Minister of National Defence Press Conference Remarks for the Release of the Final Report by the Honourable Louise Arbour

Speech

May 30, 2022 – Ottawa, Ontario

As delivered

Thank you so much, Madame Arbour.

During global conflicts, forest fires, floods, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the members of the Canadian Armed Forces have risked life and limb to protect Canadians.

The Canadian Armed Forces undertake dangerous work and make tremendous sacrifices to keep Canadians safe. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

The most fundamental duty we have to our military members is to ensure that their workplace is one where everyone feels safe, protected and respected by their own colleagues.

Last April, my predecessor, Minister Sajjan, asked former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour to conduct a full and independent external review of the policies and culture of the Department of National Defence.

Our government asked Madame Arbour to undertake this critical task given the prevalence of harassment and sexual misconduct in this organization – and in recognition of the fact that existing efforts to address systemic problems had fallen far short of their intended goals.

Today, I confirm that I have received and carefully reviewed Madame Arbour’s final report. I am pleased to publicly share this report, particularly her series of recommendations, which will guide our efforts to improve and strengthen the culture of this institution.

The report is extensive, with 48 substantive recommendations addressing a wide array of issues – such as the definitions of sexual misconduct, the military justice system, military colleges, and the role of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, to highlight just a few – so that we can rebuild trust.

I spoke with the Prime Minister this morning, and at the outset, let me be clear that we wholeheartedly agree with the significant issues that Madame Arbour has identified – and we thank her sincerely for this profound review.

I recognize that some may express skepticism about our ability to achieve, and our commitment to pursue, reform.

Let me clearly state my belief that this is the moment to create change. And we expect the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence to establish meaningful reforms that stand the test of time.

Ongoing culture change initiatives

Before I address the Report – I will review several ongoing initiatives to reform the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces – many of which closely align with Madame Arbour’s recommendations.

  • Last year, we launched the Chief Professional Conduct and Culture group under the leadership of Lieutenant-General Carignan. This group is currently developing an overall culture change strategy to be published in December, and I sincerely thank Lieutenant-General Carignan for her leadership.
  • Over the past year, we have also expanded the reach, independence, and services offered by the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Denise Preston, and so many others at the SMRC, Canadian Armed Forces members, National Defence employees, and Veterans alike can all receive the same high standard of support when they reach out, including through the SMRC’s confidential, 24/7 helpline.
  • The SMRC is also coordinating a Restorative Engagement program for members of the DND/CAF Heyder-Beattie Class Action and Defence Team members affected by sexual misconduct. This program enables our institution to hear from thousands of class members who suffered from misconduct in our workplace – so that their experiences can inform our culture change efforts.
  • We are also defining our expectations in terms of conduct for all our military members through the new Canadian Armed Forces Ethos: Trusted to Serve, to be published soon.
  • And, we are strengthening and modernizing the Military Justice System. Next month, the Declaration of Victims’ Rights will come into force, which will afford victims of service offences the same rights as victims in the civilian criminal justice system.
  • And then finally, on November 4, 2021, I accepted an interim recommendation from Madame 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 that recommendation, we have worked closely with federal, provincial, and territorial partners to begin the referral of sexual assaults and criminal offences of a sexual nature to civilian authorities. I have written to relevant provincial and territorial ministers, and updated Madame Arbour on our progress throughout.

For example:

  • In January, the RCMP began to accept transfers of new files from the Canadian Armed Forces.
  • In February, Quebec’s Ministère de la Sécurité publique advised its police department to accept new files and transfers based on its capacity and noted that a detailed protocol was being developed.
  • Several municipal and local police forces have also accepted transfers on an ad hoc basis.

I thank my colleagues, Ministers Lametti and Mendicino, for their collaboration as we pursue this change, and recognize that there remains more work to be done. In this regard, I will be writing to provincial and territorial partners this week about the path forward.

To smooth the case transfer process, our officials will collaborate even more closely with provincial and territorial authorities. We are making plans to establish a formal, intergovernmental table to build durable transfer processes that will serve Canadian Armed Forces members well in the long-term.

Response to Madame Arbour’s report

Now, let me turn to the new actions that we will take in response to the 48 recommendations in Madame Arbour’s report.

First and foremost, Madame Arbour lays out what I refer to as procedural guideposts. There are two:

  • First, she recommends that, by the end of 2022, I inform Parliament of any recommendations that we do not intend to implement, and I commit to doing so.
  • Second, in response to Madame Arbour’s final recommendation, I will appoint an External Monitor, mandated to oversee the implementation of these recommendations. The External Monitor will report directly to me, and will publish regular public reports.

Our response to all of these recommendations will be clear, open, and collaborative.

I can announce that we are immediately beginning to work on, or continuing efforts already underway, to implement 17, or over one-third, of these recommendations.

Some of the most important recommendations require further analysis, planning, and consultation, and we will develop plans to address these remaining recommendations as quickly as possible, and we will report to Parliament on our progress.

I will now discuss the recommendations that we will address immediately – either through new efforts, or by strengthening programs already underway.

Let me address some key areas:

First, Madame Arbour recommends a number of reforms to the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre – an important resource for our employees and members who have experienced sexual misconduct.

