Report on sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces exposes a ‘failed’ culture and recommends reforms

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TORONTO — Allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military should be investigated and prosecuted exclusively by civilian authorities, says a scathing report by a former Supreme Court justice concluded on Monday.

The report commissioned by the government of Louise Arbour, who also served as the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, came amid a spate of sexual misconduct allegations against senior military leaders. that have shaken the armed forces and eroded public confidence.

“The denunciation of sexual misconduct in the [Canadian Armed Forces] exposed a deeply flawed culture, fostered by a rigid and outdated structure that did little to modernize it,” Arbor writes in the report.

A danger of the army’s operating model, she wrote, is a “high probability that some of its members are more at risk of being injured, day-to-day, by their comrades than by the enemy.” . She said the crisis “has caused so much damage that a battle defeat should have demoralized the troops and shocked the Canadians.”

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Among the report’s 48 recommendations were calls for complaints of sexual harassment to be referred to the Canadian Human Rights Commission and for officials to consider whether there should be an alternative to military colleges, which, according to Arbour, “appear as institutions from another era”.

Anita Anand, Canada’s Defense Minister, said she agreed with all of the “thoughtful” recommendations and would take immediate action to implement 17 of them, including appointing an external observer who would oversee the process.

“I recognize that some may express skepticism about our ability to achieve and our commitment to pursue reform,” she said. “Let me state clearly my belief that now is the time to create change and we expect the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defense to put in place meaningful reforms.

Anand said the government would consider the remaining recommendations, including, crucially, whether to give civil authorities exclusive jurisdiction over sexual misconduct offences. She said they involve “further analysis, planning and consultation” and that she will inform Parliament by the end of the year of those that will not be implemented.

The problem of sexual misconduct in the military is not new — or new to Canadians. But a series of high-profile cases over the past year have brought the issue back into focus.

General Jonathan Vance, who retired as chief of defense staff last year, pleaded guilty in March to obstruction of justice. He was accused of having contacted Major Kellie Brennan on several occasions by telephone to pressure her into making false statements to the military police about a relationship they had while she was his subordinate.

An agreed statement of facts submitted to the court said Vance had conversations with Brennan “about a collaborative and mutually beneficial response to publicity regarding their clandestine and intimate relationship” and “promoted a false narrative”, pushing her to deny that they had had sex while he was Chief of the Defense Staff.

He also stated that they had a child together.

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Vance’s successor, Adm. Art McDonald, temporarily resigned as chief of defense staff – the US chairman’s equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – last year after the military opened an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. It didn’t indict him. McDonald said he intended to retire, according to Global News.

Other leaders who have faced allegations of sexual misconduct in the past year include the army’s human resources chief and the soldier who was tasked with overseeing the logistics of the coronavirus vaccine deployment to the Canada. Both have denied wrongdoing. Several civil servants have been put on leave or forced into retirement.

In 2015, former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps uncovered an “underlying sexualized culture” in the military and a perception in the lower ranks “that members of the chain of command condone inappropriate sexual conduct or are ready to close their eyes.

In 2019, the federal government set aside more than $700 million for victims of sexual misconduct and gender-based discrimination in the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of Defence.

But significant changes have not materialized, and many of the the same problems persist.

The armed forces resisted outside calls for change, Arbor wrote, “choosing the letter over the spirit, often the appearance of implementation over its substance, thus entrenching their ways of operating”.

Arbor noted in the report that some recommendations have already met with opposition.

Last year, Anand temporarily accepted a recommendation made in Arbor’s interim report that all sexual assaults and other criminal offenses of a sexual nature allegedly committed by a member of the armed forces be referred to civilian authorities.

In the report released on Monday, Arbor wrote that she had been led to believe in conversations with police and prosecution officials that “taking on this relatively small number of cases would not be a problem,” but in the months that followed there was resistance and some police forces refused to accept cases involving the military.

“The number of cases, spread across the country, with slightly higher volume around CAF bases and wings, and virtually none elsewhere, provides little justification for this refusal to enforce the law,” Arbor wrote.

The best way forward, she added, “is to provide for the exclusive jurisdiction of the civil courts in all matters of sexual misconduct under the Criminal Code.”

Arbor pointed to two barriers to progress: the assumption that the crisis is “solely attributable to a culture of misogyny” and that change will come over time with “more enlightened attitudes,” and belief within the Armed Forces. Canadians that she can solve the problem. system alone.

“I just hope those recommendations don’t end up in a little box on their chart of the many recommendations that are still under consideration,” Arbor told reporters in Ottawa.