Mamadosewin (meeting place, walking together)

Study on Issues Related to the Government’s Current Defence Policy Review

Study on Issues Related to the Government’s Current Defence Policy Review

Study on Issues Related to the Government’s Current Defence Policy Review

Study on Issues Related to the Government’s Current Defence Policy Review

Published on 13 June 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Mobina Jaffer

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer:

Honourable senators, I rise to speak on the eleventh report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence entitled: Reinvesting in the Canadian Armed Forces: A plan for the future.

Before beginning I would like to thank Senator Lang, the chair of the committee, for his help in directing the study; and Senator Kenny, whose expertise on this subject helped greatly with the drafting of the report. I would also like to thank the other members of the committee who provided their input. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the work of Marcus Pistor, Holly Porteous and Katherine Simmonds from the Library of Parliament, as well as Adam Thompson, Clerk of the Committee.

Reinvesting in the Canadian Armed Forces: A plan for the future is the second report released as part of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence’s study on the Defence Policy Review. This report expands on our previous report, Military Underfunded: The Walk Must Match the Talk, by laying out a plan on how the government can effectively address the strategic challenges that confront Canada in the 21st century and the women and men who served their country in the Canadian Armed Forces.

This plan is set out through 30 recommendations, which were adopted by the committee after a long process of discussion, debate and compromise. These recommendations fall into two categories: issues related to the under-equipping of our Canadian Armed Forces and issues related to the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces.

During his speech on this report, Senator Lang spoke comprehensively on the parts of this plan that involve making urgently needed investments in equipment for our military, so I will not speak at length on them today. I would like to echo his message about the importance of dealing with the underfunding and capacity gaps within the Canadian Armed Forces.

Spending 0.88 per cent of our GDP on defence is simply inadequate to address Canada’s many defence requirements. This is why I’m glad that Minister Sajjan has committed to better supporting our troops and veterans to re-equip our military. It is an important first step that Canada must take to fill the many capacity gaps that our committee uncovered in this report, including a quickly aging fighter fleet, many of which are from the Cold War; a lack of ships that can patrol our coasts and navigate into our Arctic; an inability to refuel our ships and planes abroad; and a lack of proper training, equipment and funding for our reserves. Without proper support and equipment, our military will not be able to accomplish everything we expect of it.

However, with that said, I would like to speak tonight on the parts of our report that involve solving the challenges faced by the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces. Given how much Canadian Armed Forces put on the line as they serve in Canada and abroad, we have a responsibility to ensure that their challenges are addressed. Our report sets out two main areas that the government must address to help support Canadian Armed Forces members: sexual misconduct and diversity.

The first area, sexual misconduct, has consistently been a major issue in the Canadian Armed Forces. According to Statistics Canada, 960 full-time members of the Canadian Armed Forces, or 2 per cent of its members, reported sexual assault over the past year. Further, 27.3 per cent of all women reported having been victims of sexual assault at least once since joining the Canadian Armed Forces. In other words, women in the Canadian Armed Forces are twice as likely to be victims of sexual misconduct compared to other Canadians.

To stress how devastating these experiences are, I would like to share a story of a victim of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. I believe her story will demonstrate how important it is to deal with this problem.

When Lise Gauthier was 18 years old, she joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and served Canada for 25 years. Over the course of her career, Lise dealt with several horrifying cases of rape, sexual assault, harassment and many other forms of abuse by her fellow members. This is how she describes her trauma:

I think about the attacks all the time, 24 hours a day. There’s no escape. I wish no one had to go through what I did. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. You stop living. You’re in survival mode. The best you can do is breathe.

Honourable senators, this is simply unacceptable. Sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces makes it an unsafe workplace for women who serve our country. This has serious consequences for the Canadian Armed Forces. Every witness who spoke on this subject was clear: The morale, recruitment and retention of women in the Canadian Armed Forces all decline when members feel that their workplace is unsafe. This has put us far behind our goal of reaching 25 per cent representation for women within the Canadian Armed Forces. We have barely even met half of that goal. Currently, women only make up 14.6 per cent of our Canadian Armed Forces. In fact, they only make up 8.9 per cent of the Royal Canadian Air Force members. The Canadian Armed Forces will never be able to reach its full potential if it remains an unsafe workplace.

