The West Block — Episode 27, Season 10 – National


Episode 27, Season 10

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Host: Mercedes Stephenson


Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy

Marc Garneau, Foreign Affairs Minister

Location: Ottawa, Ontario

Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: International tensions on the rise, an interview with Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau.

Marc Garneau, Foreign Affairs Minister: “This treatment of the Uyghurs is totally unacceptable.”

Mercedes Stephenson: A failed mission: Operation Honour is no more.

Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, Canadian Armed Forces: “I believe, and I’ve heard from many, that perhaps this operation has culminated.”

Mercedes Stephenson: And the exclusive new details on the harm that’s been caused.

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: “It’s been very isolating, very, very isolating for me.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Lieutenant (navy) Heather Macdonald shares her experience reporting a chief of the defence staff.

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: “They tried to steal the due process that I deserve and that Admiral McDonald deserves as well.”

Mercedes Stephenson: He was the most powerful man in the Canadian military: Admiral Art McDonald, the first admiral to be chief of the defence staff in 30 years. It would last just six short weeks. McDonald would step aside facing what multiple sources have told Global News, is an allegation of sexual assault.

The West Block sits down with navy Lieutenant Heather Macdonald in an exclusive interview.

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Mercedes Stephenson: What did you feel like when you realized that you were required as an officer to report this?

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: “A sinking sensation in my stomach.”

Mercedes Stephenson: How the woman hailed on International Women’s Day by the Canadian Armed Forces…

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: “I’ve had people ask why aren’t there more women…”

Mercedes Stephenson: …would find herself at the centre of the crisis engulfing the military, blazing a trail she never wanted to walk.

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: “It’s been very isolating, very, very isolating for me.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Global News has learned the alleged sexual assault took place on the HMCS Montreal, docked in Greenland during Operation Nanook in 2010.

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: “It was never treated as a secret.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Then-Captain McDonald was commanding an international task force, while Lieutenant Heather Macdonald was on her first operation on the ship. She says there were multiple witnesses to the alleged assault but nobody said anything.

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: “You can’t report on naval captains and above.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Military police are currently interviewing those said to have witnessed the incident. The investigation into Admiral McDonald is still ongoing.

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: “The process is, I think, very broken.”

Mercedes Stephenson: And Lieutenant Macdonald recounts other times she’s experienced sexism from her superiors.

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: “His words were, ‘I feel like your father telling you to keep your legs shut,” which was news to me. I was very, very shocked. And I was, ‘What the heck?’”

Mercedes Stephenson: Lieutenant (navy) Heather Macdonald, thank you so much for joining us. Heather, we really appreciate you being willing to sit down and talk to us about your experience as a woman in the navy, as a woman who has had to report one of the most high profile cases of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Let’s start with talking about what has your time in the navy been like?

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Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: Well, I’ve gotten to experience things in the navy that I never would have been able to experience anywhere else. I’ve gotten to see more of the world from a very unique perspective than I would have been able to do in any other civilian job. Some of my best memories, to date, have been at sea in the middle of the ocean at night looking up the stars, or you know, being amongst millions of dolphins jumping out of the water. You know, like I wouldn’t have those memories if I hadn’t joined the navy.

Mercedes Stephenson: Heather, can you tell us what it’s like being a woman onboard a war ship? Because we’ve talked to women in other branches in the army, in particular, but it’s so unique when you’re at sea because you are literally thousands of kilometres from anywhere sometimes with this group of people. What’s the dynamic like on a war ship for a woman?

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: Well it depends on the war ship, right? You’re—you’re essentially in a tin can with 250 of your not so greatest best friends, with no—you know, the ship’s going 24 hours a day so you’re working 12 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week and you don’t really have any alone time or opportunities to get away from people. You’re just putting your head down getting—trying to get your job done. You know, trying to be as professional as you can. Of course, it depends on the war ship, the leadership and the crew.

I’ve had supervisors tell me to my face that women don’t belong in my trade and that I should do everyone a favour and voluntarily release.

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Mercedes Stephenson: We asked Lieutenant Macdonald what she felt comfortable telling us about what happened that night aboard the HMCS Montreal.

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: I’m not comfortable discussing the incident, that itself. I believe that what process we have needs to remain fair and everybody including me, should have due process. And so I do not want to pervert that due process for myself or for Admiral McDonald.

I would say that what bothered me the most about how this kind of came out, was the detailed leak that happened that led to Admiral McDonald stepping aside to CBC. There was a certain level of details, mixed with a little bit of lies that it was obvious someone in a trusted position had that information and they decided to leak that to the press. And it bothers me that someone in a trusted position had such weak ethics and values that they—I’m not sure what they were trying to get out of that, but they tried to steal the due process that I deserved and that Admiral McDonald deserves as well. If we don’t have due process, then all we have are witch hunts and that’s, that’s—that’s not healthy. That doesn’t change the culture.

Mercedes Stephenson: How did what happened with Admiral Macdonald affect you?

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: It’s hard to be a female officer and to be perceived as the leader and to maintain that leadership. And I was just getting onboard that ship and just taking over as the assistant head of department, so it’s kind of hard enough being a female in that role. We don’t need to add to that.

