Changing the military’s culture to end sexual misconduct could take 5 years, senior o…


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The chief of professionalism and conduct in the Canadian Armed Forces is planning a five-year campaign to overhaul the military’s culture to put an end to sexual misconduct.

But Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan acknowledges that she and others leading the charge within the Department of National Defence have yet to define what constitutes success in the battle against sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour.

The definition of success is a loose one at the moment — the point at which people working in the military “feel psychologically safe showing up to work every day,” Carignan told a technical briefing for journalists Thursday.

“So this is what success looks like,” she said. “This is the vision that we are setting forward.”

Carignan said she believes it will take five years to institute “effective, irreversible, positive changes” in a military system that has resisted efforts to change it for decades.

The briefing, delivered by Carignan and Denise Preston, the head of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC), comes in the wake an history-making apology from the federal government to those who’ve experienced sexual misconduct and discrimination. Survivors of sexual assault and critics greeted the apology cautiously, saying they need to see proof of change.

WATCH: Minister, defence officials apologize to victims of military sexual misconduct

Defence minister, officials formally apologize to victims of military sexual misconduct

Dec. 13, 2021 – Defence Minister Anita Anand discusses her government’s apology to victims of military sexual misconduct. Plus, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu talks about the government’s plan to set aside $40 billion for Indigenous child welfare compensation and long-term reform of the system. 2:28:44

Thursday’s briefing was meant to answer those concerns with a detailed accounting of what is being done internally to support survivors and address their concerns and demands for a responsive and impartial system. 

“An apology is not enough and the time has come for action,” Carignan said.

The briefing did not address some of the more contentious questions, however — such as exactly how sexual assault cases will be transferred to civilian authorities. Further briefings are promised down the road.

Quoting from leaked internal documents, CBC News reported last month that the federal government has earmarked up to $77.7 million for supports for survivors, justice and accountability initiatives and culture change.

The biggest part of that sum — $22.1 million — has been set aside to expand services at the SMRC in five regions across the country. The Liberal government promised earlier this year to expand the number of SMRC centres and open them up to more people.

Preston said the addition of new SMRC locations would be completed by next year.

Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour. (CBC)

The internal document, obtained by CBC News, said SMRC services will be expanded before the end of the year to cover former military members and those working on the civilian side for the Department of National Defence.

Retired second lieutenant Justin Hudson welcomed the SMRC expansion. The centre was very helpful when he came forward with his case of sexual assault, he said.

But Hudson disagreed with Carignan’s five-year timeline for introducing sustained culture change to the military; he said he believes it will take much longer. When he reported incidents to his chain of command, he said, “almost nothing was done.”

“I think that the problem runs very deep … Five years may not be enough,” Hudson told CBC News.

“What I observed, basically … was the entire chain of command closing ranks on you. [There was] nobody to turn to [and] nobody would believe you.”

The question of how the initiatives planned by the defence department will be affected by an independent review being led by former supreme court justice Louise Arbour is still largely unanswered.

Carignan said she has been in regular contact with Arbour and in some cases has cleared individual initiatives with her. The specifics, though, will have to wait until Arbour tables her report, likely next summer.

Echoing newly appointed Defence Minister Anita Anand, Carignan said “we are posturing ourselves to be able to respond very quickly to her potential recommendations.”

Cleaning up the sexual misconduct crisis figured prominently in Anand’s mandate letter from the prime minister, which was also released on Thursday.

Anand was told that implementation of the final Arbour report has “priority” and the reforms should include the “external oversight over the reporting, investigation and adjudication of complaints, outside the chain of command.” 2021-12-16 21:24:22

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