Friday, May 21, 2021

The Failure of Civilian Control: Canadian Edition

 As a scholar of civil-military relations, I have been watching the Canadian scene closely for a few years.  I was not closely following the Deschamps report and its implementation, but as I learn more about it and listen to experts on gender and the Canadian Armed Forces, I realize that civilian control of the military in Canada is really lacking.  No, this is not about the possibility of a coup, it is about whether the CAF will do what the civilians want.  Whenever I talked about civilian control in Canada and how lame the Parliament is in this process, pointing out that the only two civilians that matter are the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence, folks would point to the Department of National Defence and the Deputy Minister.  I would respond that those civilians are not elected, limiting democratic control of the armed forces. But now, I have to go a bit further.

I have been thinking about this since Stéfanie von Hlatky and I interviewed Deputy Minister Jody Thomas and Acting Chief of Defence Staff Wayne Eyre for the BattleRhythm podcast.  For me, the most striking part of the podcast was at the 43:20 mark (or thereabouts) when Thomas says that her views on the Deschamps report were not welcome and that nothing structural was done to implement Deschamps's recommendations.  This is most striking because the DM and the CDS have overlapping responsibilities but are supposed to work as a team.  This interview suggests that Vance and his team left the civilians entirely out of it.  

This does not absolve the civilians of blame or responsibility, but points again to the most relevant civilians--the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence.  I have been harping away for a few months that Harjit Sajjan does not understand the job of the Minister of National Defence, mostly because of how he responded to questions from the Defence Committee about how to deal with allegations about the Chief of Defence Staff.  But the sexual misconduct/abuse of power scandal is deeper than that.  For me, the big question is: why weren't some of the Deschamps recommendations implemented and why was Operation Honour so focused on an element, Duty to Report, that was the exact opposite of what Deschamp recommended?

So, before I get back to civilian control, let me remind myself and whoever reads this what Deschamps recommended and what was implemented (blue) or not (red) or maybe/sort of (purple):

  1. Acknowledge that inappropriate sexual conduct is a serious problem that exists in the CAF and undertake to address it.
  2. Establish a strategy to effect cultural change to eliminate the sexualized environment and to better integrate women, including by conducting a gender-based analysis of CAF policies. [Op Honour really did not aim to change the culture of the CAF, and, as I will discuss further below, the way GBA+ was applied, it really didn't hit lots of core of the sexualized environment.]
  3. Create an independent center for accountability for sexual assault and harassment outside of the CAF with the responsibility for receiving reports of inappropriate sexual conduct, as well as prevention, coordination and monitoring of training, victim support, monitoring of accountability, and research, and to act as a central authority for the collection of data. [Not sure how independent the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre is, but Thomas says in the interview that the data collection remains a problem.]
  4. Allow members to report incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault to the center for accountability for sexual assault and harassment, or simply to request support services without the obligation to trigger a formal complaint process. [Duty to report contradicted this directly, requiring anyone who experienced, witnessed, or heard about sexual misconduct to report.  The experts argue that "Duty to Respond" is a better way to go--to require agencies and personnel to respond to a situation as the survivor wants, as some want treatment/help but not prosecution of the perpetrator.  In the US, one can do a restricted report which focuses on care of the survivor and then later change to unrestricted which brings in the legal process (h/t to Megan Mackenzie for pointing this out to me)].  
  5. With the participation of the center for accountability for sexual assault and harassment: Develop a simple, broad definition of sexual harassment that effectively captures all dimensions of the member's relationship with the CAF.  [Not sure about all of this but the stories of the past three months indicate that the consent issue is hardly clear or well worked out within the CAF--this is something that Stef vH has focused on in her testimony before the Defence Committee and in our podcasts]
  6.  With the participation of the center for accountability for sexual assault and harassment, develop a unified policy approach to address inappropriate sexual conduct and include as many aspects as possible of inappropriate sexual conduct in a single policy using plain language. [Given that there seemed to be different rules for the CDS and other double standards, nope.]
There were more recommendations, but you get the idea.  The point here is that Vance's Operation Honour really didn't follow through on what Deschamps recommended.  Of course, there is no obligation by the government to implement fully an independent report, even if they asked for it.  But this government said they were putting personnel first and put the personnel section of the Defence Review in the front of the Strong, Secure, Engaged document to demonstrate that commitment.  So, one might have reasonably expected that the one person above the Chief of Defence Staff would check in from time to time and see how things were going.  By 2018, there were folks raising questions about Operation Honour and the Duty to Report.  Shouldn't Sajjan have looked at what Vance and his team had done and raised questions?  
A more specific question: the CDS is the one who promotes people within the CAF, such as the Chief of Military Personnel, but if personnel is such an important issue, shouldn't the MND give advice and lean hard on the CDS to pick an individual who might not have had a record of sexual misconduct?  Vice Admiral Edmundson had earned the nickname "Mulligan man" for getting second chances.  That was Vance's decision, but the Minister's job was to oversee the CDS, especially on priority issues.  And not to exaggerate things too much, but Personnel Chief may not be seen as an important job--it is not as attractive as Chief of the Navy or head of CJOC--but Lenin and Trostsky gave personnel stuff to Stalin because they found it boring and look what happened to them.  For the priority issue?  So, again, Sajjan didn't do his job and does not seem to understand his job.

