RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson may have been the focus of attention at this week’s Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, which has been studying harassment in the police force. But it was the words of two retired military generals that were worth heeding.

In putting together their report on the RCMP, senators were seeking to learn some lessons from the Canadian Forces, which underwent a cultural change of its own following the 1997 Somalia Inquiry. Retired lieutenant-generals Mike Jeffery and Andy Leslie walked them through the dark days of the Somalia scandal that rocked the CF leadership to its core.

Both generals observed how an organization somewhat removed from mainstream society, with its own history and strong culture, and with a leadership resistant to change, lost focus of its ethics and values and saw the erosion of trust between its leaders and followers.

When change was forced upon the CF, though, it invested heavily in training and leadership development, rewriting fundamental doctrine and institutionalizing military ethics and values in the professional development system.

While the initial response to events in Somalia may have been a failure of leadership across the Forces, once change began it could only succeed if the full command structure was engaged, Jeffery and Leslie said, a critical lesson for the changes that were subsequently made. Ethics and values were embedded in every aspect of the organization, and investments were made in standards of conduct and accountability.
It might not be perfect, Leslie said, but the organization has come a long way.

The importance of ethics will feature prominently at the Kingston Conference on International Security next week. The theme this year is “Ethical Warriors: The profession of arms in contemporary perspective.” From drone warfare to the conduct of operations in asymmetrical environments, to the responsibilities of care for personnel during and after deployment, recent wars have raised important questions about military ethics and values. KCIS is always one of the more interesting conferences in the calendar, and the debate this year should be particularly interesting.