Honourable senators, my question is also for the government leader in the Senate. By all accounts, Lieutenant Colonel Eleanor Taylor has been a distinguished member of the Canadian Forces over many years of service. She commanded an infantry company in Afghanistan. She was a key planner of the military security operations for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Yet, last week, she submitted her resignation from the reserves, saying that she was sickened and disgusted by ongoing reports of sexual misconduct in the forces. She believes Operation HONOUR should drop its name, as it has lost all meaning.
Her resignation letter is deeply disturbing to read, as I cannot imagine how hard it was for her to write it.
Senator Gold, how many more talented leaders, who simply want to serve our country, will be driven out of the Canadian Forces not only due to harassment they have faced or witnessed, but also due to the inability or unwillingness of your government to deal with this crisis?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate)
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Thank you for your question. The situation that has come to light is deplorable. The government commends the women who have come forward with their own stories and understands how difficult it is, and must be, for them. The government appreciates their openness. This will help pave the way to a better future for the Canadian Armed Forces and, indeed, the entire defence team. As I mentioned the other day, the government also recognizes that change and cultural change in an organization such as the military is complex and takes time. The government is determined, and asserts that the time for patience is over.
I’m advised that the government is currently looking at all options to change that culture in the Canadian Armed Forces in order to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all personnel — regardless of rank or position and whether of civilian or military status — as well as, colleagues, to ensure that there are tangible supports for those who come forward with allegations of assault or harassment.
Leader, with all due respect, those words sound quite hollow when we look at the leadership at the very top who knew about the misconduct of former Chief of Defence Staff General Vance for three years. The Prime Minister and Minister Sajjan knew, but they did next to nothing.
Today we see the result of their inaction: the resignation of a highly respected member of the military, who says she believes the scope of the problem has yet to be exposed.
Senator Gold, your government has badly failed our women and men in uniform. Why is there a total lack of responsibility? Why does the Prime Minister still have confidence in the Minister of Defence? Is it because the Prime Minister can’t dismiss the minister because they both failed to act for three years?
Thank you for your question, and nothing that I’m about to say in any way belittles the problem that has been identified and that needs to be addressed in military culture. Respectfully, it’s simply not true that the government has done nothing. Major steps have been taken. That they have not been fully successful and that much work remains to be done are sad but inescapable facts.
The government is committed to looking at all the options to improve the situation for those in the military and the ways in which allegations of mistreatment, assault and harassment can and will be dealt with. I’m convinced — and I want to assert — that the government is taking this extremely seriously. These are not hollow words. This is a serious engagement of this government.