The persistent, bitter, and harsh reality for sexual assault victims in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was candidly portrayed in a new report released this week by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour.
According to the report, the final report of the Independent External Comprehensive Review (IECR) of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces is a 403-page report that outlines more than 48 recommendations desperately needed to reshape the culture within the CAF.
Arbour made it a point to call out the CAF for ignoring or forgetting hundreds of recommendations made from external and internal reviews over the past few years.
“The CAF has been unwilling or unable to embrace the intent and vision that came from external sources, chasing the letter over the spirit, often the appearance of implementation over its substance, thereby entrenching their ways of operating,” said Arbour in the report.
Arbour hopes that by unveiling these bitter truths, the CAF can revamp its culture for future generations.
Reality for Women
The report states that after being kept out of the Forces for many decades, women of the CAF have not found a welcoming home in Canada’s military.
“When finally allowed to serve, women were made to feel they did not belong. They were denied opportunities to complete fairly and then thrive. They were harassed, humiliated, abused and assaulted and appallingly many continue to be targeted today,” stated the report.
Connecting with women and hearing their stories was one of the parts of the review that stayed with Arbour the most.
“During my review, the poignant stories I heard were of broken dreams and disillusion. Many of these stories have been told before. Efforts have been made to reverse this shameful reality, but much remains to be done,” said Arbour.
Arbour also stated that on a day-to-day basis, the risk women face is greater from their comrades than the enemy and that high-ranking officials today do not encourage their daughters to join the CAF.
The 48 recommendations made by Arbour range from changing definitions and terms to changing the way the CAF approaches recruitment and training.
Most significantly, the report strongly recommends that civilian police and courts should permanently handle all cases of assault and that all complaints related to sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of sex should be directed to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.The 47 Recommendations
Arbour recommended that the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre be renamed the Sexual Misconduct Resource Centre and that the administrative structure of the SMRC should be reviewed in order to increase its independence, effectiveness, and proper place in the Defence Team.
As far as training is concerned, the report recommends, among many recommendations made to the recruitment and training process, that the CAF should put new processes in place to ensure that problematic attitudes on culture and gender-based issues are both assessed and appropriately dealt with at an early stage.
Becoming a Better Institution
“I thank Madame Arbour for the dedication and passion she has put into this report and for helping us to become a better institution. We will do our utmost to ensure that all of the valuable information we’ve received, in this and other reports is strategically considered and that nothing is overlooked. I also thank members of the Canadian Armed Forces, past and present, who have come forward to share their lived experiences. Your perspectives are being heard and integrated into the critical work underway. We will continue to build on this momentum, and the desire for change, setting the conditions for positive and lasting cultural growth,” said Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff.
After the report’s release in a formal session, Minister of National Defence Anita Anand accepted all of the recommendations on behalf of the Government of Canada. And according to DND, work on 17 of the recommendations began immediately. Additionally, DND and the CAF have stated they will analyze the remainder of the recommendations and put together solutions for the way forward.
Additionally, according to a press release, the Minister also confirmed that per Arbour’s recommendation, the Government would work to quickly expand the focus of exit interviews at Royal Military Colleges to include cadets’ experiences with sexual misconduct or discrimination.
Charting a Path Forward
“The report released today charts our path forward and will serve as the basis on which we will deliver meaningful reform. We will continue to work every single day, alongside General Eyre and Deputy Minister Matthews, to do so. I thank Madame Arbour for her comprehensive and detailed report, which will form the cornerstone of our culture change efforts going forward – and I thank all members of the military and the Department of National Defence for their contributions 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,” said Anand in a statement.
According to the press release, the Minister confirmed that the Government would take the opportunity afforded by Mme. Arbour, to inform Parliament no later than the end of this year of the final set of IECR recommendations that the Government does not intend to implement.
On May 20, 2021, Arbour was tasked with conducting a review of policies, procedures, programs, practices, and culture within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Department of National Defence (DND).
The Independent External Comprehensive Review (IECR) received submissions from 350 people, 4000 documents in response to requests for information, hundreds of interviews with stakeholders, Defence Team members and other government entities, and more.Read the Full Report
According to DND, this report builds on the recommendations made by former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Morris J. Fish, in his report of the Third Independent Review of specified provisions of the National Defence Act and their operations, tabled in Parliament on June 1, 2021, as well as on the report on sexual misconduct and harassment in the CAF prepared by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps in 2015.