Experts are questioning the willingness of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to tackle sexual misconduct within its ranks when Major General Peter Dawe, who wrote an affirmative reference letter to a sex offender, returned to work and found several was assigned the task of working on it. Reviews of sexual misconduct within the Forces.
“I’m honestly at a loss for words. It’s so hard to understand why this person would be put in this position,” said Megan McKenzie, who studies military sexual misconduct at B.C.’s Simon Fraser University.
“To put someone in a position of power on this issue who has made a really bad decision, I think it really signals to the forces that this is not going to be a moment of change.”
Dau was instructed to step down “immediately” in early May, following reports he had written a character reference to another service member, who had been convicted of six criminal counts, including sexual assault.
Now, Claim has been tasked with compiling and scrutinizing material from multiple sexual misconduct reviews.
The reviews in question include a June report by former Supreme Court Justice Morris Fish, which found that sexual misconduct remains as “massive” and “devastating” in 2021 as it was in 2015, and another Lewis Arbor, a former Supreme Court judge.
The purpose of the Arbor Review is to advise the government on creating an independent reporting system.
McKenzie said, “You have victims coming forward and really making themselves vulnerable, and then it’s … more distressing to victims who are already in such a difficult situation.”
“Again, I’m just at a loss.”
Colton Skibinski, a former military member and sexual assault survivor, was also confused by the decision to cast Dau in such a role.
“My initial thoughts and the views of the community were that this is the wrong person for this position. Totally the wrong person,” said Skibinsky, speaking on behalf of It’s Not Just 700, a support group established to help current and former military members who suffer sexual misconduct while serving in uniform.
“I’d really like to know how this benefits Canada and the Canadian people. No one is saying General Dau can’t return to work. But why is he returning to work in this role? It’s Canada’s better off.” How does one serve? I really don’t think this is the time or situation for someone like Pete Dawe to learn.”
In a statement sent to Granthshala News, a spokesman for Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said the government was “working to deliver reforms that will strengthen the confidence of CAF members in the military justice system.”
“Our members and staff deserve institutions they can trust,” wrote Sajjan’s spokesperson Daniel Minden.
Minden said Acting Chief of Defense Staff Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre is responsible for the chain of command, and it was he who had decided to allow Dawes to return to work.
“Our government is committed to a complete institutional culture change in the Department of National Defense and the Canadian Armed Forces,” he said.
Instead of Sajjan’s spokesperson, the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.
Canada’s military is in the grip of an institutional crisis over its handling of sexual misconduct, and in particular the conduct of its senior leaders – some of whom are now facing misconduct charges.
On February 2, the issue came into the limelight after Granthshala News reported on allegations against now-retired General Jonathan Vance, the former chief of the Defense Staff. Vance has denied the allegations.
In the weeks that followed, the military police arrested Vance as well as Adam. Art McDonald, Vance’s successor to the Chief of Defense Staff, has opened an investigation. Vance was later charged with obstruction of justice on July 15.
Several women have also spoken out publicly, sharing allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces.
The allegations also led to the launch of two studies by parliamentary committees.
Skibinsky and Mackenzie both say it is going to intervene from outside the armed forces to change how the military handles sexual misconduct.
“We have a defense minister who is absent on this file, who keeps calling the institution back. And we have clear indications that this is an institution that cannot handle this problem,” Mackenzie said.
“And so for me, the responsibility lies at the feet of the minister, who has been absolutely unaccounted for on this file and has zero leadership. I think the government on the civic side needs to say that this is a problem that is not being handled well internally.”
“I don’t think the army can change on its own. It’s really going to make the army and parliament work together,” he said.
“It is not enough just to manage the institution and keep it running from day to day. We need improvement. So I really think the government and the armed forces have to come together.