EDITOR’S NOTE: The text below is the official transcription of the apologies to survivors and victims of military sexual misconduct. As such, it uses grammar and stylistic elements that may not reflect The Canadian Press stylebook used by Global News.
Survivors and victims of military sexual misconduct received a historic and long-awaited apology on Monday from Defence Minister Anita Anand, as well as from Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre and Jody Thomas, deputy minister of the Department of National Defence.
More than 7,600 people watched the apology livestream on Facebook, which comes after a year in which the Canadian military has been forced to confront what experts have called a “crisis” of sexual misconduct within its ranks, particularly senior leaders.
The transcripts of the full apologies are below.
Defence Minister Anita Anand: ‘I am sorry’
I am speaking to you from the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people. I recognize that this land has long been a place of meeting and gathering for Indigenous people, and we join you in a spirit of respect and reconciliation.
The members of our Canadian Armed Forces have always put service before self by stepping up to serve Canada.
You come from all backgrounds, faiths, and ethnicities, and you have a diversity of gender identities and sexual orientations.
Whether protecting Canadians at home or abroad, you have done everything your country has asked of you.
Over the past few years, all Canadians have been reminded how crucial your work is here at home. You have saved lives in long-term care homes, delivered vaccines across the country, helped people facing forest fires and floods, and rescued those isolated by natural disasters.
You have always had Canadians’ backs. And we should always have yours.
Far too many members of the Canadian Armed Forces, Veterans, current and former employees of the Department of National Defence, and Staff of the Non-Public Funds have suffered sexual harassment, sexual assault, or discrimination based on sex, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation
This misconduct and abuse of power led to a crisis of broken trust in the Defence Team.
Today, as Minister of National Defence, I am apologizing to you on behalf of the Government of Canada.
We must acknowledge the pain and trauma that so many have endured because the very institution charged with protecting and defending our country has not always protected and defended its own members.
I apologize on behalf of the Government of Canada, and on behalf of those elected officials who throughout the history of the Canadian Armed Forces had the responsibility to protect you and who failed to do so.
I apologize to the thousands of Canadians who were harmed because your government did not protect you, nor did we ensure that the right systems were in place to ensure justice and accountability.
For far too long, your government failed to dedicate enough time, money, personnel, and effort to deal with sexual harassment, sexual assault, and discrimination based on sex, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation in the military and the department.
Countless lives have been harmed because of inaction and systemic failure.
This is a failure that our Canadian Armed Forces, our department, and the Government of Canada, will always carry with us.
These institutions failed you, and for that, we are sorry. I am sorry.
I apologize to everyone affected — current and former National Defence, and employees, Canadian Armed Forces members, including veterans who suffered during their service and after their service, Staff of the Non-Public funds, and members of the class action settlements, and your families.
Over many decades – the Government of Canada did not keep its most basic promise to you – you who do the utmost to serve our country.
I acknowledge that successive governments have not done nearly enough to stamp out this scourge.
To all the Canadians who signed up to serve our country, full of hope, zeal, and spirit;
To those who always dreamed of putting on a uniform;
And who answered the call of service, only to find their own calls for help ignored; their calls for justice and dignity disregarded, and their faith in our institution betrayed;
We are sorry. I am sorry.
Today, we pledge this: Things can change, they must change, and they will change.
It is our most basic responsibility, our most important task, and my top, and absolute, priority.
Change is underway. At all levels, people are working hard to create a more positive work environment that eliminates harmful and regressive aspects of our institutional culture.
I have seen the dedication of incredible leaders on our team working to build trust, credibility, and moral authority.
As Minister, I am deeply committed to leading meaningful progress, and I know that up and down the ranks of our institution, there are people stepping up to lead deep and transformational culture change.
Together, we are working to create an institutional culture that enables every member of our team to reach their full potential in an environment where they feel safe, protected, and respected.
I want to make this very clear:
The Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence form a crucial part of our nation’s fabric, and it is a great honour to serve you as Minister of National Defence.
To the people who make up our Canadian Armed Forces and our department: We need you. Canada needs you. And I will work hard every single day to earn your trust.
Thank you. Migwech. Merci.
I now invite Chief of the Defence Staff, General Wayne Eyre, to offer his remarks.
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre
This is an important day that will be difficult for many.
We are confronting — and acknowledging — a number of difficult truths.
For far too long, too many members of the Canadian Armed Forces and Defence Team family have suffered harm, and lived in fear of reprisal for reporting that harm.
Far too many of you carry the burden of and have lived with experiences, some for decades now, of sexual assault, sexual harassment, discrimination, and exclusion based on your sex, your gender, your gender identity, or your sexual orientation.
