I finally completed reading the Arbour report. I am not as familiar with many of the acronyms or units, so it required much flipping back and forth. Overall, it is an impressive document since it takes seriously the reality that there have been many reviews. It sometimes addresses why those other reviews didn't get implemented, and sometimes it could have taken more seriously the resistance these reviews faced. In this post, I am just going to address the themes in the text and what I make of them and what might be missing. In the next post, I address the recommendations, the patterns of acceptance by Minister Anand, and suggest what happens next.
To begin with, Arbour argues that a key part of the problem is that the CAF is an insular organization that resists external input: "it is the collective failure of an organization that has preserved such a high degree of self-regulation
and resistance to external influence and progress." And by external, she means the Department of National Defence, the Minister of National Defence (when there is not a passive one), the various reviewers, and on and on. That the Minister and DND are seen as external, I think, is part of the problem. It should be seen as a hierarchy where the MND is at the top, not as an outsider but the one who owns all that is under her.
I would go further--that the CAF is not just skeptical of outsiders but that it is an organization that expects to be autonomous and expects deference to their superior expertise. This is not that different from most modern militaries that drank too much Huntington, but the CAF is a bit more so. Even in conversations with some of the more critical retired generals, I hear them say that the only civilian that they should have to listen to is the Minister, that the unelected Deputy Minister and those under him often don't know what they are talking about and so on. What is striking in much of the document is how much has previously been left to the military to figure out--what to implement, how to implement it, and so on. And that clearly has failed. Repeatedly failed.
Maybe this is my bias, but the story of reform is really about instilling civilian control of the military. One of the more worrisome lines in the document is:“Ultimately, the DND supports the CAF." Why is this worrisome? Because departments of defence vary across the democratic world from those who see their jobs as protecting the military to those who see their jobs as overseeing the military. You can guess which end of the spectrum I prefer.
One of the consistencies in the document are references to ADM Review Services, a unit within the Defence Team that reports to both the Deputy Minister and the Chief of Defence Staff. My first question is: did Arbour go far enough on this? I would recommend that ADM RS be moved to be entirely under the Deputy Minister. I am tempted to suggest that Military Personnel Command be moved from being solely under the CDS to being moved to being shared by the DM and CDS, as another consistent theme is that the military does not do personnel all that well. I would also make clearer that the current percentage of former CAF in DND is too high--23% may not seem like too much, but when 40% of DND reports to the CAF and 15% report to former members, that seems like a lot more military influence in the organization responsible for civilian control of the armed forces. Arbour makes a key point early on that is really something in the military mindset--reinforce success, not failure. Well, the military does operations really well, but a lot of the other stuff not so much. So, perhaps move those things out of the military chain that it does not do well.
This does get to one of my frustrations--she does not focus much on DND and she does not focus much on the larger abuse of power problem. She stayed within her mandate (something I tend to be lousy at), and since the sexual misconduct crisis was seen as a mostly military thing (most of the complaints), that is where her attention was directed. I think she could have been more explicit about why the previous reviews haven't been implemented--again, there are hints, but not a broader indictment. For instance, she didn't talk to former CDS Jon Vance (at least as far as the report indicates), and so we don't really know why he didn't follow the Deschamps report. Entitlement is mentioned only once, and careerism is not mentioned at all. So much talk by CAF members about service before self, but we didn't see that from the senior officers the past year (Vance, McDonald, Edmundson).
On the other hand, there are a lot of elements of the report that I think are quite good. I was afraid that the CAF was going to dump all responsibilities for managing sexual misconduct to the Sexual Misconduct Reponse Centre, which would both overwhelm the SMRC and absolve the rest of the CAF of responsibility. Arbour pushed back hard against this, seeking to change the R to Resource and making it clear that it is only there to help victims/survivors. That most of the other stuff imposed on the SMRC would be given to the Chief of Professional Conduct and Culture [CPCC] and the aforementioned ADM RS.
Another set of recommendations suggests focuses on how to limit toxic people from being in the CAF--that recruiting should be quicker so that good people aren't turned away AND there should be a probationary period that would allow the CAF to get rid of misogynists, racists, xenophobes, and others who inhibit the development of a good organizational culture.
Arbour suggests a variety of potential reforms to reduce the insularity of the CAF including more secondments so that senior officers will have served in other parts of government or in various parts of society to broaden their perspectives; external experts involved in reviewing promotion files; and so on. She also puts a lot of emphasis on cleaning up promotion processes, something that CDS Eyre and Minister Anand have already been working on, changing in the processes in ways that should have been obvious a decade or two ago (360 reviews that do not give the candidate being rated the chance to pick the reviewers). She wants the past misconduct info to be in the packages people refer to as they promote/select folks. She proposes providing greater recognition and incentives for trainers, so that the CAF puts the best people in position to shape the trained and to instill the proper culture.
Arbour raises the question of what to do about the military colleges--which are where officers learn to be toxic? I do think that there is more to this--that this is where entitlement starts. There have been efforts to improve the schools, but so far, it has not worked out so well. Burn them down and send the officers to universities? This would address the insularity problem, but would be pretty drastic. So, Arbour calls for a review of the schools. This unsurprisingly got the most media attention and backlash from serving officers.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Arbour advocated against creating an Inspector General. This was something the Somalia Inquiry recommended and something that has repeatedly come up since then. Her basic argument is that if all of her recommendations are followed, an IG would be duplicative. There are a few problems with this:
- It assumes her package will be approved and implemented fully.
- There are problems above and beyond sexual misconduct that her report does not address--abuse of power, entitlement--that an IG might be handy with.
- While duplication of oversight can be problematic, it does not have to be so.
- Key oversight actors, um, don't believe their job is to do oversight--parliament (and she cites the Phil and Steve piece making that argument).
- It hinges on the willingness of the Minister to be focused on this, and not all Ministers are Anand... or likely to be as engaged as Anand.
- The PCO is a black hole, so counting on the PCO to play a major role in any of this is to reduce transparency. Many of her recommendations are aimed at improving transparency, but there are not too many actors in all of this that have transparency baked into their identity and role.
I did like Arbour's inclusion of Stats Can, the media, and, yes, wacky academics as part of the external audience helping to foster oversight. Indeed, Arbour's recs are pretty academic-friendly--less obstruction of research by the internal social science review board if the researchers have their own research ethics clearances (and we almost always do except for one big oops of mine way back when), pairing MINDS Collaborative Network directors with senior CAF/DND leaders, more access to data, and so on. Oh, and that she criticizes a consulting firm along the way? I am fine with that. One common theme in the report is the need for more input from outside the defence team. That might mean consultants, but it also means academics. I prefer the latter--we are cheaper and less profit-driven.
One last thought about Arbour's mandate--it was mostly focused on sexual misconduct and the situation of women in the CAF. So, one needs to consider how her recommendations may or may not help other groups that have had their share of difficult times in the CAF: indigenous groups, LGBTQ2S+, Black Canadians, immigrants, and others. Many of her recommendations should help these groups, but many will not. I don't think any of her recommendations will worsen their situations, but that is something I will consider in my next post.