  • Madame Arbour’s 12th and 13th recommendations are that we rename the SMRC to the Sexual Misconduct Resource Centre, and that the SMRC’s role should evolve to primarily provide resources for complainants, victims, and survivors of sexual misconduct. I accept these recommendations.
  • Madame Arbour’s 14th recommendation is that the SMRC facilitate immediate access to legal assistance to victims of sexual misconduct, across the country, and I also accept this recommendation. We will make legal assistance available to victims across Canada, on the full range of issues related to sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces.  I also accept and will implement the 15th, 17th and 18th recommendations, which reflect improvements to the role and structure of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre.

I will now turn to the recommended changes to the Canadian Armed Forces recruitment and training processes—specifically the 20th and 22nd recommendations.

  • I accept all these recommendations. We will create probationary periods to better assess recruits, we will outsource some recruitment functions and improve the professional skills of recruiters, and we will ensure that problematic attitudes about culture and gender issues are addressed early.

Next, let me discuss recommendations relating to promotions, selection, succession planning, and career management.

  • I want to say, first off, that since my appointment, I have chosen to add external evaluation to the promotion process for senior leaders – and this process will serve as a foundation to further reforms in promotion and selection.
  • Madame Arbour’s 32nd recommendation states that, in fulfilling my responsibility in approving the promotions of General and Flag Officers, I should be assisted by a seniorcivilian 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. I accept this recommendation.
  • I also accept Madame Arbour’s 33rd and 35th recommendations, which are intended to improve the assessment and certification process for general officers, other officers and non-commissioned officers.

Finally, allow me to address Madame Arbour’s recommendations on strengthening internal and external control.

  • Madame Arbour’s recommendations 41 and 42 state that the Assistant Deputy Minister of Review Services should brief me 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 types of investigations. I accept these recommendations.
  • Madame Arbour’s 45th recommendation 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. I accept this recommendation, and we will work towards implementing it.
  • And, as I have already said, I accept the 47th and 48th recommendations. I will inform Parliament of any recommendations that we choose not to implement, and I will appoint an external monitor to ensure implementation, who will report to me.

Three areas of systemic change

In addition to the recommendations that we are acting upon immediately, I will now address three other sections of Madame Arbour’s report. These three sections contemplate systemic change – and, in the coming months, we will study, analyze, and develop 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, as she has outlined today, and that they should be prosecuted in civilian criminal courts. This is system-changing recommendation, and we will examine it in earnest, all while Madame Arbour’s interim recommendation remains in effect.
  • The 29th recommendation notes the need to resolve the long-standing culture issues on the Kingston and St-Jean campuses of the Royal Military College. None of our officer cadets should face harassment or discrimination during their time at a Royal Military College.

Canadians can rest assured that, over the coming months, we will work to create a safer and more inclusive learning environment for our officer cadets, particularly by adopting Madame Arbour’s recommendation of expanding the scope of the exit interview to include the experiences of officer cadets in relation to sexual misconduct or discrimination.

  • Finally, recommendations 36 through 40 address the clear need improve the diversity of senior leaders in the organization – a goal that is near and dear to my heart. I absolutely agree that we must take 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.

Implementation and accountability

Now, let me discuss the path forward, following the release of this important report.

I have been in touch with Madame Arbour regularly since my appointment, and can confirm that we are aligned in our views of the problem and how we should address it.

While I have listed 17 of Madame Arbour’s recommendations that are in progress or which will be acted upon immediately – this is just the beginning of our response.

We will act quickly to analyze, review, and plan our responses to each and every one of Madame Arbour’s recommendations. I will personally be evaluating whether and when we can implement these recommendations efficiently and effectively.

There is no doubt that we will work with survivors’ and victims’ groups throughout our efforts. I will meet with these stakeholders in the coming weeks to understand and hear their views on the recommendations in this report.

And, to further ensure that our institution acts on recommendations from Madame Arbour and other external reviewers, we did create the External Comprehensive Reviews Implementation Committee – or ECRIC, earlier this year. ECRIC will coordinate and oversee our action plan based on these reports, and ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

Further, we will keep Canadians informed about this important work through quarterly briefings, and the Pathways to Progress online tracker. This tracker is publicly available, and provides an overview of each of our lines of effort around conduct and culture change.

Conclusion

Now, let me conclude.

Last December, General Eyre, former Deputy Minister Jody Thomas, and I offered a sincere, heartfelt apology to those who have suffered from the scourge of sexual misconduct and harassment in service of our country.

I believed then, and I believe now, that apologies are most meaningful when they are coupled with action.

I will continue to work hard every day, with General Eyre and Deputy Minister Matthews, to deliver results.

I thank Madame Arbour for her comprehensive and detailed report, which will be a cornerstone in our future efforts for culture change—and I thank all members of the Armed Forces and the Minister of National Defence who contributed to Madame Arbour’s efforts.

The time for action is now, and together, we will deliver reforms that stand the test of time – to strengthen, grow, and improve this crucial institution.

And if I could close with a quote from Madame Arbour herself, “Meaningful change will rest on the political will and determination of the civilians who oversee the Canadian Armed Forces. Still, it will not happen without the support of CAF leaders, and ultimately, the good will of its members, who are – every day – entrusted with the duty to protect our country, and who do so on our behalf.”

Thank you, merci, meegwetch.

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