- Canadian Veterans Legal Services
Response to Deputy Minister of National Defence and Chief of the Defence Staff re: Role of Ombudsman
13 July 2016
Mr. John Forster Deputy Minister of National Defence Department of National Defence Major-General George R. Pearkes Building 13th Floor, North Tower 101 Colonel By Drive Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0K2
General J.H. Vance Chief of the Defence Staff Department of National Defence Major General George R. Pearkes Building 13th Floor, South Tower 101 Colonel By Drive Ottawa, ON K1A 0K2
Dear John, Jon,
This is in response to your joint letter to dated 10 June 2016 and received 28 June 2016 regarding the role of the Ombudsman in responding to complaints related to harmful sexual behaviour in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).
If I understand correctly, your requests are two-fold:
First, that I share statistical information with the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC). I have provided statistical information during my appearances before Parliament, in my annual reports and Ombudsman messages. I have no objection to providing this information directly to the SMRC on a regular basis. Please note that I have met with Glynnis French, Executive Director of the SMRC, and her predecessor Janet Lalonde, as well as Rear-Admiral Bennett, Director General of the CAF Strategic Response Team – Sexual Misconduct (CSRT-SM). This Office has been briefed on numerous occasions on the establishment of the SMRC and has provided input. Notwithstanding my continuing contact with representatives of the SMRC, your joint letter is the first official request I have received for statistical information.
Second, you have requested that I use my mandated discretion to disclose information received that would warrant further investigation or reporting to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal or the Executive Director of the Canadian Forces Sexual Misconduct Response Centre.
Please note that the Office of the DND/CF Ombudsman operates independently and in a confidential manner so as to protect constituent information. Further, the Ombudsman has no mandated authority to address matters of a criminal nature such as, in this context, sexual assault. In such cases, our protocol is to refer the constituent to the appropriate authorities and support mechanisms. This Office does, however have authority to handle all complaints of harassment, including sexual harassment, and have been doing so since our establishment in 1998.
The Ministerial Directives Respecting the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces (Ministerial Directives) state that the Ombudsman shall not deal with a complaint if there is an existing redress mechanism. Although the newly created SMRC is not among the mechanisms listed at Section 13 of the Ministerial Directives, I am prepared to consider a fully established and functioning SMRC as an existing mechanism to which I will refer all CAF constituents who contact this Office for matters of sexual misconduct unless, they present compelling circumstances as defined in Section 13 of the Ministerial Directives.
When the SMRC has achieved final operational capability, a new mechanism will be available to CAF members for complaints relating to sexual misconduct. My understanding, based on my briefings and discussions with the aforementioned Executive Directors and available documentation, is that the SMRC is currently in phase 2 of its implementation and has yet to achieve final operational capability.
On that note, I have been consistent in my discussions with the SMRC Executive Directors, past and present, as well as the Director General of the CSRT-SM, that my Office will continue to deal with all constituent complaints until the SMRC can provide assurances that it is fully operational. I have been seeking, but have not yet received, those assurances and I am sure that you will appreciate my reluctance to refer constituents to a redress mechanism that is still in its implementation phase.
Finally, I have also shared my concerns regarding the design of the SMRC, particularly that it ignores a significant part of the integrated defence community, i.e. family members, cadets and civilian employees of the department I consider this gap to be an important systemic issue. Given that the SMRC is designed as an internal mechanism for the CAF exclusively, my Office will endeavour to fill the gap by addressing complaints involving those members of the larger defence community who are not served by the SMRC.
I will reach out to the Executive Director of the SMRC to offer quarterly statistical information on this matter and will refer CAF constituents to the SMRC as soon as it reaches final operational capability.
Gary Walbourne Ombudsman
c.c. Minister National Defence