Sunday, June 1, 2014

When is an Organization's Culture Broken?

Last week, the Canadian Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson insisted that the sexual assaults by and against members of the Canadian Forces are not part of the CF's culture.  This raises many questions.  Perhaps the military is just reflective of the society at large, but the statement seemed to ring hollow in part because the military did not have a good grasp of the problem itself.  One might think that having a Colonel/base commander who engaged in multiple assaults and murder might have been a wakeup call.  It is always easy to suggest that the crimes of one person are just that. 

However, when the most senior legal official within the Canadian Forces does not seem to follow the rules, not sending reports to the Minister of Defence, then perhaps the culture is broken.  Major General Blaise Cathcart, the Judge Advocate General, apparently has not been meeting the requirements to file reports to the defence minister for three years running.  Given that most senior officers only serve in a particular job for about three years max, this means that the JAG has been shirking a key part of his job for most, if not all, of his time in office.  And this is the guy whose job it is at the top of the military justice system!  If anyone should be following the rules, it is this guy.  And if this guy is not following the rules, think about what this means for the culture.

What is a culture?  A system of shared understandings of what is appropriate behavior, of conventions, values, and such.  Well, having the JAG violate the rules, especially rules for reporting to the civilians--the Defence Minister and ultimately Parliament and the public--then that speaks quite loudly.  And it is not just this guy being an exception.  Two colonels--one heading military prosecutions and the other heading defence council services--also are not filing their annual reports.  Not since 2010!  I guess it is ok since the violations are on both sides--prosecution and defence? 

The JAG's excuse:
"So with the resources and the priorities that I have at my disposal, I made those decisions and I made them knowing full well the gravity of those decisions," he said.

In other words, too busy to follow the rules. I wonder if he would ever accept that excuse from a private, a non-commissioned officer, or a junior officer.  "Sir, I didn't do what you ordered me to do because I had a bunch of stuff to do, and I felt your orders to me were not as important."
"The most senior legal official in the military is now flagrantly in breach of the National Defence Act, that’s very troubling.  I'm stunned.”
Indeed, but I am sure there is nothing wrong with the CF's culture.  I mean, it is just a few senior officers for several years running....

My next project is on the role of legislatures in monitoring militaries.  It turns out that we will need to focus on this part of the process--do the senior military officers file the reports that are required of them?  Seemed like a non-issue, but I guess not.


Anonymous said...

Examining the culture of the CF is not new so not sure if you're up to speed on the past initiatives post-Somalia.

In 1996, the MND Doug Young undertook a complete review of leadership and management in the CF (The Young Report if you can find it, the Somalia Commission report is less useful). That report led to Officership 2020 among other initiatives and led to the publication of Duty with Honour (worth a read, officers sure have to), the public face of a complete re-professionalization post-Somalia and the establishment of the Canadian Defence Academy. You know about the sackings and here is a primer by 'ol David Bercuson here

What you might not know, is that alongside the very public cuts to training, CMP has been forced to cut those same professionalization initiatives and there is some concern that advanced education for officers and associated professionalization is a secondary concern.

Concerning your thoughts, the free reign and push in funding and capability accorded to the CAF during OP ATHENA has the potential to result in some officers to also neglect this professionalism. Interviews would be required and frank ones would be hard to come by.

That said, these cases are exceptions to the rule and political leadership has clamped down on the CAF since Hillier, resulting in a current CDS that is no more than a spokesman for the PMO. They are forced to abide in public affairs, in procurement (most notably) and beyond.

My $0.02

Anonymous said...

NB my sometimes use of CF is an act of protest.