Special Report

DND photo IS10-2015-0007-006 by Corporal Darcy Lefebvre

General Jonathan Vance

The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, Addresses Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces

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Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”
- Alexander the Great

General Jonathan Vance, CMM, MSC, CD, was commissioned upon graduation from Royal Roads Military College in 1986. He later served as Deputy Commander of the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples and Commander of the Canadian Task Force in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010. He then went on to be Commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command in September 2014, and on 17 July 2015, he was appointed Chief of the Defence Staff.


Canada’s rich military heritage is one of the nation’s most cherished achievements. Forged on the heights of Vimy Ridge, the murky waters of the North Atlantic and in the violent skies over England and occupied Europe, and more recently in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, our military legacy was shaped by unsurpassed courage, breath-taking audacity and an undeniable fighting spirit. From Mafeking to Medak and Kapyong to Kandahar, Canada’s warriors have consistently proven their mettle amongst the world’s best.

Yet ours is not merely a legacy of boldness and bravery. One of the hallmarks of Canadian military achievement has been our unwavering humanity regardless of how harrowing the environment. Indeed, the feats of Canadian sailors, soldiers and airmen and airwomen over the decades have almost always been characterized as much by compassion for those afflicted by conflict as by other attributes of our warrior acumen.

Canada’s fortunate and much-envied geography has dictated that most of our war-fighting, past and present, has occurred not at home protecting Canadian territory, but on foreign soil in support of allies and in defence of the national values we hold sacred: freedom, respect, dignity, fairness and opportunity. They are ideals over which Canadians have fought and died at home and especially abroad.

Embodying these values has always been central to the fabric of the Canadian military. This is why the revelations suggested in spring of 2014 and confirmed a year later that the Canadian Armed Forces continues to struggle with a problem it believed it had addressed many years ago is so devastating. That some CAF members have chosen, however consciously, to shun core values the CAF exists to defend is disturbing and merits immediate, decisive attention. However, as a professional soldier, to realize that this problem has manifested itself in situations where some serving members have preyed upon fellow brothers and sisters in arms is completely indefensible and utterly shameful.

Important as it is for the CAF to consistently uphold the national values it exists to defend, this is not the only reason why the institution must address the pressing problem of harmful and inappropriate behaviour. Fundamentally, every man and woman who willingly serves their country despite the many dangers and sacrifices of military service deserves a professional environment in which they are treated with respect and dignity. Yes, the nation regularly sends them into harm’s way, with the inherent dangers of injury, illness or even death. This is central to the function that we fill and the risks we take. However, it is unfathomable that serving members are psychologically or physically disrespected, threatened or victimized from within the organization they so proudly serve. As part of a leading national institution, Canadian Armed Forces members merit better.

Equally fundamental, any attitudes or behaviours adversely impacting the camaraderie, cohesion and confidence of serving members – the principles at the heart of a professional fighting force – will corrode the CAF’s operational effectiveness over time. If the implicit and unflinching mutual trust and confidence in one another regardless of gender or background is diminished in any way, we are less likely to step up with the same assurance, determination and effectiveness in the next firefight. There is no greater menace to the integrity and effectiveness of a force of last resort than the erosion of trust amongst serving members standing shoulder to shoulder.

Female navy member stands on parade in front of Canada flag.

DND photo IS01-2015-0005-058 by Sergeant Yannick Bédard

When I became the Chief of the Defence Staff last July, I outlined that the CAF’s problem of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour would be one of my top priorities because of its impact upon the continued success of our proud institution. I remain as convinced now as I was then that we must address this problem decisively and permanently.

I am regularly reminded by Canadians of all walks, including serving and former CAF members, that misguided attitudes and behaviours towards sexual behaviour have become a societal scourge affecting military and non-military organizations across the country and around the planet. Of course, they are not wrong. In recent years, the problem has become more pronounced, and countless organizations find themselves facing challenges very similar to ours.

My response to this is always twofold. First, the fact that the CAF is not alone in facing this situation does not make it any less serious to those in uniform afflicted or affected by it. And secondly, the problem’s eventual consequences on the CAF are much more profound than on almost any other organization. For most, it may translate into tarnished reputation, reduced market share or diminished bottom lines. For a professional fighting force, the impact of weakened trust and cohesion is often loss of life as well as decreased reliability on operations. Regardless of what is happening around us, we have a serious problem that we must fix now.

Female officer and a Canadian Ranger in discussion during Operation ‘Nanook’.

