DND/CAF Sexual Misconduct Apology – Chief of the Defence Staff’s Apology
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This is an important day that will be difficult for many.
We are confronting — and acknowledging — a number of difficult truths.
For far too long, too many members of the Canadian Armed Forces and Defence Team family have suffered harm…
…and lived in fear of reprisal for reporting that harm.
Far too many of you carry the burden of…
…and have lived with experiences, some for decades now, of…
…sexual assault, sexual harassment, discrimination, and exclusion based on your sex, your gender, your gender identity, or your sexual orientation.
There is absolutely no place for this in our institution.
And we acknowledge and recognize that there are exclusionary aspects of our institutional culture that are not aligned with the core values we aspire to uphold, or the expectations of those we serve and protect – this must change.
It takes an incredible amount of courage to step up to serve your country in the Armed Forces.
To be willing to put service before self. To sacrifice much — perhaps all — for your fellow Canadians.
To know the risks and still put your life in danger to protect the people and the country you love.
You should expect to be safe from harm on your own base, wing, or ship — among others who wear the same uniform.
But many of you suffered harm at the hands of your comrades in arms.
People you should have been able to trust.
People you needed to be able to trust.
People who were supposed to be like family.
In our line of work — in the profession of arms — trust can mean the difference between life and death.
And we have betrayed that trust.
It has been betrayed by colleagues and leaders.
And by this institution because not enough has been done to stop it.
The harm has been done not just to members of the CAF and our Veterans, but also to public service employees, and to staff of the Non-public funds, Canadian Forces, who serve alongside us.
As someone who has given my entire life to this institution…
And who loves it so deeply…It breaks my heart.
And today we offer – I offer – my most profound apologies.
On behalf of an institution that has failed you, on behalf of those who didn’t listen, on behalf of every person who took no action — we profoundly and sincerely apologize.
My apology is extended to every member of the Defence Team, past and present, who has been harmed or affected by sexual misconduct — those who are claimants of the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence Sexual Misconduct Class Action, and those who are not.
We acknowledge that we did not do what was necessary to keep you safe.
I know some of you may have questions about my moral authority to deliver this apology.
I have asked those questions too.
Particularly because your leaders, and, those who preceded us, did not make sufficient change.
The harm you suffered happened on our collective watch.
On my watch.
Whether through naiveté, or ignorance — both inexcusable — the problems persisted. The harm continued and it has yet to be sufficiently acknowledged or addressed.
We have — far too slowly — come to realize the terrible toll this has taken on our people. We have not done the deep, transformational work needed to address the underlying cultural issues that contribute to sexual misconduct and other forms of harm.
We unfairly placed the onus on those who were harmed to come forward to effect change.
This should not have been your burden to carry.
It is with tremendous gratitude and respect that I acknowledge and thank all those who have come forward to share their experiences in hopes of making positive change to our institution...
And all those who supported others and those who have taken action to demand change within the CAF.
You served honourably by seeking to improve and secure a better future for our people.
We let you down.
We let down your many colleagues who served and continue to serve with honour.
We let down Canadians, who want to be proud of their Armed Forces, but find that increasingly difficult with each new revelation of harm.
And the failure to prevent these harms has not only robbed many CAF members of their careers — but it has also robbed the CAF and the country we serve of so much potential…
…of great people who could have been the next generation of leaders…
…of potentially talented sailors, soldiers, aviators, and operators who will never sign up and discover their potential.
To restore faith in our military…we must change our culture.
We must build trust.
There is no currency as difficult to earn or as easy to squander.
It will take tangible actions to make real and lasting change.
This time we will not fail.
This is my commitment to you.
My commitment to your families and to the loved ones, who suffer beside you.
To the memories of our teammates who suffered but are no longer alive to hear these words.
To our communities and to our country.
This work will be complex and difficult, and it demands a complete unity of purpose.
It is work that we have already begun.
Much of this work is the result of sustained efforts by survivors, the representative plaintiffs in the class actions and those who supported them, advocacy groups, and others, including a number of our own colleagues within the Defence Team who have devoted themselves to culture change.
Because it’s at the grassroots level where true and lasting change will take hold.
As one survivor recently shared – change turns us inward, it causes us to look at ourselves, our beliefs, our moral compass, how we hear and interpret others, it teaches us to recognize our biases, and challenge our cultural and societal views.
I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on this institution, the cultural challenge we face, why our past efforts have failed to deliver the necessary results…And what we must do to break this cycle and forge a new path.