To address this issue, our committee has outlined two steps that the government must take.

First, we are encouraging the government to implement all the recommendations of the Deschamps report, which stresses the need for serious cultural change within the Canadian Armed Forces to put an end to sexual misconduct and sets out several important steps that would enable that change. These steps include vital use of gender-based analysis, clarifying the definition of sexual assault and harassment, creating support structures for the victims of sexual harassment and assault, creating a specialized centre for accountability for complaints about sexual assault and the implementation of training programs to prevent sexual assault and harassment.

Our committee agrees that Justice Deschamps set out an important road map to making the Canadian Armed Forces into a safe workplace and strongly encourages its adoption.

Second, we are encouraging the government to prioritize the implementation of Operation HONOUR, an initiative launched by Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance to end harmful sexual behaviour within the Canadian Armed Forces using short- and long-term programs. Operation HONOUR has easily been one of Canada’s best tools in making real progress towards eliminating sexual misconduct and making the Canadian Armed Forces into a safer workplace.

Review of sexual harassment now happens at the highest levels in the Department of National Defence, and several training programs have been launched to help members address sexual misconduct as they see it.

With that said, there is quite a lot of work left to be done. Over the course of our study, we learned that the progress made under Operation HONOUR has been slow and that many of its initiatives are still only in their earliest stages. Our committee wants to see results and has committed to following up on this subject with future hearings and a report during this Parliament. We are committed to making the Canadian Armed Forces into a safe workplace for women and will continue to push for the implementation of the Deschamps report and Operation HONOUR.

The second challenge deals with the fact that the Canadian Armed Forces is failing to meet its employment equity goals. Our government has set out goals of reaching 11.8 per cent visible minority representation and 3.4 per cent Aboriginal representation. However, we have barely passed half of that goal. Currently, visible minorities only represent about 6.5 per cent of the Canadian Armed Forces, while Aboriginal people only represent 2.5 per cent. When we fail to include all Canadians, we also fail to obtain the skills and talents that Canadians bring with them. We lose the strength that the Auditor General, the Chief of the Defence Staff and Minister Sajjan all agreed are critical to strengthening the operational capability of our Canadian Armed Forces.

There is one simple reason for our failure to reach these goals: We are not even trying to reach out to our diverse and multicultural population. Until the start of this year, Canada has not even had a comprehensive plan to attract visible minorities and Aboriginal peoples. We must continue with this approach. Visible minorities and Aboriginal people will not join the Canadian Armed Forces unless we make a concentrated effort to reach out to them.

We have to reach out to all Canadians. Several first steps have already been made towards this goal. Earlier this year, the Department of National Defence established the recruiting and diversity task force, which is tasked with planning and executing programs to increase diversity at all levels and in all branches of our military.

With that said, this cannot be the only step our government takes. To truly ensure the integration of visible minorities and Aboriginal people, the Canadian Armed Forces must comply with its obligations under the Employment Equity Act. In recognition of how effective this kind of action is, our committee is wishing the government to continue in this direction and to adhere to its obligations under the Employment Equity Act.

Before concluding, I would like to speak briefly on the report as a whole. While I may not support all of its recommendations, that is the nature of committees. Our reports are the product of discussion and compromise. Despite this, I can wholeheartedly say that I support the Canadian Armed Forces and believe that it should be given everything it needs to succeed.

During my time travelling with the Canadian Armed Forces in several countries, people have told me about our military’s accomplishments. When I travel with our Canadian Armed Forces in Darfur and in Sudan, the Sundanese and Darfurians told me that the Canadian Armed Forces are exceptional men and women. “During the day, they work hard to save our lives, and at night, in the evenings and on the weekends, they work tirelessly to help us build orphanages and schools and give our country some hope.”

Honourable senators, our Canadian Armed Forces put their lives on the line through their work and make both Canada and the world safer. Both parts of this report have outlined the most important issues for our military, ranging from chronic underfunding to aging equipment to an unsafe workplace. The very least that we can do for our Canadian Armed Forces is to address the challenges they face. For this reason, I ask for your support in adopting this report.