DND photo IS10-2015-0013-07 by Corporal Darcy Lefebvre

How did the CAF get here?

It is difficult to know exactly how or when the problem of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour in the CAF came about. As with most complex issues, a combination of factors has resulted in the present situation. The institution relied on partial metrics that appeared to indicate that the situation was improving over time and was no longer a major problem. These included unit climate surveys and statistical data on female member attrition rates. In the wake of Madame Deschamps’ report, we’ve realized that some of this analysis was insufficient. Stated simply, we were not fully aware of the situation and its impacts.

Additionally, the institution and its leadership became somewhat tone-deaf around sexual misconduct, interpreting the environment through a prism that did not consistently reflect the realities on the ground. In my view, this was neither intentional nor manipulative, however its effects were no less harmful to the organization generally, and affected members specifically.

Finally, nothing happens in a vacuum. The twenty year period from the early-1990s to the early 2010s, dominated by protracted commitments in the Balkans and Afghanistan, was one of the most operationally intensive in modern Canadian military history. It catalyzed profound shifts in how we think, organize and operate that are still being untangled and codified. The first priority was operational, as it must be during such spikes. Amidst the pervasive change, some non-operational imperatives did not receive the level of attention they otherwise would or should have.

What is obvious, and what matters most, is that the issue of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour within the Canadian Armed Forces has dogged the institution for much too long and must be solved rapidly, decisively and permanently – a commitment against which the CAF will rightfully be judged moving forward. We will not fix this by orders or decrees, and positive, sustainable change will not be imposed unilaterally from the top-down. The shifts in behaviours and attitudes required of the CAF must come from all of its members across the organization. The well-worn phrase that ‘we are all in this together’ could not be more accurate.

This is not to suggest for a moment that all or most of the members of the Canadian Armed Forces are guilty of thinking or behaving inappropriately. This is simply not the case. There is little doubt that the perpetrators of uniform-on-uniform sexual harassment and sexual violence are a small minority. However, the environment within which such acts are occurring is one shaped by each and every CAF member. Madame Deschamps spoke of the prevalence of a ‘sexualized culture’ within the grassroots of our institution. Regardless of the label put on it, the reality is that this environment must change. Achieving this will be an all-hands effort.

If our recent history tells us anything, it is that previous initiatives implemented to solve the problem were not effective, or effective enough. Past emphasis tended to focus on short-term behavioural change rather than alterations in longer-range attitudes essential for sustained culture change. Once attention on the problem decreased or shifted elsewhere, previous behaviours and attitudes generally returned.

In tandem with this punctual perspective was the absence of systemic measurement of the specific outcomes and overall change intended. Training and education programming on harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour was developed and delivered. The expectation was that it would yield the necessary results. Unfortunately, the outcomes it actually generated were not systematically measured, precluding the opportunity to confirm within the institution that the intended behavioural and attitudinal change was in fact occurring, or apply necessary adjustments to bring this about.

Finally, the CAF’s approach to addressing harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour has traditionally been framed as an organizational or corporate priority. For most organizations, this is imminently sensible. However, for a professional military force, with its unrelenting focus on operations, this approach has proven largely ineffective. In the eyes of many in uniform if not most, it relegated the endeavor to secondary importance. The direct relationship between solving this problem, upholding the warrior ethos, and sustaining CAF operational excellence was not made strongly enough. Instead, members were left to connect these dots and come to their own conclusions as to the significance of eliminating this scourge from the professional landscape.

These are shortcomings we cannot repeat if we are to finally break the cycle and inculcate the long lasting behavioural and attitudinal change needed.

Cover of Canadian Armed Forces Progress Report Addressing Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour.

DND photo

Operation HONOUR

I launched Operation HONOUR last August as the over-arching effort within which the Canadian Armed Forces would address harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour within its ranks. I adopted this approach for one simple reason – the CAF does not fail on operations. We demonstrated this in Croatia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and a myriad of other daunting theatres throughout our modern history, just as we are proving it in Iraq and elsewhere today.

A major component of Operation HONOUR’s remit is implementing the ten recommendations of the spring 2015 Deschamps Report. While these constitute the brunt of the effort, the operation is not limited to the recommendations and will cover additional ground.

The kick-start of Operation HONOUR was an unequivocal reaffirmation of the institution’s expectations regarding the behaviours and attitudes of all CAF members toward harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour. I communicated this in the clearest of terms to my senior commanders shortly after becoming the CDS, and they rapidly did likewise with their subordinate commanders. The result was that all CAF members, including those deployed in overseas operations, were reminded of what is expected of them both behaviourally and attitudinally, regardless of situation or context.

