Reprinted from The Maple Leaf Article / December 17, 2018 / Project number: 18-0465
By Brigadier-General M.A.J. (Jennie) Carignan, Commander 2nd Canadian Division and Joint Task Force (East)
Montréal, Québec — The tabling of the Auditor General of Canada’s Report on November 20, 2018 concerning inappropriate sexual behaviour in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) sparked much interest and was extensively reported in the media. In the wake of this report, I believe it is timely to reflect upon and to take stock of this issue.
At the outset, let me provide some background information. During the 1990s, sexual misconduct was highlighted by the media as being a major problem within the CAF. In 2014, the issue of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military again received extensive coverage in the media. Subsequently, former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps was asked by the then-Chief of the Defence Staff to conduct an external review, and she submitted a comprehensive report that indicated the existence of a sexualized culture within the organization. This revelation led to the official launch of Operation HONOUR in August 2015 by General Jonathan Vance, the current Chief of the Defence Staff.
The mission of Operation HONOUR is to eliminate harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour within the CAF, and it is based on two fundamental principles: first, every man or woman who serves their country deserves to be treated with dignity and respect; second, any attitudes or behaviours that undermine the camaraderie, cohesion and confidence of serving members threatens the CAF’s long-term operational success. In short, the objective of Operation HONOUR is to eliminate any breach between our ethics and our behaviour.
The Auditor General’s report “focused on whether the Canadian Armed Forces adequately responded to inappropriate sexual behaviour through actions to respond to and support victims and to understand and prevent such behaviour.” The Auditor General concluded that we had made progress in making CAF members aware of the problems of inappropriate sexual behaviour, that we have been moving in the right direction and that we must continue to work towards our goal of eliminating inappropriate sexual behaviour within the CAF. The audit report stated that, following the launch of Operation HONOUR, the number of complaints increased from 40 in 2015 to 300 in 2017. These figures may be interpreted as a sign that affected persons are more at ease with reporting cases of misconduct; however, I am concerned that there are so many cases despite this possible effect of Operation HONOUR.
The Auditor General noted that the CAF had to improve in the following areas: providing support and assistance for victims as well as for the teams in which they work; monitoring measures taken in cases of inappropriate sexual behaviour; and improving awareness-building and providing better training relative to inappropriate sexual behaviour. These recommendations have been accepted and we are working on implementing them in order to continue improving.
Although Operation HONOUR began more than three years ago, there is no completion deadline. There is clearly a lot more work to be done, and Operation HONOUR is here to stay.
Nevertheless, I believe that some indicators bode well. It must be understood that the measures taken thus far are an immediate response to the situation that the CAF was facing in 2014. The Auditor General’s report states that “Operation HONOUR’s success depends on achieving significant cultural change over the long term.” We are dealing with a change to the organizational culture within the CAF, which is generally understood as “all of a company’s beliefs, values and attitudes, and how these influence the behaviour of its employees.” Of all the components of an organization, it is the culture which is the most difficult component to change.
So what is this culture that we are asked to change? Is there something off with our code of ethics and values as an institution that has a negative impact on our culture? We enjoy, in fact, a culture of excellence that is envied by other nations and which allows ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. What we are being asked to change are the inappropriate behaviours that breach the principle of treating everyone with dignity, which is the fundamental principle underlying our ethos. We tolerated these behaviours in the past as being part ‘of the culture.’ In fact, these behaviours should never have become part of our culture.
The elimination of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour is therefore an absolute priority. This change will be brought about through measures taken every day by leaders at all levels. I am not necessarily talking about administrative or disciplinary measures (although they are sometimes necessary), but rather about discussions, communication and coaching, in groups or one-to-one, in a respectful and dignified manner. It is not sufficient to report behaviour that should not be happening; we must set an example of proper behaviour and we must demand that the good example be followed. Regardless of our role in the organization and regardless our rank, we all have our part to play in ensuring the integrity of our organizational culture.
Consequently, the next phase for 2nd Canadian Division will be to place special emphasis on providing support for affected persons, as well as for the teams in which they work. Better monitoring of measures taken in cases of inappropriate sexual behaviour, and improved awareness-building and better training relative to inappropriate sexual behaviour will also be part of our next steps.
The CAF has a reputation for successfully implementing their domestic and expeditionary operations with flying colours. Operation HONOUR will not be an exception. Harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour is a threat and an impediment to our operational success, our ethos, our values and our professional ethics. Unfortunately, this behaviour persists in our society, and it is difficult for many organizations to tackle this problem head on with the rigour it warrants. We are leaders in dealing with this societal issue, and I believe that, in light of our culture, we will succeed in bringing about these changes.
I am confident. Strong, Proud, Ready.