Deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland told media that Parliament must pass the Liberal budget bill in order for women in the Canadian Armed Forces to know their sexual harassment complaints are being “taken seriously”.
On Saturday, two senior military leaders were exposed as having joined former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance on a golfing trip on June 2 as Vance remains under investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct.
Vance's golfing partners were Vice Chief of the Defence Staff Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, who has oversight on the military police currently investigating the allegations against Vance, and Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice-Admiral Craig Baines.
Vice-Admiral Craig Baines apologized on Sunday night for his “public display of support” the day after several news outlets reported on the outing.
During a press conference this morning, Global News reporter Amanda Connolly asked Freeland about the golf trip, and whether she agreed that senior military leaders believe that they're “untouchable”:
“I learned about this, uh, over the weekend, as did the rest of our government. Uh, I was very disappointed, very surprised, I think this showed very poor judgment, uh, and I absolutely understand and sympathize with the sentiment that men and women, but maybe especially women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, uh, have — having seen this, and the concerns that it causes them to have about the possibility of, uh, real fairness for them
“Uh, let me be clear — with Canadians and maybe particularly Canadian women — uh, there needs to be a real change in culture, in the Canadian Armed Forces, it is totally unacceptable for anyone, for any Canadian woman, or let me say specifically, Canadian men too, but Canadian women who serve our country in uniform must not be subject to sexual harassment.
“To any kind of sexual abuse, at work, and they need to know that if harassment or abuse happens, there is a clear fair objective way that their complaints, clear objective impartial way that their complaints will be addressed. Our government is acting on this, there is money in the budget, which we're talking about today, which we want to have passed to fund further work on the creation of a system to protect and support the Canadian women of the Armed Forces against sexual harassment.
Justin Trudeau stated over the weekend that Rouleau and Baines need to “answer those questions for themselves” and that the Minister of Defence is “following up” on the trip with the Acting Chief of the Defence Staff.
When asked if Freeland shares the view that this is the “Old Boy's Club” in action, Freeland responded that there needs to be a “big change in culture” at the CAF:
“I've said, Amanda, that I was surprised and disappointed by this. It shows very poor judgement, and sends entirely the wrong message to the whole country first and foremost, people who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, and I just want to say directly to the people who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, our government knows there needs to be a big change in culture, and we know that people who are being harassed need to be able to speak out, need to have a system where they know their complaints will be taken seriously, will be treated impartially, and fairly.”
The Liberals have announced that they will be limiting further debate on the 2021 budget implementation bill in order to finance COVID-19 support programs until the fall.