I’ve struggled to find the right balance to ensure those affected by misconduct have the compassionate support they want and need…
…while ensuring that those who are accused, or found to have caused harm, are treated proportionally, and assured due process.
We must support survivors, and act with empathy.
We must listen and respond appropriately.
I understand from speaking with survivors that our institution’s failure to adequately deal with cases often creates a sense of betrayal that is more devastating than the incident itself.
You told us that you suffered alone.
That you felt isolated and silenced.
As though you had no one in your corner.
I have read survivor testimony.
I have heard of some of your experiences.
Of being targeted for harassment, violence and abuse.
Suffering incidents of hazing that were, in reality, sexual assault.
Of having to take special measures just to protect yourself – because nobody else was looking out for you.
Some of you have shared that you are exhausted by the dehumanizing effects of daily micro-aggressions.
That no matter how hard you try, you’ve been told that you don’t belong in our ranks, in the eyes of your leaders and teammates.
I have heard about members of the Defence Team whose potential has gone unfulfilled…
…whose sense of purpose has been diminished…
…whose dreams of a rewarding career of service to their country have been crushed.
…of members seeking the camaraderie of service who found instead hostility, betrayal, or worse – Physical assaults…
Assaults on your mind and on your spirit.
On your dignity and your humanity.
And how, too often, your trauma was inflicted by someone in a position to make or break your career – clear abuses of power.
In a hierarchical inisitution where we profess to put our people first – this is beyond intolerable.
And I have heard how the policies, processes, and programs we have in place to serve you, have in many cases amplified your trauma.
We cannot — must not — hide from these truths.
You have been wronged.
You have been harmed.
And then when you sought help, we let you down.
Personally, and on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces, I am sorry.
We sincerely apologize for the trauma you have experienced.
To those who suffered in silence, we are sorry.
To those who shouted until you could shout no more, at great personal risk, only to have no one listen to you, we are sorry.
To those who came forward and were told to be quiet, to not rock the boat, to think of your career, or to prioritize the career of the person who harmed you, we are sorry.
To those who came forward and did not receive support but rather faced retribution or retaliation, we are sorry.
To those who have advocated tirelessly for change and have been disappointed time and time again, we are sorry.
We apologize for the harm that has been done to you, to your careers and to your dreams.
And we acknowledge that as you have suffered, so have those around you — your families, friends…and all those who love and support you, for this too, we sincerely apologize, we are sorry.
Every day, people wearing the uniform of the Canadian Armed Forces serve proudly all over the world.
They’re defending Canada, and its interests, and the values and principles we as Canadians cherish.
Including – fundamentally – the right of every person to be treated with respect and dignity.
When members of the Defence Team are not treated with respect and dignity on their own bases, wings, and ships, and on deployments, our institutional hypocrisy is intense…
And the sense of betrayal is immense.
I will ensure, we will ensure, this moment is a turning point.
This apology is not the end. Instead, we hope it is an important step forward.
We are committed to listening, and, to learning from, those who can teach us.
And to doing so with humility, respect and compassion.
We will make mistakes. There will be setbacks and there may be more difficult truths that we need to confront. Some of our new initiatives will miss the mark – these are issues that invariably come with change.
But we will be honest and transparent about mistakes in order to learn quickly and continue to move forward, together, towards our goal of a Defence Team where everyone feels welcomed, supported, empowered and inspired each and every day.
We all have a role to play. We know the real work is realizing transformative change that runs deep — to our very foundations — and permeates our entire culture: our behaviours, our attitudes, and our beliefs.
It is a tall order. A daunting task. The greatest challenge of our times.
Because it is existential.Our relevance, our effectiveness as a military force, our continued value to Canada and Canadians, depends on our success in acknowledging and ending harm.
I am convinced we can succeed.
The day I stop believing this…
Is the day I can no longer serve.
We can make the Canadian Armed Forces an example for the 21st century.
Taking the elements of our culture that are worth celebrating — traditions of idealism, of courage, of being part of something bigger — and changing the exclusionary aspects to become even better.
A strong, resilient, and adaptable military…
Ready to confront an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable future…
Ready to meet any threat, any challenge, anywhere in the world…
Ready to defend Canada and Canadians as the threats to our security multiply,
Because at the heart of that strength, resilience, and adaptability is the very best talent and energy that this vast, diverse country can offer.
We cannot change the past.
But we will change the present and the future for the Canadian Armed Forces.
The will to do better, be better, is real.
We will harness this energy and turn it into tangible, human-centric, trauma and survivor-informed action.
This is the journey ahead of us.
We owe nothing less than this to you, to all members of the Defence Team, to Canadians and to the future of this force and this country.
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