Independent External Comprehensive Review of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces – Final Report and Next Steps
June 1, 2022 – Ottawa – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces
On April 29, 2021, the former Minister of National Defence announced the launch of an Independent External Comprehensive Review (IECR) of current policies, procedures, programs, practices, and culture within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Department of National Defence (DND). In May 2021, the DND/CAF engaged former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour to undertake the review. The aim of this review was to shed light on the causes for the continued presence of harassment and sexual misconduct despite efforts to eradicate it, identify barriers to reporting inappropriate behaviour, assess the adequacy of the response when reports are made, and to make recommendations on preventing and eradicating harassment and sexual misconduct.
This review builds on the report prepared by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps in 2015. The Deschamps report was instrumental in identifying what the problem is; this new review takes a broader look at our workplace dynamics and why harmful behaviours persist, and makes recommendations on preventing and eradicating harassment and sexual misconduct.
The review includes the views and Defence workplace experiences of current and former DND employees, CAF members and contractors. To assist with these interactions, the DND identified a Liaison Officer who facilitated timely access to DND and CAF documents, organizations, and to DND employees and CAF members.
The IECR team also conducted a review of the recruitment, training, performance evaluation, posting, and promotion systems in the CAF, as well as the military justice system’s policies, procedures, and practices to respond to allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct. It also considered all relevant independent reviews concerning the DND/CAF, along with their findings and recommendations.
On May 20, 2022, the final IECR report was provided to the Minister of National Defence.
The comprehensive report details the causes of the continued presence of sexual harassment and misconduct in the CAF, and provides 48 recommendations that fall within eleven areas of focus that seek to prevent and/or eradicate sexual harassment and misconduct in the CAF.
Those areas range from the CAF’s definitions of sexual misconduct and harassment, to the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC) mandate and activities - including its independence and reporting structure, to issues around recruitment, military training and colleges, and internal and external oversight mechanisms.
On May 30, 2022, the Minister of National Defence was joined by Mme. Arbour, as well as the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Wayne Eyre, and Deputy Minister of National Defence, Bill Matthews, at a press conference to discuss Mme. Arbour’s final IECR report, and to outline the Government’s ongoing efforts and immediate next steps with respect to the IECR’s recommendations.
In the last year, the Defence Team has established the Chief, Professional Conduct and Culture, expanded the reach, independence, and services offered by the SMRC, stood up the External Comprehensive Reviews Implementation Committee (ECRIC), and has started to provide quarterly updates to Canadians on progress. These efforts align with some of the IECR’s areas of focus and recommendations, and will continue in earnest.
In addition, on November 4, 2021, Minister Anand accepted an interim recommendation from Mme. Arbour to refer the investigation and prosecution of Criminal Code sexual offences from the military justice system to the civilian justice system, and since receiving this recommendation, the Government has worked with federal, provincial, and territorial partners to begin the referral of sexual assaults and criminal offences of a sexual nature to civilian authorities. For example, in January 2022, the RCMP began to accept transfers of new files from the Military Police. In addition, in February 2022, Quebec’s Ministry of Public Safety advised their police force to accept new files and transfers based on their capacity and highlighted that a detailed protocol was in progress. Several provincial and municipal police forces have also accepted transfers on a case by case basis. The Military Police stands ready to investigate whenever a civilian police agency is unable to do so.
IECR Recommendations and Immediate Actions
On May 30, 2022, the Minister of National Defence announced that she welcomed and agreed with all of the recommendations in Mme. Arbour’s report, and that work will begin immediately to implement 17 of the IECR’s recommendations - either through new efforts, or by strengthening existing programs already underway.
This includes recommendations that relate to a number of reforms to the SMRC – an important resource for DND employees and CAF members who have experienced sexual misconduct. In particular, the Government has accepted and will immediately move forward on recommendation 12, which is that the SMRC to be renamed to the Sexual Misconduct Resource Centre and recommendation 13, which is that the SMRC’s role is to evolve to primarily provide resources for complainants, victims, and survivors of sexual misconduct.
Madame Arbour’s 14th recommendation is that the SMRC facilitate immediate access to legal assistance to victims of sexual misconduct, across the country, which the Government has also immediately accepted. The Government will also be immediately moving forward on recommendations 15, 17, and 18, which relate to enhancements to the role and structure of the SMRC.
The Government will also immediately move forward on recommendations 20 through 22, which pertain to CAF recruitment and training processes, and will create probationary periods to better assess trainees, outsource some recruitment functions and increase the professional competence of recruiters, and ensure that problematic attitudes on culture and gender-based issues are dealt with early on. In recent months, the Government has added an external evaluation to the promotion process for senior leaders in the Canadian Armed Forces – and this process will serve as a foundation to further reforms in the promotion and selection process.
The Government will also be moving forward on recommendation 32 immediately, which states that, in fulfilling the Minister of National Defence’s responsibility in approving the promotions of General and Flag Officers, she should be assisted by a senior civilian advisor, not currently a member of the Defence Team, and work to ensure that General and Flag Officers reflect the demographic composition of our country.
The Government has also accepted and will immediately move forward on recommendations 33, and 35, which seek to improve the evaluation and certification processes for Generals and Flag Officers, and other commissioned and non-commissioned officers.