The responsibilities and accountabilities of Canadian Armed Forces’ leaders at all levels were specifically underscored because only sound, fully engaged leadership will solve the problem this time. As such, commanders throughout the organization were reminded of the vigilance required to identify incidents of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour, and the diligence needed to respond decisively to victims, perpetrators and enablers. The requirement for vigilance and diligence was also repeated and reinforced further to all CAF members, including those who may have been less mindful of organizational expectations vis-à-vis sexual harassment and sexual assault before Operation HONOUR.

Central to this message is the imperative that we must consistently provide compassionate care to victims and protect them from contributing circumstances and environments following acts of inappropriate behaviour or the commission of crimes. Not only must complaints be handled quickly, compassionately and decisively, our people need to perceive this to be the case. Moreover, there must be confidence that the mechanisms in place consistently deliver justice and protection throughout the reporting, investigation, and adjudication processes.

One of Operation HONOUR’s defining features is its focus on victims – the start point for the CAF’s response to harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour. I have made it clear to CAF leadership that providing more responsive and effective support to victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault is the first priority, consistent with our absolute responsibility to care for our people. This message has been emphasized throughout the CAF chain of command, directing leaders to be more attuned and responsive to the needs of victims. Moreover, I’ve ordered the commanders and custodians of existing mechanisms designed to support victims to review their practices and methodologies in the aim of improving the range, quality, accessibility and transparency of the services on offer. Victims must come first!

DND photo SW2015-0156-07 by Corporal Jennifer Chiasson

Lieutenant-General Christine Whitecross, Chief of Military Personnel and Commander of the CAF Strategic Response Team on Sexual Misconduct, addresses members about the issue of sexual misconduct at CFB Shearwater, Nova Scotia, 9 June 2015.

As importantly, I directed the establishment of the first-ever dedicated independent support centre for CAF members that have been adversely affected by sexual harassment and sexual assault; the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC). The creation of the SMRC aligns with a central recommendation of the Deschamps Report. One of its key tenets is that it is positioned outside of the military chain of command, providing victims with a unique option compared to those already in place. For example, the SMRC allows CAF members to reach out for information or support without automatically triggering formal reporting, and the subsequent investigative and judicial processes that follow. This practice was identified by Madame Deschamps, and reinforced by former and serving members, as a significant impediment to CAF members in coming forward and asking for information or support.

At present, the SMRC provides CAF members with basic support services – an offset required to stand up the centre in record time. It’s mandate and range of services will expand considerably as the SMRC matures, eventually delivering more comprehensive support offerings as well as influencing core elements of the CAF effort to prevent harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour, including policy and training development.

Another new structure dedicated solely to the CAF’s response is the CAF Strategic Response Team on Sexual Misconduct (CSRT-SM). Established concurrent with the final development of the Deschamps Report, it is dual mandated to (1) coordinate all components of the Canadian Armed Forces’ response to the problem and (2) develop and execute pan-CAF solution elements such as policy and training modernization, and institution-wide performance measurement. As with the SMRC, such an entity dedicated exclusively to the problem of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour has never existed within the Canadian military until now. While its function is not nearly as visible as that of the SMRC, it plays a pivotal role.

Woven into multiple aspects of Operation HONOUR is the integration of external expertise and experience in modernizing related policies and training, and advising the bodies and leaders involved in the endeavour. Previous CAF efforts to address this problem were decidedly insular in nature. As functions of both the longevity of the CAF’s challenge and its evolving nature as a societal issue, it was recognized that an exclusively made-in-CAF solution would not provide the sustained positive change sought. For this reason, the institution has reached out to researchers, academics, care practitioners and respected observers to understand and integrate their perspectives into various aspects of the CAF response.

Male and female weapons technicians install a laser guided training round on a CF-18 ‘Hornet’.

DND photo IS2013-2001-032 by Master Corporal Marc-André Gaudreault

One of the most important elements of the Canadian Armed Forces response to harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour and Operation HONOUR is the onus on performance measurement. As stated earlier, a key shortcoming of previous attempts to address the problem was a lack of regular, structured assessment of outcomes. The fire-and-forgot approach did not deliver sustained results despite a belief to the contrary because initiatives and actions were both well-intentioned and diligently executed.

