Statement to the Standing Committee on National Defence (NDDN)
6 April 2021
Mr. Gregory A. Lick
National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman
This is my first appearance before this Committee on the issue of sexual misconduct in the military and it follows my appearance of March 25 before the Committee on the Status of Women. I am here with Robyn Hynes, Director General of Operations for my office.
As Ombudsman part of my role is to be a neutral and objective sounding board, mediator, investigator and reporter on matters related to the DND and CAF. In keeping with that role, I will make the observation that we are watching the issue of sexual misconduct in the military unfold in the media and in Committee testimony with more concern over political and institutional posturing than with fixing the problem. And yet, the issue continues to play out in the real lives of survivors and witnesses who find themselves falling between the cracks of a broken system and fearful of coming forward because of possible reprisal or career ending moves.
This issue has played out so far with conflicting and sometimes incorrect information. Testimony has changed about who knew what when, who had authority to act, what should have been done, and who is accountable. I say enough. Enough of the self-protectionism and deflecting. Enough political foot-dragging. It is time to focus our collective energy on changing culture and establishing processes that will truly serve the individuals who find themselves the subject of misconduct, whether of a sexual nature or any other abuse of power within the military system.
I have previously clarified the role of my office, but let me do so again.
- The Ombudsman cannot look into anything of a criminal nature or that could be a Code of Service Discipline If, in the course of dealing with a matter, there is evidence of criminal activity, then, with the consent of the constituent, the matter is referred to the Provost Marshal -- not to PCO, not to the JAG, not to any other body as has been suggested in previous testimony.
- The Ombudsman reports directly to the Minister of National Defence. Advising the person to whom you report about problems within that person’s organization is generally an expected way of proceeding.
- In the case brought to the attention of the Minister, there was no investigation because the constituent had not consented to one.
- The office of the Ombudsman will not proceed with an investigation without the express consent of the complainant.
I have heard through various sources that there are ongoing discussions within the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department regarding reconfiguration of their systems to address this matter. I am not involved in these discussions, and cannot be, as it would be a conflict of interest to help design processes and then be in the position to review those same processes. I applaud any and all efforts to address this matter, particularly any effort to tackle the enormous task of culture change. Culture change must include assurances that individuals who come forward to call out misconduct or abuse of power in any context, whether sexual, racist, or otherwise discriminatory in nature, will not suffer reprisal or career repercussions.
However, I caution that redesigning processes internal to the CAF and the Department will not be enough. There must be an organization that is external to the chain of command and the department that is charged with oversight of both CAF and DND redress mechanisms. That organization cannot answer to any authority with a vested interest in the outcome of any individual or systemic case.
I have clarified what my office cannot do. Now let me tell you what we will continue to do.:
- We listen and provide constituents with information that is relevant to their issue. Where appropriate, we refer them to existing support services and/or existing redress mechanisms. Our goal is to help constituents navigate a complex system in order to find support and the most appropriate recourse in their circumstances.
- We also have a role in mediating communication breakdowns in a process that is already underway.
- Where a constituent feels that they have been unfairly treated in a process, we may review the steps in that process to ensure that fairness has been observed. and make recommendations to the decision maker to revisit their decision.
- My office can intervene in compelling circumstances, where access to an existing redress mechanism would cause undue hardship or otherwise harm the interests of the constituent.
- In addition to acting as a source of general assistance, mediation, and process reviewer, we also have the authority to investigate issues of a systemic nature. Our investigations are evidence based and result in recommendations aimed at improving the welfare of the defence community.
In recent years, internal mechanisms have been set up within the Department and the chain of command that duplicated functions performed by my office. As our mandate requires us to refer constituents to existing mechanisms, this has had the effect of gradually replacing independent functions with internal ones. While there is value to these initiatives, they are not independent. An external body that has the authority to ensure fairness, confidentiality and protect against reprisals is needed.
If there is genuine political will for a body that is external to the chain of command and the Department, then I say look no further. It would take relatively little re-tooling for my office to expand its support services to the Defence Community to:
- provide counselling services
- provide additional statistical reporting on issues brought forward - without the requirement to report on individual cases and
- Strengthen our existing capacity to ensure all constituents are treated fairly and that our recommendations are implemented by reporting to Parliament without a political filter
The Canadian Forces are unlike any federal department or agency. Matters affecting the CAF affect national security and impact every MP, riding and citizen of this country. It is crucial that Parliament be provided with the information needed to ensure that cabinet takes appropriate action in addressing matters that could bring the military institution into disrepute and even affect recruiting and retention.
The office of the Ombudsman was created more than 23 years ago to be an independent and neutral investigator of issues brought by members of the Defence community who have exhausted existing avenues of redress within the system. This office acts as a safety net where the existing internal systems fail. We are part of the solution – not the whole solution.
What this office requires if we are to continue being part of the solution is legislation and a permanent existence. Right now, this office exists because of Ministerial Directive and a DAOD signed by the CDS and the DM. Our existence could be ended with the removal or change of any one of those instruments. Other countries such as the UK, Australia, and Germany have set up their military oversight bodies with full independence, legislated mandates, and the ability to report to Parliament. It could be done in Canada if the political will exists. So far, this has not been the case.
We are at a crossroad now. I believe that it starts with culture change supported by strong redress mechanisms inside the CAF and DND, with a fully independent and external body to ensure that victims of any type of misconduct or unfairness do not fall between the cracks.
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