There is absolutely no place for this in our institution.
And we acknowledge and recognize that there are exclusionary aspects of our institutional culture that are not aligned with the core values we aspire to uphold, or the expectations of those we serve and protect – this must change.
It takes an incredible amount of courage to step up to serve your country in the Armed Forces.
To be willing to put service before self. To sacrifice much — perhaps all — for your fellow Canadians.
To know the risks and still put your life in danger to protect the people and the country you love.
You should expect to be safe from harm on your own base, wing, or ship — among others who wear the same uniform.
But many of you suffered harm at the hands of your comrades in arms.
People you should have been able to trust.
People you needed to be able to trust.
People who were supposed to be like family.
In our line of work — in the profession of arms — trust can mean the difference between life and death.
And we have betrayed that trust.
It has been betrayed by colleagues and leaders.
And by this institution because not enough has been done to stop it.
The harm has been done not just to members of the CAF and our Veterans, but also to public service employees, and to staff of the Non-public funds, Canadian Forces, who serve alongside us.
As someone who has given my entire life to this institution, and who loves it so deeply, it breaks my heart.
And today we offer – I offer – my most profound apologies.
On behalf of an institution that has failed you, on behalf of those who didn’t listen, on behalf of every person who took no action — we profoundly and sincerely apologize.
My apology is extended to every member of the Defence Team, past and present, who has been harmed or affected by sexual misconduct — those who are claimants of the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence Sexual Misconduct Class Action, and those who are not.
We acknowledge that we did not do what was necessary to keep you safe.
I know some of you may have questions about my moral authority to deliver this apology.
I have asked those questions too.
Particularly because your leaders, and, those who preceded us, did not make sufficient change.
The harm you suffered happened on our collective watch.
On my watch.
Whether through naiveté, or ignorance — both inexcusable — the problems persisted. The harm continued and it has yet to be sufficiently acknowledged or addressed.
We have — far too slowly — come to realize the terrible toll this has taken on our people. We have not done the deep, transformational work needed to address the underlying cultural issues that contribute to sexual misconduct and other forms of harm.
We unfairly placed the onus on those who were harmed to come forward to effect change.
This should not have been your burden to carry.
It is with tremendous gratitude and respect that I acknowledge and thank all those who have come forward to share their experiences in hopes of making positive change to our institution…
And all those who supported others and those who have taken action to demand change within the CAF.
You served honourably by seeking to improve and secure a better future for our people.
We let you down.
We let down your many colleagues who served and continue to serve with honour.
We let down Canadians, who want to be proud of their Armed Forces, but find that increasingly difficult with each new revelation of harm.
And the failure to prevent these harms has not only robbed many CAF members of their careers — but it has also robbed the CAF and the country we serve of so much potential, of great people who could have been the next generation of leaders, of potentially talented sailors, soldiers, aviators, and operators who will never sign up and discover their potential.
To restore faith in our military, we must change our culture.
We must build trust.
There is no currency as difficult to earn or as easy to squander.
It will take tangible actions to make real and lasting change.
This time we will not fail.
This is my commitment to you.
My commitment to your families and to the loved ones, who suffer beside you.
To the memories of our teammates who suffered but are no longer alive to hear these words.
To our communities and to our country.
This work will be complex and difficult, and it demands a complete unity of purpose.
It is work that we have already begun.
Much of this work is the result of sustained efforts by survivors, the representative plaintiffs in the class actions and those who supported them, advocacy groups, and others, including a number of our own colleagues within the Defence Team who have devoted themselves to culture change.
Because it’s at the grassroots level where true and lasting change will take hold.
As one survivor recently shared – change turns us inward, it causes us to look at ourselves, our beliefs, our moral compass, how we hear and interpret others, it teaches us to recognize our biases, and challenge our cultural and societal views.
I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on this institution, the cultural challenge we face, why our past efforts have failed to deliver the necessary results…And what we must do to break this cycle and forge a new path.
I’ve struggled to find the right balance to ensure those affected by misconduct have the compassionate support they want and need, while ensuring that those who are accused, or found to have caused harm, are treated proportionally, and assured due process.
We must support survivors, and act with empathy.
We must listen and respond appropriately.
I understand from speaking with survivors that our institution’s failure to adequately deal with cases often creates a sense of betrayal that is more devastating than the incident itself.
You told us that you suffered alone.
That you felt isolated and silenced.
As though you had no one in your corner.
I have read survivor testimony.
I have heard of some of your experiences.
Of being targeted for harassment, violence and abuse.