Mercedes Stephenson: Was it hard to do this when you’re in the navy and people were saying finally, a navy chief of the defence staff.

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: Yes, very much so. It’s been three decades since we’ve had an admiral chief of defence staff. I am an engineer in the navy and we really need someone at the top who understands where the navy is right now. We—we need very strong leadership to get the navy through the next little while and I don’t—I feel a little bit robbed that we might lose our admiral over this. This is—yeah.

Mercedes Stephenson: After this break, we’ll be back with more of my interview with Lieutenant Heather Macdonald.


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Mercedes Stephenson: Lieutenant Heather Macdonald has witnessed sexual misconduct throughout her career, but it was a recent and now notorious alleged incident that made her come forward: alleged inappropriate sexual misconduct by senior naval officers on the now well-known “red room” Zoom call, with over 100 sailors on it.

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: We’ve had Operation Honour for six years and it—it really—really hit. It really triggered me and it really—it made me very disappointed and, and somewhat angry that in any way we would have senior leadership giving that—that sort of message or allowing that message to be said that it doesn’t apply to us, it only applies to you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Macdonald says part of why she came forward was the double standard for junior troops compared to top officers.

So, has your experience been that’s there’s basically two systems here? That there’s one reporting system for junior people who are held accountable and held to a very tough standard, and one for senior people who just aren’t being held accountable in the same way when they’re the top brass.

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: I would say yes. Some of it is senior leadership. You know if you have 30 plus years’ experience, you can’t replace that very easily so maybe, maybe that’s why they’re protected a little bit more. But I think I’m going to just go back to you can still do harm and in fact, senior leadership should be held to a higher standard because just by their actions and their words, they give the space for, for predators who exist in all levels of society to—to do harm to others. Good people can do harm. Good people can inadvertently encourage others to do harm. Good people, who have done harm, should still have consequences.

Mercedes Stephenson: Macdonald is concerned there is no military process for trying someone as high ranking at the CDS. She wants a fair system for those who might come forward; one that supports victims but also protects the rights of the accused with a spectrum of responses that allows reconciliation to take place, while holding perpetrators accountable.

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: It bothers me that we’re not—we’re not getting justice. I, I think this brings to mind what I—one of the things I’ve heard the most in this whole process, and I—and I don’t quite understand why, is everybody has told me you have all the power. And that has been the most empty slogan that has been used for me the most often. And it—a) that’s a lie. Even the minister of national defence said to the parliamentary committee that we need to give power back to the victims and survivors. So evidently that’s a lie, that statement. I want a fair process. I want a justice, and you can’t get that. You can’t have a fair process for everyone if one person has all the power. That is—that is in a—you’re never going to get—you’re never going to fix the problem if one person has all the power. It’s become something that triggers me a little bit when people say, “Oh, you have all the power.” I—I kind of get a little nauseous these days hearing that. We have to stop hurting our people. We don’t have so many people that we can continue to so. And we need a fair process that everyone can believe in. I—I tend to agree that I don’t think we can get there by ourselves. We need a separate—separate from our chain of command, oversight to hold us to, to—to account, but I think what’s kind of missing from the rhetoric is we also do need our own senior leadership.

Mercedes Stephenson: Are you worried about your career, having come forward?

Lt. Heather Macdonald, Royal Canadian Navy: Yes. Yes, of course I am. This summer, I’ll have been in 17 years and I’m very proud of my service up till now. I would like to continue to serve my country.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, tensions flaring with China: New sanctions and next steps, an interview with Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau.


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Mercedes Stephenson: Canada, the United States and the U.K, have come together to demand that China stop the alleged human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims.

Last week for the first time, Canada targeted four Chinese officials with sanctions who are suspected of being involved in a year’s long campaign of persecution of the Uyghurs. The Chinese Embassy has fired back at Canada with a scathing response and a warning, saying, “Those playing with fire will end up burning themselves badly.”

So, what is Canada’s next move? Joining me now is Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau. Thank you so much for joining us, minister. Obviously a dramatic week for Canada-China relations, are you concerned that China is going to take further action against Canada as a result of imposing these historic sanctions on them? We know just recently they—they struck out at the United Kingdom by reverse sanctioning four of their parliamentarians. Do you think you or members of your government might end up being sanctioned by China?

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Marc Garneau, Foreign Affairs Minister: Well good morning, Mercedes. We’ll see what happens. But sometimes a country needs to say what needs to be said, and in this particular case, we and our allies, a group as you point out: the EU, the United States, the U.K. and Canada, its put in place sanctions because they needed to be sending a signal to the Chinese government that their gross violations of human rights in Xinjiang to the Uyghurs were totally unacceptable. So a very strong signal was sent and of course, we’ll see what happens.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, there have been folks who have been calling on your government to bring in these sorts of sanctions when the UE—the EU did. We were a little late to the game on this, why was that?