Madame Arbour’s recommendations 41 and 42 are that the Assistant Deputy Minister of Review Services should brief the Minister of National Defence directly on all investigations related to sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and leadership culture in the Defence Team, and on statistics and activities related to other particular investigations, for which the Government has accepted and will be moving forward on in the near term, too.
The Government has also immediately accepted Madame Arbour’s 45th recommendation, which is that the Chief, Professional Conduct and Culture post a public online database of research and policies relating to sexual harassment and misconduct, gender, sexual orientation, race, diversity and inclusion, and culture change.
Mme. Arbour lays out, in her final two recommendations, procedural guideposts in her report, which the Government has immediately accepted and will implement. Recommendation 48 is that the Minister of National Defence inform Parliament of any recommendations that the Government does not intend to implement by the end of 2022, and recommendation 47 is that the Minister of National Defence to appoint an External Monitor, mandated to oversee the implementation of recommendations. The External Monitor will report directly to the Minister of National Defence, and will publish regular public reports.
In addition to the recommendations for which immediate action will be taken, there are three sections in Mme. Arbour’s report that contemplate systemic change, and the Government has committed – in addition to the remainder of Mme. Arbour’s recommendations – to studying, analyzing, and developing plans to respond to them.
Madame Arbour’s fifth recommendation is that Criminal Code sexual offences should be entirely removed from the jurisdiction of the military justice system, and that they should be prosecuted in civilian criminal courts. This is a bold and system-changing recommendation, and the Government will examine it in earnest, all while Madame Arbour’s interim recommendation remains in effect.
Recommendation 29 highlights the need to urgently address longstanding culture concerns at Royal Military College campuses in Kingston and St-Jean. As the Government studies this recommendation, it will concurrently work to create a safer and more inclusive learning environment for our cadets – including by adopting Madame Arbour’s recommendation to expand the focus of the exit interview to include cadets’ experiences with sexual misconduct or discrimination.
Finally, recommendations 36 through 40 address the clear need improve the diversity of senior leaders in the organization, and the Government will ensure that its response to this recommendation is in line with our commitment to taking steps to set and meet clear goals for diversity in our military – to ensure that this crucial institution represents the demographic composition of our country.
Going forward, the Defence Team will carefully analyze the various other IECR recommendations and will engage, in short order, with stakeholders, survivors, current and former Defence Team members and more, on their delivery.
The DND/CAF will take a holistic and thematic approach to the analysis of more than 500 culture-related recommendations and tasks indexed from 19 different sources in order to achieve an inclusive and complete implementation plan by the end of this year. These 500 recommendations include both reports where the DND/CAF are the recipient and DND/CAF reviews of reports from other defence departments, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, in a proactive effort to apply lessons learned from our allies. Key to developing a successful approach to the implementation of an action plan will be a clear understanding of the intent of recommendations, with a focus not just on the letter but also the spirit of what external reviewers recommend that the Defence Team achieves.
The External Comprehensive Reviews Implementation Committee (ECRIC) is the DND/CAF organization that, over a multi-year period, which will oversee the coordination of the implementation of the recommendations of a number of external comprehensive reviews. As the work to implement this multitude of recommendations is complex and engages a number organizations both internal and external to the DND/CAF, the ECRIC will, among other things:
- Serve as a centralized and coordinating governance body for analysis, planning, and implementation of accepted recommendations from external comprehensive reviews;
- Oversee the prioritization, direction, and coordination of the implementation of all Third Independent Review (Fish Report) and IECR Report recommendations and those from other external comprehensive reviews;
- Act as the principal advisor to the Minister of National Defence, the Deputy Minister, and the Chief of the Defence Staff on all matters related to external review implementation;
- Establish a system to ensure corporate knowledge transfer and continuity; and
- Leverage business technology systems and development tools.
In support of ECRIC, to ensure a permanent governance structure for this day-to-day work, the management of this process will be led by the newly established Director General External Reviews Implementation Secretariat (DGERIS).
The IECR report charts our path forward, and with its help, we will deliver meaningful reform. This comprehensive and detailed report will be a cornerstone of our culture change efforts going forward, and will help ensure we deliver reforms that stand the test of time – to strengthen, grow, and improve this crucial institution.
In addition to the Final Report of the IECR, the ECRIC’s work will look holistically at recommendations from other reports such as:
- External Review Authority (Deschamps): “Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the CAF” – published March 2015
- Auditor General: “Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour in the CAF” – published November 2018
- Senate Committee on National Security and Defence (SECD): “Sexual Harassment and Violence in the CAF” – published May 2019
- Third Independent Review Authority (Fish): “Third Independent Review of specified provisions of the National Defence Act” – published June 2021
- Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO): “Sexual Misconduct Within the CAF” – published June 2021
- Minister’s Advisory Panel: “Systemic Racism and Discrimination” – published April 2022
- Report: Report of the Independent External Comprehensive Review
- News Release: Government releases final Independent External Comprehensive Review of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces and outlines next steps to address and eradicate sexual harassment and misconduct
- Independent External Comprehensive Review
- Terms of Reference – Independent External Comprehensive Review of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces - Canada.ca
- Conduct and Culture
- DND/CAF conduct and culture change progress tracker
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