Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) are reporting on the case of Major-General Dany Fortin, Canadian Army, who stands accused of an sexual assault which allegedly took place at the Royal Military College [RMC] in 1988. Fortin pleaded 'not guilty' during his appearance before a a civilian court, this past week.
This is the result of a decision made last year by the incoming Defence Minister, the Honorable Anita Anand, who in response to the successive recommendations of two retired Supreme Court of Canada justices recommending that jurisdiction for the investigation and prosecution of 'sexual assaults' now be moved to civilian courts. In 2021, both the Honorable Morris Fish and the Honorable Louise Arbour separately conducted an external independent review of the Canadian military justice system and recommended that jurisdiction for sexual assault be transferred to civilian jurisdiction. [A change which has been long argued by the writer of this post.]
Last week, MGen Fortin appeared in civil court in full dress uniform which includes medals. This created a controversy on the part of sexual trauma advocates and commentators who argued that the "act of wearing the full uniform to court while on court on trial is power play that intimidates complainants and triggers victims." Other argued that the uniform: "is a powerful symbol of the institution and wearing it could make a complainant feel like they're facing off against the entire Canadian Forces." In response, the Department of National Defence [DND] has announced that it will review the matter and decide whether members accused of crimes should wear uniforms in civilian courts.
For the sake of transparency, I also need to note that I have separately commented this issue to the CBC over the week-end. Given that the military uniform is, in many respects, a visible sign of authority issued by the national State, unless the military member appearing in a civilian court [of civil or criminal jurisdiction] is acting in an official capacity (i.e. as a witness), he or she should not wear the uniform. To act otherwise, may suggests that the military member is endorsed or otherwise supported by his parent organization in the instant action.