Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO)
25 March 2021
Mr. Gregory A. Lick
National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman
Good afternoon, Madam Chair and committee members,
This is my first time appearing before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. The issue of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed forces is not new. It is, however, newly at the forefront of public consciousness and the subject of study of both this Committee and the Standing Committee on National Defence. I think that we all agree that there is a need to collectively find a way forward to finally stamp out this problem and ensure that members can trust that their complaints and concerns will be dealt with in earnest.
There have been conflicting statements in recent weeks regarding the role of my office in addressing complaints of sexual misconduct within the military. I would like to provide clarity on this matter today.
First, my office does not have authority to investigate criminal offences of sexual assault. Neither does it have authority to investigate sexual misconduct matters that would result in charges under the Code of Service Discipline.
Second, I must stress that my office cannot and will not investigate matters without the consent of the complainant no matter what the nature of the complaint. In my predecessor’s testimony before the Standing Committee on National Defence, we heard that the complainant did not wish to be identified and did not wish to pursue an investigation, but hoped that the information could be brought to the attention of someone who could affect change.
Third, the current reporting structure of the Ombudsman is directly to the Minister of National Defence, not to the Privy Council Office, or any other body. This is a critical point that needs to be made in order to correct the record. Had I been faced with the same facts, I would have done exactly as my predecessor did. I would have reported the facts within my direct reporting structure. There was no other body to which the matter could have been referred, given what we know of the member’s wishes.
Regardless of the solutions proposed to address culture change or to ensure that survivor’s come forward, I would hope that they take into account several important points:
In specific cases of sexual misconduct, it is crucial that victims have control over how and when their complaint moves forward. Victims must be empowered to make their own choices about what steps to take next. As Justice Marie Deschamp said in her 2015 report, the “victims should not have to bear the burden of the complaint process”.
Victims of sexual misconduct must not fear reprisal or possible career consequences for making complaints. This is not a new problem, nor is it limited solely to sexual misconduct. It applies to all forms of misconduct and unfairness in the armed forces. Victims are less likely to feel safe coming forward without the assurance that their complaints will be dealt with by a mechanism that is free of outside interference or control. This is why there needs to be a mechanism external to the chain of command and any other vested interest, political or administrative.
My office was established more than 20 years ago outside of the chain of command but with administrative ties to the department and reporting to a minister of the party in power. We have been making the argument for full independence since our creation, but there has been no political will to act. This issue of sexual misconduct is an unfortunate illustration of how constituents fall between the cracks of a closed system with no fully independent recourse mechanisms.
We have heard bits and pieces of information in the media and in testimony before committees that consideration is being given to creating a new and independent mechanism to address matters of this type. There have been no details about what this will look like. For the record, my office has not been consulted.
Whatever approach is taken, the body that addresses this issue must have full administrative independence, be external to the chain of command, have a legislated mandate, and a direct reporting relationship with Parliament. Anything short of this will not provide victims with the assurances they need to come forward and have these matters dealt with.
I now stand ready to take questions from the committee, Madame Chair.
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