Ethical behavior and its impact on the integrity and accountability of the Department of National Defense (DND)

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Par adjum Jason Robinson
Programme de leadership avancé (PLA)
1 novembre, 2022


My professional issue is focused on ethical behaviours and how they impact DND’s accountability and integrity. In understanding what is ethical and creating acceptable ethical principles, leaders will be able to build on other key elements such as diversity, Inclusivity and respect throughout our organization.

The Defence Ethics Programme (DEP) implemented in 1997 and the DND and CF Code of Values implemented in 2012, was the first step in the creation of a foundation to provide ethical guidance for both military and Civilian employees.Footnote 1 Footnote 2 These programs should have been a highpoint for all, as the guiding principles providing directions and expectations. However, when undermined, poor ethical behaviours eroded the foundation the organization is trying to build. One example is the conviction of former Colonel Russell Williams in 2010, this all but destroyed the trust of both civilian and military personnel throughout Canada.Footnote 3 This caused everyone to question the very ethical boundaries placed on the CF along with its integrity and accountability. The role of the CPO2/MWO can foster and fortify the ethical foundations for both the civilian and military personnel by engaging in controversial conversations instead of punishment.Footnote 4 Footnote 5

Examination of this issue will identify some of the reasons why directing the organization to make better ethical decisions has been unsuccessful in creating an ethical foundation, provide recommendations to comprehend why some individuals have less than desirable ethical behaviors, what tools are needed to assist leaders in guiding individuals towards healthier ethical behaviours and to become more effective within the organization.Footnote 6 Footnote 7 Footnote 8

The Context

DND has a poor track record on executing what should be the next level of military evolution based on the military ethos.Footnote 9 DND has implemented multiple policies or programs to enlighten both military and civilian personnel on what behaviours are socially and ethically acceptable. Unfortunately, these actions to elevate DND’s level of understanding, have failed to reach their full potential, having either been cancelled or become so outdated that DND has given up and they are an after thought of conversations.

DND’s framework is started, with multiple policies defining what is expected and what ethical behaviour embodies. However, it needs to go further providing all leaders military or civilian the tools on how to approach issues that arise from unethical behaviour. The disciplinary or transactional leader needs to be refocused and a more holistic approach needs to be taken with open conversations as to why unethical behaviour is not acceptable.

For DND to foster change, leaders must provide individual and collective mechanisms of voice, negative or positive with open lines of communication without reprisal.Footnote 10 If leaders have the ability to conduct conversations, openly discussing points that are less than ethical we can then start identifying and addressing these issues. A members Well-being & Commitment with open communication is the only way to truly change the hearts and minds of our DND personnel allowing for better ethical behaviour choices.

The major dilemma DND must contend with, stems from our military ethos that guides ethical behaviours and this problem isn’t being caused by DND’s followers but by DND’s Leaders.Footnote 11 It is great to have all these policies in place and our leaders stating that change is necessary for the evolution of DND, but if our leaders don’t exemplify what they are trying to attain how can we expect to convince the rest of DND to follow. For Mission success, DND must start developing its leadership cadre with a better understanding, that they themselves must establish an ethical culture first before DND’s followers, this will require DND to rebuild its institution from the top down renewing its integrity and accountability.Footnote 10

The Environment

No one person should feel that they are on their own to effectively change ethical behaviours for themselves or others within DND’s organisation. DND and the government of Canada have consistently implemented policies, Ops and directives which have resulted in either being ineffective or cancelled. I believe that DND must first appreciate the complexity of changing the ethical behaviours of all DND personnel and comprehend the cause and effect that these changes could represent.Footnote 12 I have created a visual illustration (see Annex A – Mind Map) of the nuances that form complex interconnecting relationships between the cause and effect of positive ethical behaviours.

With a system thinking approach as to how DND functions in an environment of checks and balances, cause and effect that influences how personnel are to react, or how they should be treated through positive ethical behaviour.Footnote 13

Starting in the center is our main issue Ethical Behaviour highlighted in green. The six main outcomes, Members Well-Being, Training, Internal Perception, Military Ethos, External Perception and Leadership highlighted in orange. With the two primary Goals, Accountability and Integrity highlighted in red which are affected by so many sub-systems it is critical that DND take these points seriously. Lastly, the secondary effects, Diversity of Personnel, New Recruits, Mission Success, International Credibility, Public Acceptance and Retention highlighted in blue are the resulting outcomes from DND having a more positive ethical behaviour core. All these traits identified in the Mind Map are potential paths that are interconnected and could be attained by DND reaching higher accountability and integrity through positive ethical behaviour.