Which gets us back to civilian control of the CAF.  Which civilians are making sure the CAF does what the civilians want?  Not the Minister of National Defence.  Not the Prime Minister who keeps an incompetent MND in place because Sajjan matters a lot for votes and campaign contributions.  Not the House of Commons.  Yes, the Defence Committee did do some work on this the past few months, but tended to stray into mindless point-scoring rather than asking why the CAF did not implement the Deschamps report.  The Status of Women Committee is doing a better job, but the problem, of course, is that neither of these committees nor the Parliament itself have much power to shift money or affect promotions.  They can legislate, sort of.  And they must in order to have not just independent reporting but prosecution of perpetrators.  
The only civilians who have really played the role they are supposed to in Canada's civil-military dynamics are: the media and the outsiders.  Mercedes Stephenson, Amanda Connolly, and those elsewhere who followed up on the story of abuse of power and sexual misconduct have pulled the fire alarm, by providing survivors with a chance to tell their stories and by putting the collective feet of the government, DND, and the CAF to the fire [two fire metaphors, Steve?].  Similarly, those who have been working on this for years--Megan Mackenzie of Simon Fraser; Linna Tam-Seto who is the CDSN's first post-doc; Maya Eichler of Mount Saint Vincent; Stéfanie von Hlatky of Queens, the CDSN, and RSA; Alan Okros of Canadian Forces College; Charlotte Duval-Lantoine of CGAI; Allan English of Queens'; and many others.  They have talked to the media, appeared before the various committees, and been on social media.  But all they can do is speak and write.  
The responsibility for the Canadian Armed Forces falls squarely on just two civilians.  One has delegated the job to the other, and the other does not know what the job is.  Which suggests that the former does not really care that much about this issue.  Justin Trudeau may be a feminist in some areas, but certainly not here.  He has been PM long enough that he owns all of this even if Vance was appointed by his predecessor.  Trudeau kept Vance around even though Vance shirked in the classic principal-agent language--that he did not do what the civilians wanted when it came to the Deschamps report.  And it is on those civilians who failed to oversee, to incentivize, and, if necessary (and it was necessary), find a better agent to do the job.
So, yeah, I am not sure there has been civilian control of the CAF under Trudeau.  And, yes, with that level of commitment, I don't know if the Arbour recommendations, whatever they are, will have more of an impact than those of the previous retired female supreme court justice.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post. These comments are not intended to challenge anything said above, only to add nuance or context. First, the Duty to Report, as problematic as it is in this context is actually a legal requirement imposed by the National Defence Act. I will not belabour that point, and move on hastily. The second point is about the appointment of Chief Military Personnel. Edmundson was never meant to have been CMP. He only got it after the original appointee was retasked (after assuming the role officially) to be the Commander of the Army, when VAdm Norman retired instead of returning to the Vice’s job. The original appointee, Wayne Eyre, would have been a much more suitable choice, given the importance of the implementation of the Deschamps report. Edmundson, took over as he was the in place second-in-command of Personnel Command. His suitability for that job? Well, no excuses here. Guess that’s where we sometimes hide those that somehow make it to rank, but we don’t want in charge.