DND/CAF Sexual Misconduct Apology – Deputy Minister’s Apology

Speech

To be delivered by Deputy Minister Jody Thomas

13 December 2021

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Thank you, Minister Anand, General Eyre.

Good afternoon.

Today, I would like to directly address all persons who have been harmed by sexual harassment, sexual assault, and discrimination based on sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation while working—in the past or present—at the Department of National Defence, in the Canadian Armed Forces, or as part of the Staff of Non Public Funds, Canadian Forces. 

This includes friends, families and colleagues.  

I especially want to recognize the class members of the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence Sexual Misconduct Class Action—whether you have submitted a claim, or decided not to.

This apology is to all of you.

As Deputy Minister of National Defence, I am here to formally apologize for the harm caused by sexual misconduct within Canada’s Department of National Defence.

My organization and its leadership—together with the leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces—has failed to do its utmost to protect our employees, CAF members, and Staff of Non Public Funds from a wide range of harmful behavior.

To all of you who have been excluded, harassed, humiliated, demeaned or assaulted while working in the Department of National Defence, or harmed by persons who work within the Department of National Defence… I sincerely apologize.

To all who faced reprisals or retaliation when you tried to report your experience or seek assistance…I sincerely apologize.

To those who have been told explicitly or implicitly that your safety did not, or does not matter… That you were not an equal part of this Defence Team… That you had done something to deserve what you experienced …or that you were not important enough for your experience to be seriously credited, examined or addressed… I sincerely apologize.

If you—as a parent, spouse, partner, child or other family member—have witnessed and absorbed the enduring pain of watching a loved-one or friend carry the burden of their lived experience for days, months, years or decades…I sincerely apologize.

If you, as a bystander to sexual misconduct, felt powerless upon seeing how leadership reacted or failed to react to the behaviour…I sincerely apologize.

And to all Defence Team members present and past, including our honoured Veterans: I sincerely apologize: that—through the failures of our two institutions to act—a misapplied sense of authority and unhealthy power dynamics persisted for too long in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.

For too many, that reality has resulted in a workplace that was not safe, supportive and respecting of all persons.

Today, I also apologize for my institution’s role in exacerbating harm to our employees, members and staff, including systems that were designed with the intention to help, but instead created barriers to affected persons.  

In too many cases,

willful disregard, or

entitled obliviousness

have worsened the impacts of harm.

In this Defence Team, people—emboldened by a misguided sense of authority, power or privilege—have caused great harm to those within their authority or their immediate team.

There is no possible justification for such betrayal of trust and responsibility. This betrayal is all the more distressing in an organization such as ours, where trust, honour and teamwork are fundamental to why and how we serve Canadians.

As leaders, collectively, we did not always consistently and adequately hold such persons to account. In some cases, we permitted them to move into a different job, to do different damage, and perpetuate the cycle of toxicity and harm elsewhere.  

For this failure, I truly apologize.  

I offer this apology with humility, with remorse for the enormity of the distress caused, and without any expectation that my words alone will be sufficient to atone for harm done.

I offer it as just one action of many now underway, and soon to come, to address past and current wrongs, and to support—as much as possible—every person’s path to healing.

I can’t and won’t speak for anyone else, nor pass judgement on anyone’s decision to speak or not speak about their own truth.

We must all process our own experiences and act upon them according to what is right for us.

Speaking personally, during my career I have witnessed misogyny, homophobia, hazing, exclusion, open contempt, and abuse of authority of varying degrees that was typically justified under the guise of feeding esprit de corps.

When I reflect on my own service in the Navy, I struggle with my own decisions decades ago to simply ignore behavior directed at me, and that was rooted in that misapplied sense of power.

In truth, I think I was afraid that if I spoke up… if I complained…if I made a fuss…then I would not be allowed to participate, that women would be considered ‘weak’, and that we couldn’t take it.

And so, I endured what was happening to me and around me hoping to prove that I was tough enough, and deserved to be there.  

I didn’t understand at the time that such behaviour was not about me, but rather, about power, and the abuse of it..

No person who has experienced harassment or abuse of any kind in this Defence Team should believe themselves at fault, or be made to feel at fault by any member or part of either institution.

We will do what is right—for those harmed and for the future of National Defence.

The Defence Team already has work underway to propose fundamental changes to key elements of CAF systems, processes and governance.

This includes the way we prevent and address sexual misconduct, provide support for those who have been subjected to it, strengthen military justice, and better ensure military and civilian institutional alignment to protect those who work within this organization.

As we move ahead, we commit that we will be more consultative, collaborative and transparent in terms of our approach, more conscious of our actions and the outcomes we are seeking.

At our collective core, we all want a strong, safe and united team that stands up for what is right and good, and takes to heart our duty to care for one another. Not just through our words or aspirational statements, but in our actions.

Such a culture of inclusion, of true team spirit, will flourish when we—as individuals and as a collective—choose to put aside behaviours that are not in our team’s or our country’s best interests.

When we accept that this change is not a nice-to-have but an imperative to achieve.  

Through each of us committing to do what is right as individuals…

…by holding one another accountable…

…the people behind the Department and the Canadian Armed Forces will ensure we have the institutional willpower to implement and follow-through on what needs to change.

We can do this—I know we can—and together, we can create a respectful, safe and enduring Defence Team culture of which all of us and all Canadians can be proud.

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