Implemented in 1997 was the Defence Ethics Programme (DEP) and since then there has been other programs also applied to DND’s organisational cultural principles with all programs largely not resulting in organizational compliance. What all these efforts have in common is that they stated the end game as to what and where our ethical behaviours should be, while leaving out any tools or guidance as to how our leaders are to accomplish this meaningful endeavour.

While looking at the mind map, we as leaders need to identify that an ethical core foundation is required and how we build that is through more than just the online courses provided by DND. This key environment should be through a system of leaders and associates that can provide the fundamental guidance and tools to start to understand the less than ethical behaviours.

It will be through a new class of leaders that can not only embrace the “out with the old and in with the new” moto, but emulate the core ethical behaviours required to elevate DND to an era of accountability and integrity not just of the organisation but of themselves as well. This new learning environment will have to have open lines of communication for all members with new sets of professional boundaries. The current learning concepts of online training while cost effective, they have no role models or feedback, positive or negative from leaders. DND needs to place the learning back into the hands of the leadership and provide more one-on-one learning opportunities that can be accomplished more effectively at the CPO2/MWO level.Footnote 14

Analysing the Problems

The following analytical views identify why multiple efforts or action plans, to instill acceptable ethical behaviours throughout DND have resulted in less than stellar results, thus failing to create the cultured organization and affecting its accountability and integrity.

First, the introduction of DEP (1997) and DND & CF code of Values & Ethics (2012) only provided terminology of ethical behaviour or what actions should be taken with less than ethical behaviour.Footnote 15 Footnote 16 DND compiled impressive programs with expectations for DND’s personnel, both military and civilian, but left out the tools and guidance leadership required to identify and correct less than ethical behaviour without resorting to discipline first.Footnote 17 Programs with cause-and-effect actions ultimately lead to unsuccessful outcomes as they have no Interpersonal feedback to allow for individual change.Footnote 18 Past programs were only effective to leaders, if the personnel including the leadership understood the why and where aspects of less than ethical behaviour.Footnote 19

With actioned based results and no tools or guidance for the leadership to understand why, or how to identify the problems associated with the less than ethical behaviours, DND’s leaders were destined to fail and discredit their accountability and integrity.Footnote 20 Using both a systems thinking and critical thinking approach to create a model for courses, will provide a better understanding of ethical behaviours that will be actioned by all levels of leadership.Footnote 21 Footnote 22

With the proper tools, CPO2’s/MWO’s can provide the guidance needed to deliver the understanding of members less then ethical behaviour and provide the framework to a more ethical organization.Footnote 23 One of the biggest road blocks for leaders at this time, is being unable to effectively change less than ethical behaviours, as DND’s top leaders in the recent years continue to displayed less than ethical behaviours. This is why the tools and guidance must be first embraced by top leadership, then be provided to the CPO2’s /MWO’s to foster cultural change within the establishment at the lower levels, consequently creating a more accountable organisation as it is their responsibility as CF leaders.Footnote 24

Secondly, CPO2’s/MWO’s need to transition from transactional to a transformational leadership approach, to provide better communication and influence DND personnel.Footnote 25 Footnote 26 Footnote 27 A decision based right or wrong, good or bad transactional leadership style stymies CPO2’s/MWO’s from effectively changing ethical behaviours of personnel. To foster an accepting culture with acceptable ethical behaviours, personnel need open communication and guidance, the inflexible transactional environment counteracts any potential for grow.Footnote 28

Additionally, supervisors with a transactional leadership style tend to focus on self-serving or careerism goals that work for them, but potentially adds to more unethical behaviours due to the narrow purview of disciplinary actions, thus failing to produce improvements for subordinates and the organisation.Footnote 29 Footnote 30

The transformational leadership style has more extensive expectations for CPO2’s/MWO’s, but is best suited to foster professional relationships with personnel through guidance, direction and open communication.Footnote 31 As an organization CPO2’s/MWO’s need to change the context of CF leadership, by providing more conceptualised integrity within DND, for both military and civilian personnel to see and understand what are the expected standards.Footnote 32

When Leaders exhibit the standard of what is expected of personnel, not only is the organisations overall acceptance and integrity increased, but also that of the leadership.Footnote 33 More significance needs to be placed on the capabilities of a leader to transition through leaderships styles through valued-based leadership, rather than whether they can make decisions regardless if they are good or bad, right or wrong.Footnote 34 Footnote 35 This is where strong leadership should be mentoring junior leaders for both officers or NCM’s to provide that one-on-one interaction lost due to cost cuts or personnel reductions through the years.Footnote 36 Footnote 37


