When it comes to fighting sexual misconduct in Canada’s armed forces, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that military leaders “still don’t get it”, his remarks prompted a clear response:
So what are you going to do about it?
After all, critics note, the long-running crisis is as much a problem of the government as it is of the military, given that the military is under civilian control.
“If the army doesn’t get it, who is responsible for that?” In the last parliament his party’s defense critic asked NDP MP Randall Garrison.
“The prime minister and the minister of national defense are clearly responsible for making sure they are getting this and taking the appropriate action,” Garrison said.
“They haven’t done it. Otherwise, the same things wouldn’t be happening over and over again.”
Experts say that for most of its history, leaders of Canada’s armed forces have mostly been allowed to do so, which helps explain the failure to tackle the systemic problem of sexual misconduct.
“The military is not going to solve this on its own. This external oversight is needed,” said Maya Eichler, Canada Research Chair in Social Innovation and Community Engagement at Mount Saint Vincent University, who specializes in military sexual misconduct.
While the Liberal government has been under fire for months over its handling of the file, Eichler pointed out that Canada “has actually a tradition of relatively weak civilian direction of the military” – and she says this is something that eventually needs to change. Is.
Trudeau made the “not found” remark to reporters on Wednesday, following reports that the acting chief of Canada’s defense staff, General Wayne Eyre, had appointed Major-General. Peter Dawe to help with the CAF’s response to independent reviews of sexual misconduct in the military.
Dau was on leave as chief of special forces since May CBC News reports That in 2017 he wrote a positive character reference to a soldier convicted of sexual assault.
The decision to put Dau in the new role – and the lack of transparency around that decision – prompted outrage from military sexual violence survivors and criticism from experts. Dau was sacked within a day of his appointment being revealed.
“It shows they still don’t get it,” Trudeau said of the military leadership’s actions in light of criticism that the CAF has a culture that tolerates sexual misconduct.
But Trudeau is one of the few people in the country who can actually do something about it, explains Stephen Seidman, Patterson chair of international affairs at Carleton University, who researches civilian control of the military in democracies.
Saidman noted that the prime minister has the power to relieve the chief of defense staff, who serves at the pleasure of the government.
But while it may be easier for Trudeau to dismiss Eyre, Seidman doesn’t believe that would be an appropriate response.
“The matter right now is that something bad happens and the citizens blame the generals. This is not oversight,” he said.
“What civilian oversight should look like, the Minister of National Defense should be responsible for everything that happens within the military and within the Department of National Defense – and that means if he doesn’t know something, he asks for it.”
Critics and opposition parties are urging Trudeau to remove Harjit Sajjan as defense minister if he reshuffles his cabinet later this month. Gentleman has been called out repeatedly for failing to take a more active role in tackling sexual misconduct in the military, and was even condemned by the House of Commons for his handling of the file in June.
While the defense minister may not be involved in the decisions of every military personnel, Seidman said he should be involved in the management of senior officers who appoint chiefs of the defense staff to key positions.
Saidman added that the other component of civilian oversight should allow the minister to play an active role in policy implementation.
For example, led by former Chief of Defense Staff Jonathan Vance, the CAF did not implement all of the recommendations of the landmark 2015 review of sexual misconduct in the military by former Supreme Court Justice Mary Deschamps.
Vance, who retired last January, is under military police investigation following allegations of inappropriate behavior. He was recently booked for obstruction of justice.
The problem, says Saidman, was that the Trudeau government handed over the crafting of its response to Deschamps’ report to a top military official. “From 2015 to 2020 he had ample opportunity to say, ‘No, Vance, that’s wrong. Do it the other way’ – and he never did.”
The external oversight and what it should look like is part of the mandate of an ongoing independent review into sexual misconduct in the military by retired Supreme Court Justice Lewis Arbor, initiated by the government earlier this year. Arbor has been asked to submit its final report by next spring.
Saidman said there was no need to wait.
“The Minister of National Defense should do his job without asking a retired Supreme Court judge to do his job,” he said.
Eichler would like to see a national public talk about how Canadians want their military’s civilian oversight to appear.
As an example of better oversight, he suggested that the Chief of Defense Staff may also report directly to Parliament, and make regular public appearances before the Standing Committee on National Defense to discuss culture change efforts. can be.
“That’s the minimum for me,” she said. “It just helps to bring these issues into the limelight, instead of always coming to the fore when something goes wrong. We need to go beyond the reactive mode that the military is in.”