Suffering incidents of hazing that were, in reality, sexual assault.
Of having to take special measures just to protect yourself — because nobody else was looking out for you.
Some of you have shared that you are exhausted by the dehumanizing effects of daily micro-aggressions.
That no matter how hard you try, you’ve been told that you don’t belong in our ranks, in the eyes of your leaders and teammates.
I have heard about members of the Defence Team whose potential has gone unfulfilled, whose sense of purpose has been diminished, whose dreams of a rewarding career of service to their country have been crushed, of members seeking the camaraderie of service who found instead hostility, betrayal, or worse — physical assaults.
Assaults on your mind and on your spirit.
On your dignity and your humanity.
And how, too often, your trauma was inflicted by someone in a position to make or break your career – clear abuses of power.
In a hierarchical institution where we profess to put our people first – this is beyond intolerable.
And I have heard how the policies, processes, and programs we have in place to serve you, have in many cases amplified your trauma.
We cannot — must not — hide from these truths.
You have been wronged.
You have been harmed.
And then when you sought help, we let you down.
Personally, and on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces, I am sorry.
We sincerely apologize for the trauma you have experienced.
To those who suffered in silence, we are sorry.
To those who shouted until you could shout no more, at great personal risk, only to have no one listen to you, we are sorry.
To those who came forward and were told to be quiet, to not rock the boat, to think of your career, or to prioritize the career of the person who harmed you, we are sorry.
To those who came forward and did not receive support but rather faced retribution or retaliation, we are sorry.
To those who have advocated tirelessly for change and have been disappointed time and time again, we are sorry.
We apologize for the harm that has been done to you, to your careers and to your dreams.
And we acknowledge that as you have suffered, so have those around you — your families, friends…and all those who love and support you, for this too, we sincerely apologize, we are sorry.
Every day, people wearing the uniform of the Canadian Armed Forces serve proudly all over the world.
They’re defending Canada, and its interests, and the values and principles we as Canadians cherish.
Including – fundamentally – the right of every person to be treated with respect and dignity.
When members of the Defence Team are not treated with respect and dignity on their own bases, wings, and ships, and on deployments, our institutional hypocrisy is intense, and the sense of betrayal is immense.
I will ensure, we will ensure, this moment is a turning point.
This apology is not the end. Instead, we hope it is an important step forward.
We are committed to listening, and, to learning from, those who can teach us.
And to doing so with humility, respect and compassion.
We will make mistakes. There will be setbacks and there may be more difficult truths that we need to confront. Some of our new initiatives will miss the mark – these are issues that invariably come with change.
But we will be honest and transparent about mistakes in order to learn quickly and continue to move forward, together, towards our goal of a Defence Team where everyone feels welcomed, supported, empowered and inspired each and every day.
We all have a role to play. We know the real work is realizing transformative change that runs deep — to our very foundations — and permeates our entire culture: our behaviours, our attitudes, and our beliefs.
It is a tall order. A daunting task. The greatest challenge of our times.
Because it is existential. Our relevance, our effectiveness as a military force, our continued value to Canada and Canadians, depends on our success in acknowledging and ending harm.
I am convinced we can succeed. The day I stop believing this is the day I can no longer serve.
We can make the Canadian Armed Forces an example for the 21st century.
Taking the elements of our culture that are worth celebrating — traditions of idealism, of courage, of being part of something bigger — and changing the exclusionary aspects to become even better.
A strong, resilient, and adaptable military…
Ready to confront an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable future…
Ready to meet any threat, any challenge, anywhere in the world…
Ready to defend Canada and Canadians as the threats to our security multiply,
Because at the heart of that strength, resilience, and adaptability is the very best talent and energy that this vast, diverse country can offer.
We cannot change the past.
But we will change the present and the future for the Canadian Armed Forces.
The will to do better, be better, is real.
We will harness this energy and turn it into tangible, human-centric, trauma and survivor-informed action.
This is the journey ahead of us.
We owe nothing less than this to you, to all members of the Defence Team, to Canadians and to the future of this force and this country.
Deputy Minister Jody Thomas
Thank you, Minister Anand, General Eyre.
Today, I would like to directly address all persons who have been harmed by sexual harassment, sexual assault, and discrimination based on sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation while working—in the past or present—at the Department of National Defence, in the Canadian Armed Forces, or as part of the Staff of Non Public Funds, Canadian Forces.
This includes friends, families and colleagues.
I especially want to recognize the class members of the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence Sexual Misconduct Class Action—whether you have submitted a claim, or decided not to.
This apology is to all of you.
