly common support needs, such as to:

  • receive clear, timely, and accurate information about options, resources, and processes
  • be treated with compassion, fairness, dignity, and respect
  • have choice, voice, and control in decision making, to the greatest extent possible
  • be able to access a comprehensive, seamless, continuum of care and support in a timely way

Likewise, there is a need to have in place key elements, such as:

  • a framework that takes into account the social and structural context, and systemic barriers – one that does not over-medicalize the individual but instead is grounded in an understanding of existing power imbalances
  • collaborative relationships between and amongst those who provide support, both with internal and external partners
  • programs that are well-integrated and well-coordinated
  • high quality, competent support, including specialized support (e.g. support that is responsive to gender, culture, race, language, and other factors)
  • access to a comprehensive “menu” or range of support (e.g. transition-related, family- related, informational, emotional, spiritual, practical, legal, as well as peer support)
  • an approach to support that is evidence-informed, and yet flexible enough to continue to evolve as we learn more about effective responses

Many individuals and organizations both within and outside the DND/CAF have perspectives, experiences, best practices and lessons learned to contribute to the development of a holistic

Survivor Support Strategy. Broad engagement efforts are needed to bring in their voices. Effective partnerships are vital to success.

There are several persistent gaps and barriers that need to be addressed

Through a series of informational briefings by the DND/CAF, the SSCG heard about several key gaps, including but not limited to:

  • the absence of specific programs and supports such as: professionally-facilitated peer support; independent legal advice for sexual assault survivors; and Response and Support Coordinators (RS Coordinators) in every region to provide direct support and help survivors navigate complex systems and processes (noting, however, that Budget 2021announced funding for all three of these initiatives during the course of the SSCG’s work)
  • the absence of third party or alternative reporting options
  • trauma-informed responses to disclosures and reports
  • knowledge and expertise within the chain of command in responding to incidents
  • alternatives to investigations by the chain of command where necessary
  • lack of understanding amongst CAF leaders that addressing incidents of sexual misconduct does not solely involve focusing on the behaviours that were wrong but also includes sharing information with, supporting, and accommodating the survivor
  • support in making transitions to civilian services
  • challenges survivors face in obtaining job-related support and accommodations after reporting sexual misconduct to the chain of command
  • support for those who are on deployments/operations (e.g. who may not have ready access to services and/or may fear being sent home or facing other career impacts)
  • well-coordinated and well-resourced collaboration and engagement with survivors, external subject matter experts, and others
  • supports tailored to meet distinct needs (e.g. women, men, BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+, and others)
  • gaps in support for Reservists due to: differential entitlements to benefits; remote locations of service; and lack of clarity regarding support entitlements for Reservists, including among Reservists, Reserve administrators, and at the institutional level

The DND/CAF has the opportunity to transform its approach to how it supports survivors.

This moment demands flexibility, deep listening, innovative thinking, and a willingness to move beyond the status quo. All work to develop a Survivor Support Strategy and implementation plan must ultimately be grounded in an overarching framework that emphasizes culture change.

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