Harassment culture at National Defence puts civilian workforce at risk

For months, Canadians haven't been able to look at the news without witnessing claims of harassment and sexual harassment at all levels of Canada's military. The announcement of an independent external review may be good news, or it may just be another attempt at window dressing.

Workplace sexual harassment in the Department of National Defence (DND) are not limited to members of the military – PSAC-UNDE have been fighting for decades for our 19,000 civilian members who are victims of both. The recent successful class action lawsuit should signal the end of the problem, but the culture hasn't changed.

"The problems are systemic, they are entrenched, and they must be solved," said PSAC National President, Chris Aylward.

Examples can be found in many fire halls that exist on Canadian Forces bases (CFB).

  • At CFB Valcartier, firefighters filed nine violence in the workplace complaints - eight were deemed founded. Women workers have also filed sexual harassment complaints.
  • At CFB Suffield, firefighters have accused the deputy chief of violent behaviour. Complaints dating back to 2019 have yet to be investigated.
  • At Garrison Petawawa, women firefighters are required to share sleeping quarters and washroom facilities with male colleagues. "We were told not to complain – that we won't get promoted if we tell our union," said a worker who can't be identified due to fear of repercussions.

As PSAC-UNDE continues to fight for these workers, we face ongoing opposition. Our demand for a workplace assessment at Valcartier has been met with resistance. The rotating door of senior defence leadership has meant that an agreement to work on a solution at the end of March was rendered pointless by a new assignment in leadership at the end of April. DND must make solving this crisis an immediate priority.

DND needs to:

  • Expedite the current active investigations.
  • Enforce harassment policies and ensure those committing abuses face consequences.
  • Include civilian workers in any review of the current systems in place and create the systemic changes need to fix DND culture.

"The time for lip service is over. We will no longer tolerate the department's reluctance to act," said UNDE National President June Winger. "We expect the federal government to make significant changes at the Department of National Defence to shift this dangerous workplace culture immediately.


April 30, 2021