The external review into Canada’s military released this week highlights the sheer magnitude of systemic violence and harassment which has impacted thousands of workers of the Canadian Armed Forces and PSAC civilian members at the Department of National Defence (DND).
Led by former top United Nations official and Supreme Court justice Madame Louise Arbour, the report is a biting critique of the military’s toxic workplace culture and decades-long resistance to change.
“We know that one report will not ‘fix’ systemic violence and harassment. But this report is a tool that we will use to push the government towards meaningful and concrete actions,” said Union of National Defence Employees (UNDE) National President June Winger, representing more than 18,000 members working at the Department of National Defence.
Rather than an examination of individual cases of harassment, the report points to an unrelenting and sanctioned culture of misogyny, racism, and homophobia against women, LGBTQ2+, Indigenous, Black and racialized workers within Canada’s armed forces creating an overwhelmingly difficult—if not impossible—environment to report abuse without fear of blame or retaliation.
Justice Arbour’s recommendations range from assessing processes by which senior leaders are selected, reviewing progress on the 2015 Deschamps review, assessing the mandate of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC) and reviewing the governance structure of military colleges RMC Saint-Jean and RMC Kingston.
“For far too long, sexual violence and harassment have been excused as an individual problem, rather than a systemic abuse of power that is upheld by policies, procedures, and workplace practices in Canada’s military,” said PSAC National President Chris Aylward. “Enough is enough. It’s time to move past slaps on the wrist and take concrete action to improve the toxic workplace culture in Canada’s military.”
Describing the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as “extraordinarily self-regulated," Mme Arbour concludes that the CAF, and by extension DND, is unable to improve by itself. Power imbalances, rank, and authority served to mask toxicity and violence within all aspects of the military chain of command.
“Measurable and lasting changes are long overdue – from recruitment to the way that leadership is handled at the top,” added Winger. “We cannot tolerate a workplace culture that rewards toxicity and silences victims.”
PSAC-UNDE expect the federal government to act on the recommendations outlined in Madame Arbour’s review to improve accountability and the workplace culture in Canada’s military. Acting on these recommendations must include engaging PSAC-UNDE as representatives of the tens of thousands of civilian workers in military workplaces.
This report follows and expounds upon the activism of countless survivors who have channeled their personal experiences—often with great personal risk—into concrete actions to ensure that workplaces are not the source of “broken dreams and disillusion.”
Discussions of sexual harassment, abuse, and workplace harassment can lead to difficult emotions and reactions. If you are seeking help, there are resources available.