FEATURED ARTICLE

FRONTLINE DEFENCE 2023:

Winds of change blowing at DND

20 November 2023

The winds of cultural change evidently continue to blow through the Canadian Armed Forces, albeit with varied intensity, says Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan, who oversees the military’s “professional conduct and culture” program.

After Defence Minister Bill Blair had released a second biannual report today on the military’s evolving response to years of endemic sexual abuse up to the highest ranks, Carrignan, a combat engineer by profession, said that “there is a sense of hope across the institution” even though “changing mindsets and introducing new processes takes time.”

The report is the handiwork of Jocelyn Therrien, tasked by the government in October 2022 to monitor progress. She was initially appointed for one year but that was extended for another year October 23 as the government sought to ensure continuity.

Drawing from her experience in the Office of the Auditor General and in investigating RCMP workplace harassment, Therrien said in her initial May 2023 report on the military that there were already signs of change. However, she acknowledged the challenge would be to ensure that further change would be “timely.”

A key element of her second report is that the government is moving to replace the military’s outdated definition of what constitutes sexual assault with the definition set out in the civil Criminal Code. Expected to be completed by year’s end, that was one of 48 recommendations by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Louise Arbour in a scathing May 2022 assessment of endemic assault issues within the military.

Therrien said all of Arbour’s recommendations have been “actioned to some extent” and while some have been implemented completely, “others are in progress and at various stages of implementation” and “still others constitute continuous improvement.” Moreover, the “closure” of recommendations is being done with more “accountability.” She also noted that the military had stipulated in its multi-year implementation plan, which is still being finalized, that the focus will be on outcomes.

Blair said that as his department moves forward, “essential oversight is essential” because “we cannot fail in our mission to build a more inclusive military culture.” His deputy minister, Bill Matthews, added that Therrien’s latest assessment is “critical” in continuing to main progress. “We remain committed to being open and accountable.

General Wayne Ayre, the Chief of the Defence Staff, pointed out that just as the military leadership expects “extraordinary contributions” from military, they in turn “expect and deserve the best work environment” because “our success or failure as a cohesive force affects our credibility as an institution, and our operational effectiveness.”