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Canadian Military Journal [Vol. 23, No. 3, Summer 2023]
Professional Perspectives

Image by: Government of Canada

Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan

A graduate of the Royal Military College, Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan was commissioned into the Canadian Military Engineers in 1990. Since then, she commanded two Combat Engineer regiments leading over 10,000 soldiers and spearheaded crisis operations. She also led NATO Mission Iraq and participated in three expeditionary operations. LGen Carignan earned two Master’s degrees and is a graduate of the National Security Studies Programme from Canadian Forces College. She has been invested as Commander of the Order of Military Merit and is the recipient of the Meritorious Service Cross and Meritorious Service Medal. LGen Carignan was promoted to her current rank in April of 2021 and appointed as Chief of Professional Conduct and Culture.

Today, Canada faces a complex and competitive national security environment that requires the best and brightest. Beyond well-trained individuals and transformational leadership enabled by modern equipment, a healthy culture remains the main ingredient to an effective, engaged, and operationally ready defence team.

Serving in the Profession of Arms is unlike most careers, especially because it is a volunteer military whose members willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect and defend Canada, while displaying a high standard of discipline and ethics. Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members do not stand alone. The success of Canadian defence also requires contributions from the ~28,000 civilian public servants, non-public fund employees, and contractors at the Department of National Defence (DND). Working in a mixed military-civilian environment makes for a unique and rewarding experience for both personnel, but this dynamic also makes culture evolution complex and multi-faceted.

As Chief, Professional Conduct and Culture (CPCC), my job and that of my organization is to inform and coordinate culture evolution efforts across the institution. Institutional change that targets attitudes and beliefs is complex and difficult. It takes time, a deliberate plan, and the willingness to break down old systems and build new ones. We have much work ahead, but since its inception in 2021, CPCC has made great strides. In my many years of service, I have never seen such a high-level of departmental engagement and commitment at all levels to address conduct and culture.

For years, the CAF has taken the approach that tasks must be done at all costs, at the cost of people’s well-being. This zero-sum game is a false premise. Applied indiscriminately, it is also a premise that has perpetuated the negative features of workplace culture that we are transforming. Treating people with dignity and respect is not a trade-off for operational effectiveness. Dignity is foundational to trust and a prerequisite for creating the psychologically safe space the Chief of Defence Staff, Defence Advisory Groups, stakeholders, and affected persons themselves have urged us to adopt. Let us be clear, a culture of respect is not about deferring difficult decisions or not taking responsibility for choosing a direction. It is not inaction or paralysis. It is about the way we act in critical situations, how we manage pressures, how we respond to challenges, how we see ourselves, how we treat each other, and as such, how we create a high performing culture where people are at their best.

Change is needed to create such a posture and starts with acknowledging our difficult history. For far too long, we have deprived many members of the pride of service and dignity of inclusion and recognition. The role of women in the CAF has been an arduous journey. Although women were serving in the Forces as early as 1885 as nurses, it wasn’t until the 1960s that women were allowed to be employed in other occupations. It took until 1989 before nearly all formal policy obstacles to their access to jobs in the military were removed. That said, the sentiment that the CAF remains closed and isolated persists for many serving today.Footnote 1 We have removed formal obstacles, but systemic factors still exist for women, Indigenous people, persons with disabilities, members of racialized groups, and the 2SLGBTQI+ community.Footnote 2 For many years, Black men were rejected from enlisting due to a culture that fostered systemic racism. Although some Black men enlisted during WWI, they were placed in a segregated, non-combat unit, which was ultimately disbanded in 1920, without acknowledging their heroic and invaluable service.Footnote 3

DND/CAF is committed, more than ever, to support change. Despite earlier attempts over two decades, we had not truly gotten to the heart of the problem. Since the 2015 external report examining sexual misconduct, nearly 20,000 claimants came forward under the CAF-DND Sexual Misconduct Class Action. This was followed by serious allegations against senior CAF leaders in early 2021, emphasizing the need for urgent action. As a result, DND/CAF established CPCC to serve as the centre of expertise and a pioneer of Defence Team culture by implementing policies and practices to ensure professional conduct aligns with our institutional ethos. While CPCC is a key enabler in the evolution of culture, the degree and quality of success hinges on the commitment and acknowledgement of everyone within the Department.

As a result, the Minister of National Defence directed DND/CAF to implement all 48 recommendations outlined in the 2022 external report to contribute to positive change. Following our consultations with DND/CAF and subject matter experts, we’re learning what factors affect culture most. This enables us to develop services, initiatives, and policies that will create an environment where dysfunctional conflict and harm is reduced, and an exchange of healthy solutions can be explored to improve operational effectiveness. We also need to enable individuals who have been harmed to heal. This is where leadership needs to intervene, and in some cases already has. We need to continue working with affected persons, advocacy and awareness groups, and external partners, to gather valuable and alternative perspectives on culture change.

Canadian society continues to steadily grow in diversity,Footnote 4 and DND/CAF reflects that through initiatives such as the new CAF Retention StrategyFootnote 5 that includes efforts towards improving well-being and culture. Drawing from the broadest talent pool and including individuals from all walks of life to defend Canada is a top priority. Thus, we are making strides to create a workplace environment where members have a sense of belonging, feel valued for their uniqueness, and are encouraged to be their authentic selves. Our recent move to extend eligibility to join the Forces to permanent residents supports our efforts to harness the full potential resting amongst Canadians to defend Canada. We also updated the dress instructions to meet CAF members’ response to our call for authenticity, be it uniforms that are gender-inclusive, or the removal of restrictions on hair length and facial hair.

We must recognize that change can be uncomfortable, sometimes leads to mistakes, and is ongoing. Change requires dedicated, deliberate, and sustained action across the entire organization. CPCC cannot do this alone.

A first step was to engage over 12,000 members across regions, force elements, occupations, ranks, and equity-seeking groups to learn from their lived experiences. These consultations highlighted four themes: Teamwork, Identity, Leadership, and Service, which inform and define our culture. Within each theme, we found positive and negative aspects. For example, the concept of warrior identity elicits a positive response for some (e.g., courage), but negative connotations for others (e.g., hypermasculinity). Now we must define our culture, focusing on positive aspects that unite us (e.g., mutual respect, trust, a balance of individual expression) while functioning effectively as a team. The current initiatives support this from different angles and levels (e.g., developing coaching that prioritizes character development alongside competence and improved selection processes for leaders). As we have seen in reports and internal research, the complaints process is complicated and requires an overhaul. CPCC is working diligently to improve the end-to-end experience so it is simple, transparent, and allows access to support from the moment members consider submitting a complaint to resolution, all handled in an empathetic, trauma-informed manner. As a profession of arms, we are comfortable with conflict in a theatre of operations, but not so much when it arises amongst ourselves. Much can be learned from conflict, and we need to get comfortable with having difficult conversations. CPCC is developing tools to help leaders navigate this space. The successful resolution of conflict builds trust and cohesion within teams.

Change must come from within, but also be informed by diverse perspectives. We are gathering a broad range of insights to incorporate varied expertise, lived experiences, and advice to develop effective policies and initiatives, including turning to external partners, such as equity-seeking groups, veterans, Defence Advisory Groups, and DND MINDS-funded Collaborative Networks.

The world will remain complex and in constant change. With an increased rate and intensity of changes within this great Defence Team, it will be crucial to seize the opportunities brought by these changes to flourish as an organization. The ability to learn and create from these particularly challenging times is the key to success. Every single member of DND/CAF is the owner of parts of the solution going forward. I believe we can evolve and change for the better, I believe in all of us, I believe we can change the world.

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