Canadian military's new plan to fight misconduct includes culture officers, training

·3 min read

OTTAWA — The acting commander of Canada’s Armed Forces says the military’s new plan to fight misconduct will include posting "culture officers" on warships, developing training workshops with survivors, and launching a restorative justice program in the fall.

Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre revealed a host of promised measures in an update to the troops on Monday, five months after explosive allegations of sexual misconduct involving senior officers shook the Canadian military to its core.

Concerns have also been growing over links between some members and right-wing hate groups and ideology.

The Liberal government and military commanders — some of them in an acting capacity like Eyre because of allegations of inappropriate behaviour by their comrades — promised to address misconduct and change the military’s culture.

“It is clear to senior leadership that there is a tremendous pent-up desire for action, beyond words, that must now take centre stage, so that we are not perceived as just providing lip service to the legitimate concerns we are trying to address,” Eyre told the troops.

“The intent with this communique is to provide you an update on the major efforts underway to effect this change — to act in a thoughtful way. Many mutually reinforcing initiatives and efforts are in the works.”

He went on to list several tangible steps developed by the “grassroots” that are being launched, including the deployment of culture officers on naval vessels and new “sexual misconduct workshop training” developed and delivered by military members and survivors.

The acting defence chief also confirmed the military will launch a promised restorative justice program in the fall. It was one of the provisions of a class-action settlement reached between the government and military sexual misconduct survivors in 2019.

Eyre told The Canadian Press last month that his hope was such a program would help address some older incidents of misconduct by having survivors and perpetrators sit down in a facilitated session and achieve "closure and education and growth.”

“Because we have too many complainants who've been carrying around a lot of pain for decades,” he said. “How do we help them deal with that pain, but at the same time, help respondents who own their part in causing them harm?”

Defence officials have previously indicated that the program promised in the settlement deal would not have survivors and perpetrators face each other. Survivors would instead share their experiences with a panel to help the military learn from its mistakes.

Eyre suggested on Monday, without providing further details, that the military is looking at learning from that experience and adopting a “more comprehensive restorative justice approach.”

Yet the acting defence chief also said many of the more wide-ranging ideas for changing the military’s culture remain works in progress, with no clear idea of when many will be completed.

That includes establishing working groups to look at retired Supreme Court justice Morris Fish’s more than 100 recommendations on reforming the military justice system, and the development of a culture-change campaign plan by culture chief Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan.

Eyre, who took over as acting chief of the defence staff in February after Admiral Art McDonald temporarily stepped aside after five weeks as defence chief due to an allegation of misconduct, said there is no “silver bullet” and culture change “will not happen overnight.”

“We are very much a human organization, and as such will, without doubt, have setbacks, mistakes, and disappointments, but together we will learn, heal, and grow,” he added.

“I am completely committed to achieving our goals and expect leaders at all levels to take whatever action necessary to ensure our success.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2021.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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