Friday, April 23, 2021

Canadian Deputy PM: "There are some deep problems in the Armed Forces with sexual harassment, and with treatment of women."


    The Canadian Armed Forces [CAF] are in a crisis. Disappointingly, it has been a longstanding crisis, which extends back more than 20 years. For instance, in four cover stories published in 1998, MacLean’s magazine alerted the Canadian public of a deep-seated crisis of rampant sexual misconduct in the Canadian military. 

Since that time, sadly, little has changed. 

 There have been other signs of this crisis for decades that should not have gone unnoticed. This includes, the case of Colonel Russel Williams who in 2010 confessed to the sexual assault of at least four women, the murders of two women (one civilian and one Master Corporal serving under his authority), and to having illegally invaded the homes and bedrooms of over 80 of his neighbours. 

     Fast forward, in 2015, retired madam Justice Marie Deschamps, formerly of the Supreme Court,  conducted an external review of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in the CAF. She concluded that there were an underlying sexualized culture in the CAF that is hostile to women conducive to serious incidents of sexual harassment and assault.  In response, the then Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Jonathan Vance, introduced Operation Honour whose purpose was to rid the CAF of this scourge.

    In 2016 and 2017 seven former CAF members initiated a class action suit before the Federal Court of Canada alleging sexual discrimination based on sex or gender, sexual harassment and sexual assault.  The class action was certified and on November 25, 2019 the Court approved a multi-million dollar settlement that provides compensation to victims.  Then a government agency known as Statistics Canada conducted two separate surveys. First, in 2017, it concluded that approx. 900 CAF members had been victims of sexual assault. The, in 2018, it reported that one in seven female students at the Royal Military College (RMC) had been sexually assaulted the previous year.

    Also in 2018, at a private meeting with former military Ombudsman, Gary Walbourne, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was advised of the existence of a confidential complaint of sexual misconduct against Gen Vance. At the meeting, the Minister allegedly refused to become cognizant with the substance of the complaint because he claimed that by doing so would "taint the evidence".  After the meeting, Minister Sajjan notified the Privy Council Office (PCO) which reports directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. PCO advised the Secretary to the  Cabinet as well as the Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, however, no action was taken. General Vance continued to serve as CDS until January 21, 2021 when he handed his duties to Admiral Art MacDonald and proceeded on retirement leave.

    Two short weeks later, on February 2, 2021, two separate allegations of inappropriate behaviour were made against General Vance. On February 25, 2021, Admiral MacDonald was suddenly suspended following allegations of sexual misconduct which were levelled against against him. On March 9, 2021 the Commander of Personnel Command (Vice Admiral Hayden Edmundson) faced serious allegations of sexual assault. He was also suspended from the performance of his duties. At the time of writing, these two senior officers remain suspended from duty.

     In response to these unprecedented flurry of allegations, no less than three separate Parliamentary committees are currently focused on a study into sexual misconduct in the CAF. Their study also include the Liberal’s government mishandling of the 2018 allegations against General Vance.  

    Then, last week, on April 23, 2021, an Army major who has been at the centre of sexual allegations against General Vance now told a Parliamentary Committee that he "fathered two children with me" and that tod her that he was "untouchable" as he "owned" the military police.


     The Canadian military’s sexual misconduct crisis is fast becoming an "existential issue” as public confidence into the armed forces as a quintessential national institution is rapidly dissipating.    Not surprisingly, the essential trust in the chain of command by the rank and file is also at a level never experienced before.  On April 22, 2021, the Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland, felt compelled to address the issue:

“I would also like to say that the testimony that we’ve heard at committee has been deeply, deeply troubling. It’s clear to me, as we heard from numerous reports in the past, that there are some deep problems in the Canadian Armed Forces with sexual harassment, and with treatment of women. And that has to end.”                                                                                                                                              My underline.   

 Meanwhile sexual assault survivors, military law experts and several parliamentarians are asking the government to establish proper parliamentary oversight, i.e., an Inspector General/ Yet, for all intents and purposes, government has been both absent and silent, leaving the matter in the hands of the Minister of National Defence to manage a crisis which is increasingly scarring the image and reputation of the institutions and its members, serving and retired and frustrating the victims (past and present) of sexual misconduct the armed forces.

CAF RESPONSE: "Will be doing it our way!"

    On November 21, 2021.  Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) disclosed the  pièce de resistance; simply put the military intends to create  a new top-level position at National Defence Headquarters at the Lieutenant-General Level to address a multitude of issues including discrimination, racism, harassment and sexual misconduct. This new position to be known as Chief of Professional Conduct and Culture would report to the CDS and the Deputy Minister. That proposal which can only be seen as an robust institutional rebuke to the much sought-after independent oversight of the military. It patently ignores the clamouring for parliamentary oversight of the armed forces.  

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE: "Running the Clock"

On Monday, April 19 2021, the Federal Budget tabled in Parliament announced that government is committing  to creating “a new external oversight mechanism for people to report sexual assault in the military." It also proposes to spend over $236 million (Cdn) over the next five years to address the ongoing crisis! Ugh!

     Strangely, during her interview with Global News on April 22, 2021, Minister Freeland reiterated her confidence in Defence Minister Sajjan who has been accused of inaction after being warned by the the then Ombudsman of the allegations against General Vance back in 2018. In an Opinion Piece published in Canada's national newspaper The Globe and Mailon April 26, 2021, notes that Defence Minister Sajjan has so far taken no responsibility for the current state of affairs. "In fact, at every turn, he denied that he's responsible for, well, anything." It goes on:

"You have to wonder how all that could go on. That is, unless you read the report on sexual harassment in the military written by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps in 2015. She found the problem was widespread, and military members didn’t trust the system for reporting it. She recommended the creation of an independent body, outside the chain of command, to handle complaints. Mr. Sajjan didn’t do that over his six years as Defence Minister.  Maybe Mr. Sajjan hasn’t been held responsible for that because there’s blame to go around. . . . Mr. Trudeau’s whole government bears responsibility for failing to do more about sexual harassment in the military. 
Still, in our system, we’re supposed to know who will be accountable: the minister. And when they are not held responsible, there's only one person left: the Prime Minister.                                             My underline.


            In a democracy, one of the primary duties of government and in particular its chief executive officer (in the case of Canada, the Prime Minister), is the security of the nation and its people. In Canada, one would expect the Prime Minister to have and be seen as having full and final control and authority over the governance of the armed forces and be accountable to Parliament. 

        For reasons that I cannot explain, in the current circumstances, our Prime Minister appears to have taken a distant, if not detached position, during the course of this crisis, by delegating his powers and responsibilities to the Minister of National Defence, who in turn has been shown to be both taciturn and uncommunicative letting the crisis festers. 

    This might explain why, at present, the wounded Canadian military ship of state is afloat aimlessly.

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