Organizational culture change depends not only on the change implemented, but on the response of the concerned stakeholders (internal and external) to this change. They must first become aware of it, then understand it, eventually believe in it, and ultimately become part of it in order for large-scale change to take root and succeed. Such buy-in on a matter already generating high levels of skepticism requires tangible proof that positive change is happening and will continue. Hence, the ‘demonstrability’ of the effects of Operation HONOUR in solving the CAF’s problem of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour is essential to inculcating and sustaining this change.

For this reason, the current CAF response integrates systemic performance and outcome evaluation measures throughout the various Operation HONOUR components. A centerpiece of institutional measurement is a CAF-wide survey specifically measuring member attitudes and behaviours on this issue. Conducted by Statistics Canada at the request of the CAF due to the former’s world-class track record in executing public environment research within large organizations, along with its ability to ensure complete confidentiality to respondents, the survey will have engaged Regular and Reserve Force members in April and May. It is the first ever institution-wide survey dedicated strictly to harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour. It will be repeated at regular intervals, providing the CAF with a better understanding of the progress achieved in reshaping organizational culture.

HMCS ‘Summerside’ crewmembers and DRDC technicians follow an IVER2 Autonomous underwater vehicle in a dinghy off Sydney, Nova Scotia, during Exercise ‘Frontier Sentinel’.

DND photo IS2012-2002-40 by Master Corporal Marc-André Gaudreault

Buttressing the Statistics Canada project will be a range of quantitative and qualitative outcome measurement initiatives administered at lower levels of the institution and tied to specific elements of Operation HONOUR. These will contribute to a much fuller understanding of operational progress as it evolves.

Ultimately, I will not decide whether Operation HONOUR has succeeded, nor will my senior commanders. Rather, members throughout the organization will make this determination. They will judge whether their environments are less permissive to inappropriate behaviour than they were, and whether attitudes and behaviours are really changing or have changed. CAF members at the organization’s grassroots will be the final arbiters of the effort’s success, which is why the organization must systemically tap into them to assess the effects of Operation HONOUR-triggered change as it unfolds.

Finally, my approach to the CAF response to harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour through Operation HONOUR has been highly visible. I have done so deliberately to provide added impetus to the gravity of the situation and its potential impact on the CAF’s continued operational excellence. I mapped out my posture at my change of command ceremony – my initial statement as the Chief of the Defence Staff. Moreover, I directed that the launch of Operation HONOUR be as visible as possible to demonstrate the CAF’s intent to both internal and external stakeholders. The principle of transparency was firmly embedded in the Operation HONOUR operation order, making clear the importance of sustained visibility on the endeavor. Lastly, I committed to delivering regular progress reports at six-month intervals. The first of these was released to CAF members and external stakeholders, including interested media, on February 1st of this year. The report’s narrative was open and forthright, pointing out both initial progress and areas requiring greater attention.

We live and work in a turbulent and unpredictable time, and the Canadian Armed Forces is constantly shifting focus to meet new threats and emerging imperatives. This is inherent in the profession of arms. However, this reality cannot allow us to lessen our attention to issues that fundamentally affect what the organization is and why it matters. If this has caused us to lack perseverance, endurance or follow-through with past efforts to solve this problem, the highly visible posture adopted this time out will ensure that our feet are held to the fire until we have proven that we’ve achieved the sustained culture change to which we aspire.

Male and female army members during a live fire exercise, Operation ‘Reassurance’.

DND photo RP001-2015-0024-010 by Corporal Nathan Moulton

Progress to Date

Culture change is a long-term endeavor – it is one of the most difficult leadership challenges an organization can undertake, especially one as steeped in tradition as the Canadian Armed Forces. It takes time to generate and inculcate; there are neither magic bullets nor quick fixes.

Given the profile of Operation HONOUR, I am frequently asked how much progress we have achieved to date and whether the organization will now succeed when it has failed in the past. My response is that we are off to a solid start – though it is still just a start. Last spring and summer, there was inordinate skepticism directed at both our desire to solve our problem of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour, as well our capacity to do so. While much of the skepticism remains, and will until we have unequivocally proven that we have implemented sustained positive change, the mood is shifting. CAF members, including those at junior levels, are telling me that awareness has increased appreciably. There seems to be a growing belief that this time will be different. I am also already detecting behavioural changes amongst our members, and being advised of similar observations by the chain of command. This is in stark contrast to the prevailing sentiment six-plus months ago.

A female Acting Sub-Lieutenant takes a navigational fix on the bridge of HMCS ‘Nanaimo’ during Operation ‘Nanook’.