DND has yet to establish a viable directions or solutions, to either enact or provide the required guidance, to effectively begin the transition to a more ethically accepting and understanding organization. DND has tried with programs such as DEP in 1997 and again with the DND & CF’s Code of Values and Ethics in 2012, however they fell short from producing any worthwhile cultural change, leading to acceptable ethical behaviours.Footnote 38

DND’s leadership structure places CPO2’s/MWO’s in key positions that are able to provide the greatest effect in fostering cultural change and ethical behaviours more inline with what is socially acceptable. Additionally, these positions also provide the greatest potential to create acceptable ethical behaviours, throughout the organization for both military and civilian personnel by open communication to discuss ethical behaviours good or bad. The following recommendations will address how the lack of accountability and integrity is affecting DND through, but not limited to the positions of CPO2/MWO and the organization as a whole. Moreover, the following recommendations will also look at education, training and guidance within DND and what benefits it can bring to the organisation.

Recommendation Issue 1

DND lacks a proper educational model to be able to verbalize the reasonings of why less than ethical behaviours exist; in addition, DND has failed to provide leadership with effective communication tools through interpersonal feedback to guide discussions on these socially conflicting views.Footnote 39 Footnote 40

It’s recommended that formal courses be created to identify less than ethical behaviours with the emphasis on not only how to recognise them, but on how to openly communicate and discuses these topics.Footnote 41 Footnote 42 Footnote 43 These courses should be shaped by military leaders that have a strong understanding of ethical behaviours and professionals that have studied in the philosophies of ethical behaviours, with a system and critical thinking approach to identify where less than ethical behaviours derive from.Footnote 44 Footnote 45 With the collaboration of both military personnel and behavioural phycologists, courses could be formalised and ready to be implemented within a year. Additionally, they will have the greatest potential in creating the tools essential for the interpersonal feedback, needed to define the ethical behaviour and understanding leading to the ethical behaviour changes desired by the organisation.Footnote 46

Providing educational paths for both military and civilian personnel throughout their career, can benefit DND by providing the understanding of socially accepted ethical behaviours and why they are or are not ethical.Footnote 47 Footnote 48 These courses should have monitored multiple levels of complexity as the members progress within the different stages of their career.Footnote 49

Recommendation Issue 2

DND is failing its leadership by not providing the understanding and training required to facilitate open communication to discuss less than ethical behaviours though leadership styles.Footnote 50 Footnote 51 It is this type of open dialogue that will provide the means for members to understand why acceptable ethical behaviour is required and how less than ethical behaviour can affect the organisation.Footnote 52 Recently, senior leadership has displayed less than ethical behaviour and making the organisation look even more unfavourable due to ongoing less than ethical behaviours leading to investigations.Footnote 53 Additionally, leadership displaying self-serving or careerism values, lead to less than fair treatment of subordinate members, unless subordinates become subserviate, an action that further diminishes the leaderships accountability and integrity.Footnote 54 Footnote 55 Footnote 56

The direction proposed in this recommendation is that the CPO2’s/MWO’s take on the transformational style of leadership and move away from the transactional style, as this style doesn’t allow for the open communication needed to influence and bring understanding to members of the organisation.Footnote 57 Footnote 58 DND has courses that would provide the required insight to leadership styles and how to have effective open communication, but must look at re-implementing the person-to-person training.

Getting back to in person training and having open talks about leadership styles, what self-serving and careerism values are and how it can affect everyone’s accountability and integrity leading to a less cultured organisation.Footnote 59 These courses should be mandatory starting at the lowest levels of leadership and additional courses should be created for each subsequent level of leadership in addition to the leadership courses already in place. This direction could be immediately applied to the lowest levels of leadership starting at, but separate from PLQ to provide the tools and understanding early in a member’s career, with the more advanced courses to be implemented within a year after their formalisation.


The overarching benefit to implementing the previous recommendations, would be to bring the organisations values back into a more positive view, both internally and externally.

By providing the understanding of why and where less than ethical behaviours stem from, through education and training, leadership will be able to more effectively foster ethical changes needed to produce work environments desired by the organisation. Furthermore, in class ethical courses at each level of promotion, will offer the opportunity for open communication of ethical behaviours before they become a problem in the organisation. Additionally, CPO2’s/MWO’s can provide guidance with ethical briefs within the units, as a program serving to reinforce the ethical principles, just as we do for health & safety.

With proper leadership training and education for both junior and senior members, DND will identify its commitment in being a profession of arms above reproach, along with a commitment to hold all its members to a higher level of accountability and integrity. Additionally, re-educating senior leadership will ensure personnel are treated fairly and equally, by confirming their values are not based on self-severing or careerism views.

Annex A – Mind Map

Ethical Behaviour and how it impacts the Department of National Defence’s (DND’s) Integrity and Accountability

Mind Map

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