February 9, 2018 6:52 pm

Canada is taking a ‘feminist approach’ to the military, defence minister says

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan displays his service medals as he leaves a ceremony in which the Royal Canadian Air Force were presented with new ceremonial flags in Toronto on Friday, September 1, 2017.

The Canadian Press/Chris Young

Amid the growing fallout from the #MeToo movement in Ottawa, Canada’s defence minister is defending the Trudeau government’s record on preventing sexual assault and harassment in the armed forces.

Harjit Sajjan said he won’t address an ongoing lawsuit against the Canadian military in which complainants allege sexual harassment, assault and discrimination.

READ MORE: Canadian Forces’ sexual assault hotline to operate 24/7 despite staff shortage

But speaking in Vancouver on Friday, Sajjan said the government is taking a “feminist approach” to the military.

“Our defence policy itself didn’t have a gender-based analysis, it was done after the defense policy was written,” Sajjan said.

“It was actually done as we were actually developing the policy. We are actually committed to increasing more the number of women in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).”

WATCH: Veteran in Peterborough outraged by Ottawa’s push to quash sexual misconduct lawsuit against Canadian Forces

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Sajjan went on to say that the government wants women to feel confident coming forward with allegations.

“We’ve been setting an example ourselves and from day one when the government was elected — 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men [in cabinet], we have taken a feminist approach as a government,” he said.

READ MORE: Canadian Armed Forces pushes for more women: ‘I’m a woman in the military and I love it’

Meanwhile, Rajinder Sahota, a lawyer for three former service members suing the federal government, said Ottawa has taken anything but a feminist approach in legal arguments to have the case quashed.

One of those arguments maintains that the federal government doesn’t “owe a private law duty of care to individual members within the CAF to provide a safe and harassment-free work environment, or to create policies to prevent sexual harassment or sexual assault,” she said.

READ MORE: Trudeau puts Justice lawyers on notice over arguments against military sex misconduct suit

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he’d asked the federal justice minister to speak with the government’s lawyers and ensure they weren’t making arguments inconsistent with the government’s philosophy.

“Obviously the lawyers’ argument does not align with my beliefs or what this government believes,” Trudeau said.

  • With files from the Canadian Press

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