As Deputy Minister of National Defence, I am here to formally apologize for the harm caused by sexual misconduct within Canada’s Department of National Defence.
My organization and its leadership — together with the leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces — has failed to do its utmost to protect our employees, CAF members, and Staff of Non Public Funds from a wide range of harmful behavior.
To all of you who have been excluded, harassed, humiliated, demeaned or assaulted while working in the Department of National Defence, or harmed by persons who work within the Department of National Defence… I sincerely apologize.
To all who faced reprisals or retaliation when you tried to report your experience or seek assistance…I sincerely apologize.
To those who have been told explicitly or implicitly that your safety did not, or does not matter… That you were not an equal part of this Defence Team… That you had done something to deserve what you experienced …or that you were not important enough for your experience to be seriously credited, examined or addressed… I sincerely apologize.
If you — as a parent, spouse, partner, child or other family member — have witnessed and absorbed the enduring pain of watching a loved-one or friend carry the burden of their lived experience for days, months, years or decades…I sincerely apologize.
If you, as a bystander to sexual misconduct, felt powerless upon seeing how leadership reacted or failed to react to the behaviour…I sincerely apologize.
And to all Defence Team members present and past, including our honoured Veterans: I sincerely apologize: that — through the failures of our two institutions to act — a misapplied sense of authority and unhealthy power dynamics persisted for too long in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.
For too many, that reality has resulted in a workplace that was not safe, supportive and respecting of all persons.
Today, I also apologize for my institution’s role in exacerbating harm to our employees, members and staff, including systems that were designed with the intention to help, but instead created barriers to affected persons.
In too many cases, willful disregard, or entitled obliviousness have worsened the impacts of harm.
In this Defence Team, people — emboldened by a misguided sense of authority, power or privilege — have caused great harm to those within their authority or their immediate team.
There is no possible justification for such betrayal of trust and responsibility. This betrayal is all the more distressing in an organization such as ours, where trust, honour and teamwork are fundamental to why and how we serve Canadians.
As leaders, collectively, we did not always consistently and adequately hold such persons to account. In some cases, we permitted them to move into a different job, to do different damage, and perpetuate the cycle of toxicity and harm elsewhere.
For this failure, I truly apologize.
I offer this apology with humility, with remorse for the enormity of the distress caused, and without any expectation that my words alone will be sufficient to atone for harm done.
I offer it as just one action of many now underway, and soon to come, to address past and current wrongs, and to support—as much as possible—every person’s path to healing.
I can’t and won’t speak for anyone else, nor pass judgement on anyone’s decision to speak or not speak about their own truth.
We must all process our own experiences and act upon them according to what is right for us.
Speaking personally, during my career I have witnessed misogyny, homophobia, hazing, exclusion, open contempt, and abuse of authority of varying degrees that was typically justified under the guise of feeding esprit de corps.
When I reflect on my own service in the Navy, I struggle with my own decisions decades ago to simply ignore behavior directed at me, and that was rooted in that misapplied sense of power.
In truth, I think I was afraid that if I spoke up… if I complained…if I made a fuss…then I would not be allowed to participate, that women would be considered ‘weak’, and that we couldn’t take it.
And so, I endured what was happening to me and around me hoping to prove that I was tough enough, and deserved to be there.
I didn’t understand at the time that such behaviour was not about me, but rather, about power, and the abuse of it..
No person who has experienced harassment or abuse of any kind in this Defence Team should believe themselves at fault, or be made to feel at fault by any member or part of either institution.
We will do what is right — for those harmed and for the future of National Defence.
The Defence Team already has work underway to propose fundamental changes to key elements of CAF systems, processes and governance.
This includes the way we prevent and address sexual misconduct, provide support for those who have been subjected to it, strengthen military justice, and better ensure military and civilian institutional alignment to protect those who work within this organization.
As we move ahead, we commit that we will be more consultative, collaborative and transparent in terms of our approach, more conscious of our actions and the outcomes we are seeking.
At our collective core, we all want a strong, safe and united team that stands up for what is right and good, and takes to heart our duty to care for one another. Not just through our words or aspirational statements, but in our actions.
Such a culture of inclusion, of true team spirit, will flourish when we — as individuals and as a collective — choose to put aside behaviours that are not in our team’s or our country’s best interests.
When we accept that this change is not a nice-to-have but an imperative to achieve.
Through each of us committing to do what is right as individuals, by holding one another accountable, the people behind the Department and the Canadian Armed Forces will ensure we have the institutional willpower to implement and follow-through on what needs to change.
We can do this — I know we can — and together, we can create a respectful, safe and enduring Defence Team culture of which all of us and all Canadians can be proud.
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