Monday, December 13, 2021

DND/CAF/Govt Apology for Sexual Misconduct, Past and Present

 Today, the leadership of the Canadian Defence Team apologized for decades of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination.  This was required by the settlement of a class action suit that had around 19,000 individuals who filed claims.  It was also required by the realities of the past year.  While harassment and assault have been part of the military and defence experience for decades, the past year has seen senior leadership be revealed as abusers of their powers and violators of the trust given to them by the public and by their subordinates.  

I was glad to see Minister of National Defence Anita Anand include abuse of power in her statement, apologizing on behalf of the government.  Each government, not just this one, has failed its people.  She noted that the governments failed their duty to protect them, to provide justice and accountability.  This is not just an historical grievance as recently keeping around a Minister who so badly failed for far too long is part of this record of failure.  Anand has started making decisions that suggest a break with the previous Minister.  The mission she faces is a difficult one with many challenging tradeoffs and complicated situations, and she will face much resistance.  She will have to change the basic pattern of Canadian civil-military relations--she will have to reduce the autonomy the CAF has had for generations.  The military has proven that they can't handle this stuff on their own, and, indeed, its leaders have often demonstrated that they can't be trusted to be left to their own devices.

Chief of Defence Staff General Wayne Eyre went second.  The statement he read was quite a good one.  "We have betrayed that trust.... it breaks my heart."  "On behalf of an institution that failed you, I apologize." "“I am sorry. We sincerely apologize for the trauma that you have experienced. To those who suffered in silence, we are sorry. To those who shouted until you could shout no more at great personal risk only to have no one listen to you, we are sorry.”  "Do I have the moral authority to apologize?"  He addressed that the harm continued under his watch.  Once again, he referred to this crisis as existential. The question is whether the folks at lower levels see this the same way.  I am not so sure.  I did like that Eyre noted that the reforms will not always work, that they will make mistakes.  The path forward is not obvious.

 Deputy Jody Thomas went last.  It was important to recognize that the problem is not just within the CAF but also in DND.  It is also important to note that DND didn't do its job to protect those in the CAF.  I still don't understand how the DND/CAF relationship has worked over the years.  Thomas said on our podcast that Vance pushed DND out of implementing the Deschamp Report, but that contradicts what I had heard about how CAF and DND shared the personnel file. 

To address both the sexual misconduct crisis and the larger pattern of abuse of power, the Minister of National Defence is going to have to engage in multiple axes of effort:

  • fundamentally re-shape the pattern of civil-military relations so that civilian management of much stuff is normal;
  • civilian oversight is also normalized, engaged, and expected;
  • institutions governing recruitment, retention, and promotion are changed;
  • educational and training systems are revised to remove the sense of entitlement and impunity that certain pathways tend to produce;
  • focus more on domestic operations and less on special operations as the model for service;
  • military justice should be reformed at least as far as the Fish report recommends and probably further than that;
Well, that's a start.  There is obviously more to do.  This much is going to be very hard, but it needs to be a strong, consistent effort that is not just seen as a blip but a transformation of how the Minister, DND, and the CAF relate to other and how they do their jobs.  Anything short of that will make today's apologies somewhere between a bit and entirely hollow depending on how far the reforms go.  The apologies are important, but they require follow up--changes in how business is done.  


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