Message from the Acting Chief of the Defence Staff: Update to the Canadian Armed Forces on culture change

July 12, 2021 - Defence Stories

Message from the Acting Chief of the Defence Staff

Over the past months, there has been a tremendous amount of work in setting the conditions for making long-term, sustained improvements to our culture to ensure we are a truly inclusive institution that can attract, retain and develop talent from all segments of Canadian society. Even without the highly stressful and demanding circumstances of operating in a pandemic and our longest domestic operation in history, these months have not been easy, as we have suffered many setbacks and come under unprecedented and intense scrutiny. Despite these challenges, you have continued to perform admirably, protecting Canadians here at home and our interests overseas, and for that I know Canadians are grateful.

The last several months have, however, clearly illuminated the urgent need to change our culture, not only to meet the expectations of all of our members and our citizens, but to ensure our future operational relevance. A month ago, the Canadian Armed Forces Chief Warrant Officer (CAFCWO) and I issued a short document through the Chain of Command for all in a leadership position, CAF Leader Tenets for Moving Forward, and in it we describe our current difficult situation as an opportunity for making real, meaningful change. We also discussed ownership, and in this context it means every one of us recognizing that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) culture must change, and we must do our part. We must all be ‘all in’.

From my perspective, the approach of “Listen, Learn, Act” is being embraced down the Chain.  Most of us have been involved in difficult, uncomfortable discussions that provided disturbing perspectives on aspects of our institution to which many of us were naively or willfully blind. I, for one, have had my eyes opened to the untapped potential we have missed because of the harm that has been caused. Our efforts to listen and learn must be continuous, and they need to lead to thoughtful action in an ongoing reflective cycle. It is clear to senior leadership that there is a tremendous pent-up desire for action, beyond words, that must now take centre-stage, so that we are not perceived as just providing lip-service to the legitimate concerns we are trying to address.

The intent with this communique is to provide you an update on the major efforts underway to effect this change – to act in a thoughtful way. Many mutually-reinforcing initiatives and efforts are in the works, and it is critical that we maintain a holistic understanding of all that we are doing. These can be grouped into four ‘streams’.

Stream 1 – Chief Professional Conduct and Culture (CPCC). The core of CPCC is now established under the command of LGen Carignan, who recently issued an update. They will build a deliberate, comprehensive plan for culture change for the long-term, but concurrently in the short-term they are conducting Defence-wide consultations; issuing leader guidance for creating inclusive teams; building on our nascent restorative services to provide complainants, respondents and Chains of Command with a powerful tool to repair harm and re-establish relationships; aligning and streamlining the complaint and reporting system with the needs of those affected at the forefront. We are developing CPCC’s functional authorities, giving the organization the ability to mandate change across the institution.

Stream 2 – External Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces. Former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour has begun her important work, and is very keen to help us develop and make changes. We welcome and need this external look at our institution. I have told her we will be fully transparent and welcome her recommendations, (including independent reporting and external oversight as determined), a sentiment I expect to be echoed across the CAF as we humbly recognize that we do not have all the answers. In fact, any person who wishes to share any information, opinion, or participate in this review can do so here (you are now leaving the Government of Canada website).

Stream 3 – Organic Initiatives. As should be expected, many of you have not waited for direction. Grasping the importance and the context of our challenges, you have implemented local solutions. These may be the most important and long-lasting as they come from the grassroots level and are fed by the need for change there. Examples include:  reinforcing or creating local advisor groups and advisors; the creation of culture officers on a number of our Royal Canadian Navy Ships; the trialing and introductions by the Canadian Army of the Sexual Misconduct Workshop Training, developed and delivered by a CAF member and survivor; as well as at the 4th Cdn Div Training Centre Meaford, the recent creation of a new local Defence Women’s Advisory Organization; a focused effort by the RCAF to leverage their quarterly Vector Check program; and Wing-level committees established by junior ranks to solicit grassroots proposals on local culture change initiatives. Additionally, many units and formations have engaged local expertise, including through the Honorary Colonel community, to inform initiatives.

The list is longer and CPCC will capture those initiatives which meet with success as best practices, share them across the Defence Team, and provide institutional policy cover where necessary.

Stream 4 – Key Supporting Efforts. There are many other critical efforts that are concurrently underway, some led by independent actors, which form part of the holistic understanding.

As you can see from the multitude of efforts, there is no single silver bullet to change our culture, and it will not happen overnight. It will take vigilant and sustained effort from all of us. Our progress will not be linear. We are very much a human organization, and as such will, without doubt, have setbacks, mistakes, and disappointments, but together we will learn, heal, and grow.  I am completely committed to achieving our goals and expect leaders at all levels to take whatever action necessary to ensure our success. We will be the CAF the country will so desperately need as we respond to international and domestic events. Our readiness to answer this call of duty will by necessity be underpinned by a culture that is respectful, inclusive, and welcoming for all.


Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre

Acting Chief of the Defence Staff

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