Bill C-77, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts

Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence
feat. Lindsay Rodman
May 27, 2019


Opening Statement

Lindsay L. Rodman
Director of Communications & Legal Strategy, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
U.S. Marine Corps & Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran
Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Non-Resident Senior Fellow, NYU School of Law, Reiss Center on Law & Security

Ladies and Gentlemen –

Mesdames et Messieurs, merci de m’avoir inviter ici aujourd’hui.  It is my great honour to be with you today.  I regret that I cannot appear in person. 

I come to you today wearing many hats: I am the Director of Communications and Legal Strategy at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the NYU School of Law’s Reiss Center on Law and Security.

Perhaps most relevant to you, I am a judge advocate in the U.S. Marine Corps, where I hold the rank of major.  I have served on active duty and in the Reserves, including deployment to Afghanistan and tours in the Pentagon and the White House.  Today I am speaking to you in my individual capacity – my remarks are my own and do not reflect the views of the U.S. Marine Corps.

I am also proudly a part of the Canadian military community – my husband retired in September after 20 years of service as an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force.  We spent the past two years in Ottawa, where I was a fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations studying Canadian national security and defense issues. 

In our household, comparing and contrasting the experiences of the U.S. military and the Canadian military was commonplace.  I learned many things from my husband’s experience about how we could do things better back home, and I am humbled that you are receiving my testimony today to learn more about what the American experience might have to offer the Canadian Armed Forces.

When Canada’s military sexual assault numbers came out last year, I was astounded.  The numbers were nearly identical to similar data that came out of the American military in a 2012 survey.  That survey kicked off years of Congressional oversight inquiries, annual changes in the law and a slew of new policies aimed at addressing the scourge of sexual assault in our military. 

One such policy change that eventually became law was the advent of the Victims Legal Counsel or “VLCs” in 2015.  I will admit that I was adamantly opposed to VLCs when the idea was introduced.  I had three major problems with the proposal: first, it offended my notions of fairness in court and might jeopardize convictions; second, I did not think we had personnel capacity in the judge advocate community to cover this additional mission; and third, it seemed unnecessary since we already had significant victim advocate support available for victims.

I was wrong.  Our commands’ ability to respect victims’ interests has been improving over time, while we have seen an outpouring of gratitude and support for this program.  Although there is no civilian analog for the position of “victim legal counsel” in the United States, we have found that the unique context of the military requires extra resources for victims to be truly taken care of within our system.  In addition, attorneys are able to take on the command even in situations where uniformed victim advocates and civilian social workers seem unable or unempowered.

At this point, we have a number of personnel devoted to a victim when he or she comes forward, including: the uniformed victim advocate – a member of the command, the victim advocate – a social worker charged with helping the victim gain access to the resources he or she needs, and the VLC.  There are gaps in our coverage, however.  Civilian victims with no connection to the military, for example, are not entitled to VLCs. 

While I offer lessons from our experience, I regret to say that what are doing has not worked – the rate of sexual assault in the military has not gone down.  The latest numbers from the Department of Defense are not good and show little-to-no progress in lowering the overall rate of sexual assaults in our military.  While our military is taking additional steps to take care of victims, we are also still creating victims at the high rates we were a decade ago.

There are many constructive ways we can try to compare and contrast the U.S. and Canadian experiences in combating sexual assault in the military.  In the United States, for example, there is nothing called “OpHonour.”  Despite not having this overarching program, we have devoted many resources and many years of study to addressing this problem – some more successful than others. In the end, however, we retain a deep cultural problem in the U.S. military.

I have focused my comments thus far on our efforts to support victims of sexual assault because that is where I see great need in both militaries for new and innovative solutions. 

I know that Bill C-77 contains more than just the victims’ bill of rights, including significant reforms aimed at your summary trial process.  Having heard some of your testimony from Mr. Drapeau and others, I can offer some thoughts on the U.S. summary court-martial process. 

In our summary court-martial, there is also no right to an attorney.  Summary courts are not available for officers.  Enlisted members can lose rank and can be confined for up to 30 days.  Though we retain this tool, it is used sparingly.  Instead, we favor using special and general courts-martial, which provide all of the protections, safeguards, and processes that we – Canadians and Americans – associate with a modern justice system.  The analogy between Canadian summary trials and American summary courts-martial is not perfect, but I hope these reflections and others I have offered this afternoon have been helpful. 

Thank you for your attention.  I look forward to your questions. 

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