The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have unveiled a significant change to their grievance and harassment process, following the recommendations from an independent review.
The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of National Defence, announced that members of the Canadian Armed Forces now have an additional avenue to lodge complaints of sexual harassment, misconduct, or other sex/gender-based discrimination. Effective immediately, aggrieved parties can bypass the internal CAF process and take their complaint straight to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), an entity that functions independently from the Government of Canada.
The change means that CAF members facing sexual harassment or discrimination due to their sex now have a dual-track system for their complaints: they can either utilize the longstanding CAF internal system or file directly with the CHRC. Crucially, there’s no requirement to exhaust the CAF’s internal avenues before turning to the CHRC. This amendment will apply to both current and future complaints.
Highlighting this shift, Minister Blair emphasized, “The members of the Canadian Armed Forces are always there to serve Canadians – and it is my top priority to ensure that they are protected, respected, and empowered to serve. This new pathway to justice will better support our people in uniform and provide them with the procedural fairness that they deserve.”
The revision stems from Recommendations 7 and 9 of the Independent External Comprehensive Review (IECR) led by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice, Louise Arbour. Furthermore, in alignment with Arbour’s advice, the CAF will no longer raise objections to complaints of this nature lodged directly with the CHRC based on certain provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff, added that the modernization of these processes is fundamental for evolving the military’s culture. “Members will now have access to more options and services to find the best recourse options available to them.”
Charlotte-Anne Malischewski, Interim Chief Commissioner of the CHRC, expressed her organization’s full support for the changes and Justice Arbour’s recommendations, hoping this will expedite access to human rights justice for affected individuals.
This move comes in the aftermath of an extensive consultation phase involving National Defence, the CAF, and the CHRC, aiming for a thorough and seamless complaint system. The overarching goal is a transformative culture shift within the Armed Forces, which prioritizes fairness, transparency, and accountability.
To provide some background, the IECR, initiated in April 2021, aimed to illuminate the underpinnings of harassment and sexual misconduct in the CAF. By December 2022, a report outlining the Canadian Government’s planned responses to the IECR’s 48 recommendations was presented to Parliament by National Defence Minister Anita Anand.
While these changes directly impact CAF members, the grievance and harassment mechanisms for Department of National Defence (DND) public service employees remain unchanged. They can continue to use existing systems, including the Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention Program.