Marc Garneau, Foreign Affairs Minister: We have been working with likeminded democratic countries on a coordinated response. You’ll notice, for example, that on the 15th of February, Canada led an initiative called the Declaration on Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations. And we assembled 58 countries for that declaration, pointing out how it was totally unacceptable for a country to arbitrarily detain the citizens of another country on trumped charges. The display of solidarity with 22 countries in front of the courthouse on Monday at the trial of Michael Kovrig was another demonstration of solidarity amongst countries, and of course, the countries that joined us in imposing the sanctions on China for their treatment of the Uyghurs, is another example. And we’re going to continue to build on that coordinated multilateral approach to China and—and to other countries such as Russia.

Mercedes Stephenson: But why has your government not called what is happening to the Uyghurs a genocide, which many of your allies have?

Marc Garneau, Foreign Affairs Minister: So we’re looking at that very serious and working with our allies on that. It is a very big decision. We take all allegations of genocide very seriously. But the important point here to remember is that we have, for the first time, sent a very clear signal to China that we are deeply preoccupied by the very credible report of gross human violations that are occurring in Xinjiang and we’re going to continue to watch this very carefully.

We went to the United Nations last year to the Human Rights Council and said that this needed to be investigated and that China should allow an independent impartial body to go into China to examine the situation. We put in measures with respect to companies using forced labour, restrictions on that. We are continuing to evaluate different measures to get the message across to China that its treatment of the Uyghurs is totally unacceptable and deeply preoccupying.

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Mercedes Stephenson: And you mentioned companies doing business in Xinjiang province and the concerns about the possibility of forced labour. We spoke to a member of the Uyghur community on this show a couple of weeks ago and they were calling on the Canadian government to do more than just ask companies to police themselves, to actually take a look as a government about whether Canadian companies—and there are significant number of them with significant investment in this region—are in fact, using forced labour. Is your government willing to take a tougher stance on that and to start looking at Canadian companies they’re investing there, or telling them that they can’t invest there?

Marc Garneau, Foreign Affairs Minister: Well we’ve already taken a first step, and I think that first step sends a very clear message that it is important that no product that is the result of forced labour, specifically the Uyghurs, or other ethnic minorities, find its way to Canada. And Canadian industry, or Canadian companies that operate in that part of the world, are fully aware of that and our indications, as we’re monitoring the situation, are that they are respecting those restrictions.

Mercedes Stephenson: I think there are a lot of questions about how well countries are able to actually monitor this because the Chinese government won’t allow independent monitors in to look at this, they kicked journalists out for reporting on it. But I want to change gears to talk a little bit about still the Chinese-Canada relationship, but the two Canadian citizens who have been on trial in China in recent weeks.

We found out that the Canadian ambassador wasn’t there for this. He’s—he’s actually here in Canada, Dominic Barton. Why is he home at such a critical time for Canadians who are being arbitrarily detained and now tried?

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Marc Garneau, Foreign Affairs Minister: So let me explain to your viewers. This is a very standard procedure that the Government of Canada will sometimes recall its ambassadors for discussions face-to-face and this is exactly what has happened in this particular case of Dominic Barton. It happened before we knew about the trials of the two Michaels last week. And it is to bring him back so that we can sit down with him and have a discussion about how we move forward with China. He is a key player in all of this and this is totally standard procedure. It happens in the diplomatic world all the time. And of course, we’re very ably represented by the chargé d’affaires Jim Nickel, who did a great job in both Dandong and in Beijing at the trials of the two Michaels. So, this is totally standard procedure.

Mercedes Stephenson: I know there have been some concerns about ambassador Barton in terms of he used to be with McKinsey. McKinsey has done business close to where some of these Uyghur forced labour camps were. McKinsey says they didn’t know about them. They were in close proximity. But I do want to ask you one last question about something else you said last week. You talked about the risk to citizens who are doing business in China. You warned other countries that their citizens, too, could be picked up and randomly thrown in jail as political punishment while they’re doing business in China, should Canadians still be going to China to do business there, or should they stay home because the risk is simply too high?

Marc Garneau, Foreign Affairs Minister: Well we have certainly drawn attention, hopefully to the world, of the risks associated with going to a country like China, which if it doesn’t get its way, can resort to arbitrary detention, as we’ve seen, unfortunately, in the case of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. So we need to carry that message. Let me just say that, you know, I’ve known bullies in my life, and I know that bullies can change. But they don’t change unless you keep telling them that they need to change because their behaviour is unacceptable. That is what Canada is doing with its likeminded allies, and we will continue to do it because arbitrary detention in—is totally unacceptable. You cannot arrest the innocent civilians of another country, simply because you’re not happy with that other country. We can have differences of opinion, that’s fine. But we don’t resolve them that way. And that’s the message that we needed to carry and we will continue to carry, to China.

Mercedes Stephenson: Does that mean Canadians shouldn’t go, though, because the Canadian government can’t protect them?

Marc Garneau, Foreign Affairs Minister: There are no restrictions at the moment of that nature. But I think that, you know, every individual who decides that they’re going to go over to China has to make their own assessment at this point.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister Garneau, thank you so much for your time today, sir.

Marc Garneau, Foreign Affairs Minister: My pleasure, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time that we have today. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson and we’ll see you right back here, next Sunday.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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