Conference of Defence Associations & The CDA Institute

May 10, 2021

Strong and effective Canadian Armed Forces are essential to the defence and security of Canadians. The ongoing crisis with sexual misconduct and harmful behaviours within the ranks and failures in leadership at all levels have undermined confidence in the institution. Trust has been lost with many serving and retired members, and Canadians are asking legitimate questions about organizational culture that is too often not meeting the espoused CAF values of “Duty with Honour”.

Fixing these systemic problems must be done first and foremost because taking care of those who serve in our armed forces is the right thing to do. It is also an operational imperative, because in the military, mission success can only be guaranteed by cohesion in the ranks and trust in leadership, both of which have been seriously shaken. Our armed forces won’t be fully effective unless all Canadians willing to serve feel welcomed and safe within the institution, regardless of gender.

We welcome the appointment of former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour to conduct an independent review and believe unequivocally that she must be given all the necessary resources to deliver on her mandate. This includes envisioning a system that rebuilds trust in the reporting and investigation of sexual misconduct as well as dealing with the consequential discipline and corrective measures for harmful behaviours.

Many former senior members of the CAF and DND serving with CDA and the CDA Institute recognize that we did not do enough to address this scourge that is eating away at a storied and essential national institution. To those who raised the alarm and raised their voices, we want to say that we have heard you, and we believe you. We also realize, as former senior leaders, that we collectively failed those that have been harmed during their military service. We missed opportunities to take sufficient action that may have prevented the current crisis facing the Defence Team.

We also recognize that, while the existing Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC) is administratively and technically independent of the military chain of command, many do not see it as sufficiently independent and it is not trusted.

We encourage the Minister of National Defence to take interim policy and legislative changes towards making the SMRC fully independent along the lines of the Office of the Ombudsman while Justice Arbour makes recommendations within the scope of her mandate over the coming year. The creation of another independent review must not slow down or postpone this essential first step, but rather serve as a means to dive deeper into the issues and to consider adding new tools and administrative mechanisms moving forward. All Canadians expect that the government will be transparent in the rapid and full implementation of Madam Arbour’s recommendations.

Many former CAF senior leaders believed for operational reasons that the investigation and prosecution of sexual misconduct cases should rest within the system of military justice. It is increasingly clear that the status quo is not acceptable and we believe that the only way forward is to ensure that all allegations of sexual crimes involving CAF members should be handled or have oversight by civilian authorities. We look forward to recommendations from Justice Arbour, as well hearing from Justice Fish in his ongoing 10-year review of Canada’s System of Military Justice. It is critical that the Canadian Armed Forces have a renewed military justice system to ensure discipline on operations at home and abroad. This would help the chain of command, the Judge Advocate General and the Military Police to better serve and ensure fairness and justice for all members of the Armed Forces.

While there are many important international security challenges facing Canada and our Allies and it is critical to continue the work of implementing the capability needs for our armed forces as outlined in Strong Secure and Engaged, the Conference of Defence Associations and the CDA Institute believe that culture change is foundational and must continue to be addressed as a priority effort for CAF/DND.

We applaud the creation of the Canadian Forces Chief of Professional Conduct and Culture. The mandate of this office will only be achieved if every member of the armed forces along with the community of institutional supporters and stakeholders take an interest and get involved in this critical transformation of Canada’s Profession of Arms.

Leading the Defence Portfolio, the Department of National Defence as well as the Canadian Forces is a tremendous challenge. In our view, it will be critical to have courageous and some fresh innovative thinking from the political, military and public service leadership to guide these efforts

We encourage the Government, the Department and the CAF to be unrelenting in tackling all these problems and pledge our organizations’ support in confronting the crisis and shaping lasting, positive changes in the CAF.”

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The Conference of Defence Associations, founded in 1932, is an umbrella organization for 40 member associations who represent over 400,000 active and retired members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The CDA Institute is a charity organization that conducts research, education, and events to promote a fact-based and rational approach to Canadian security and defence policy.

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