The programming completed or underway during this first year of Operation HONOUR, laid out in both this progress report and the previous one of February 2016, is a clear demonstration of the Canadian Armed Forces’ commitment to eliminating inappropriate sexual behaviour and sexual offences within its ranks. From the Chief of the Defence Staff, who made this one of the first and most important priorities of his tenure as the military’s top commander, to leaders at all levels of the institution including the most junior, Operation HONOUR has received a focus that few other imperatives have received in modern Canadian Armed Forces history.
This institutional focus is neither haphazard nor reactionary. Rather it is a function of the fundamental premise that the effectiveness of any modern professional fighting force is based on the confidence and cohesion that all its members possess towards one another, regardless of gender or background.
It is also based on the organization’s raison d’etre – to defend Canadians and Canadians values across the country and around the world, regardless of the dangers and difficulties. The Canadian Armed Forces cannot defend such values if it does not completely uphold and embody them.
This first year of Operation HONOUR has been dominated by immediate action on areas such as improved victim support, enhanced training, comprehensive research and coherent tracking. This time last year, the Canadian Armed Forces did not possess a centre focused on providing wider support options for victims. Today, the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre is a staple of the resources available to members. Similarly, training on this issue was sporadic and disjointed. Less than one year on, it is more intensive and coherent than ever, embedded in all major training events covering the entire career spectrum for both officers and non-commissioned members.
Prior to Operation HONOUR, the institution’s understanding of the problem was incomplete. The Canadian Armed Forces has now conducted an organization-wide survey specifically addressing this problem, and is on the verge of obtaining its results and establishing its first comprehensive baseline against which progress will regularly be measured. The tracking of sexually-related incidents was also decentralized and piecemeal a year ago. As of last spring, organization-wide tracking of all related incidents is providing a much clearer assessment of the situation as it evolves over time.
These swiftly developed changes have been twinned with deliberate, longer-fused initiatives involving policy, process and structure necessary for the follow-on change that will occur in year two of Operation HONOUR and beyond. This includes the comprehensive integration and modernization of all related policy and terminology beyond those immediate improvements already put into place.
The Canadian Armed Forces investigates incidents of sexual misconduct more expertly and effectively than it did a year ago, and more improvements are on the way. The same applies to related judicial processes, which feature a number of immediate upgrades that have been instituted in recent months. These will be complemented by more deliberate initiatives over the coming year. Finally, associated initiatives both within the Canadian Armed Forces and at the Government of Canada level have been integrated into, or leveraged with, Operation HONOUR.
This institution-level change has been replicated within the individual components of the organization, rippling out to the formations, units and sub-units where most military members work and interact. They, in turn, have tailored and reinforced organization-wide programming to specifically meet the needs and characteristics of their members.
The most important difference over the past year has been the marked increase in the level of awareness throughout the organization of the importance of eliminating harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour for the continued operational success of the Canadian Armed Forces. This awareness has been catalyzed in large measure by replacing the corporate-centric methodology of past efforts to address the problem with a dynamic operational approach – one well understood by such a seasoned fighting force.
Since the inception of Operation HONOUR last August, all Canadian Armed Forces members have been both briefed on the issue and encouraged to discuss it. The organization’s expectations of member behaviours and attitudes have been the centrepiece of this interaction. These expectations have been emphasized and reaffirmed in the clearest of terms. If some Canadian Armed Forces members did not fully realize “what right looked like” before Operation HONOUR – and clearly some did not – all have been firmly and repeatedly reminded over the past year, and will continue to be.
In tandem with this reaffirmation of expectations, leaders at every level down to junior supervisors have received clear direction to be more vigilant in identifying conditions or conduct conducive to harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour and sexual offences, and more diligent in responding to incidents that still occur. The imperative has, over the course of the last year, shifted from one institutional requirement among many others, to a top priority and focal point for all members and leaders throughout the Canadian Armed Forces.
The achievements to date are significant and are already leading to change on the ground. However, they are tempered by the reality that despite the early progress, incidents of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour and sexual offences continue to occur to, and by, uniformed members. Eliminating such an insidious problem will take years of sustained effort and attention to achieve. Operation HONOUR is off to a positive start in establishing the footings for sustained, long-term positive change but there is much to be done in the months and years ahead. Changing culture will not happen overnight, and the focus on positive change must be relentless.
The Canadian Armed Forces will be judged not on promises but on a demonstrated ability to deliver the change Operation HONOUR intends – a principle the Chief of the Defence Staff has made clear throughout the organization. Ultimately, the organization’s members will determine if Operation HONOUR is generating positive effects leading to tangible change. 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. They will be Operation HONOUR’s final arbiters.
Creating and sustaining a professional environment in which every uniformed member without exception is treated with dignity and respect is critical to the continued operational excellence for which the Canadian Armed Forces is known the world over. Operation HONOUR must succeed and it will succeed
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