DND photo ET2015-5502-06 by Leading Seaman Ogle Henry

There are also early signs that leadership is increasingly vigilant on the issue and more diligent in responding decisively to occurrences of it. Individuals have been called to account and action has been taken by the chain of command that has resulted in some losing their command positions. We have recently put in place stronger methodology to identify and track trends in terms of the chain of command’s response to harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour, and will very soon possess a more thorough depiction of results than we ever have.

While all this is highly encouraging, I am anxious for more concrete results, as are our stakeholders. The data from the Statistics Canada survey will provide us with a stronger understanding of where we are at, and where we are headed. So, too, will supporting performance measurement applied throughout the institution.

Operation HONOUR has prompted considerable activity, which is equally positive. The policy modernization underscored in the Deschamps Report is advanced, and a comprehensive draft specific to the realities of the CAF environment will be ready for approval in the summer. It will include updated terminology and key definitions, as called for by Madame Deschamps.

A comprehensive audit of Canadian Armed Forces training and education content was recently completed, and the modernization of all related curriculum is underway. This will result in a number of training modules and tools currently in development, intended for use as of this summer. The objective is to deliver to all CAF members more modern, pertinent and resonant training on harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour across the continuum of their careers. The progress achieved on both the policy and training/education fronts have been strongly influenced by our evolving partnerships and consultations with external subject matter experts.

It is fair to question whether this progress is occurring fast enough, and whether it will eventually trigger the culture change intended. The tasks, timelines and objectives outlined in Operation HONOUR will help us gauge this and adjust accordingly, but ultimately it is the response of our members that will continue to indicate the breadth of success as the endeavor progresses.

Having stated all this, there is still considerable work to be done – much more than has been achieved to date. There are still incidents of sexual misconduct occurring, and it is very likely that there are still victims who have not come forward because they do not have complete trust in the complaint mechanisms, the military police structure, the military judicial system, the chain of command, or a combination thereof. This remains unacceptable.

There has been some criticism of the target I established for Operation HONOUR – that of eliminating harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour. There are concerns that it is unrealistic, however I cannot and will not accept a different target. The Canadian Armed Forces of tomorrow and beyond must nurture its members and secure their wellbeing. It must be an employer of choice despite the reality of sending people in harm’s way. And it must be respected not only for what it accomplishes but for what it is and represents. This can only be sustained if we set the highest aspirations for the institution and its integrity, and assiduously work towards attaining them. Ensuring a professional environment of dignity and respect is a cornerstone of such an institution.

A female loadmaster performs a pre-flight cockpit check on a CC-130J ‘Hercules’ aircraft.

DND photo TN2013-0060-25 by Corporal Owen W. Budge

The Role of Bystanders

Edmund Burke famously said; “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The Canadian Armed Forces will not accept the indifference or willful blindness of any of its members on this issue. Bystanders are an integral enabler of an environment where there is sexual harassment and assault, however unintentional their role might be. Accordingly, they must be central to shifting behaviours and attitudes in creating an environment that is no longer permissive. Of course, it takes courage to stand up to one’s friends and colleagues if they are behaving inappropriately, especially when that behaviour may seem inconsequential or inoffensive. However, for members of the Canadian Armed Forces, standing up to any form of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour is absolutely essential, both on moral grounds as well as in terms of building and maintaining the trust and cohesion amongst one another and towards leaders that underpins a professional military force. That means intervening when one hears an inappropriate joke or misguided comment, or calling someone out for a misplaced gesture or touch. The sins of omission can be as damaging as the sins of commission, if not more so.

Every CAF member is responsible for the culture and reputation of our institution and the environment it sets out for its people. Those who hear, witness or otherwise become aware of situations of degradation or exploitation of any sort must show the moral courage to take a stand against it. Not doing so diminishes the CAF’s capability and dishonours the institution’s noble history and traditions. Indifferent behaviour by anyone in uniform cannot and will not persist.

DND photo IS01-2015-0007-040 by Sergeant Yannick Bédard

The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, presents medals to members of CANSOF Task Force during a visit to Iraq, 21 December 2015.


In the words of the immortal Winston Churchill; “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” The change that is upon us of creating a culture ensuring a respectful, dignified professional environment for every member of the Canadian Armed Forces is both necessary and unavoidable. It is what is owed to those who risk all to defend their nation and its values. And it is pivotal to our continued success as a world-class fighting force. As with all our operations, Operation HONOUR will succeed.