Hon. Jane Cordy: Senator Gold, my question is also to you.
We learned, and you heard yesterday, that the person directly responsible for overseeing the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, Lieutenant-General Mike Rouleau, played golf with retired General Jonathan Vance. Retired soldier Paula MacDonald, who has been trying to pursue a complaint of sexual misconduct, said to CBC News about the golf game:
It’s very upsetting. . . .
It shows that their priorities are with supporting people who have been accused of sexual misconduct as opposed to the victims of sexual misconduct.
My question is not to criticize the outstanding members of our Armed Forces. I am critical, however, of a system that seems to stifle the voices of members of the military who have been sexually harassed, and I can certainly understand their fear of reporting if they feel that their complaint will go nowhere.
Senator Gold, how can we be reassured that harassment complaints in the military will be dealt with fairly? How can complainants have confidence in the system that is currently in place if those under investigation are socializing with those who are in positions of authority?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for the question.
With regard to the incident of the golf game to which you refer, though I don’t have the quotation in front of me, I can only refer you to the statements of Deputy Prime Minister Freeland and others in the government who deemed it totally unacceptable that this took place. It is the position of the government that it was unacceptable, and one understands very well how that was received.
With regard to your broader question, the government takes allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct very seriously. As I just stated in my response to our colleague Senator Dagenais, the government is committed to doing what it can to effect cultural change within the forces to eliminate the problems of intolerance, harassment and abuse. It is committed to ensuring that both uniformed and civilian personnel can feel safe reporting sexual misconduct, and that includes ensuring that the mechanisms for addressing reported misconduct are fair and perceived to be fair.
Senator Cordy: Senator Gold, it is my understanding that changes made to the National Defence Act in 2013 provide that:
The Vice Chief of the Defence Staff may issue instructions or guidelines in writing in respect of a particular investigation.
Senator Gold, in my mind, that certainly leaves the perception that an investigation isn’t truly independent if a superior officer can directly influence how an investigation is handled by the Provost Marshal.
Will the government consider amending this change that was made in 2013 by the previous government so that a superior officer cannot interfere in an investigation? Perhaps it’s time that the government look at the possibility of establishing a third party outside of the military to investigate allegations of sexual harassment.
Senator Gold: Thank you very much for the question, and it’s an important question. First of all, with regard to external oversight — and I’ll get to your question in a second — you will recall, senators, that Budget 2021 provides $236.2 million to eliminate sexual misconduct and gender-based violence in the Forces. These funds will cover a number of measures but include the implementation of a new external oversight mechanism to provide greater independence to the processes of reporting and addressing sexual misconduct within the military. And the government in that regard hopes that Bill C-30 will pass soon so that these measures can move forward.
With regard to the question of how complaints and allegations are treated within the military, senators will be aware that the question of whether or not this should continue to be done within the chain of command or, as has been recommended in the past, by an external process independent of the chain of command is something that has been actively considered by the government and is part of the mandate of Justice Arbour, as I’ve reported in this chamber previously.