The commander of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command will be leaving his post earlier than scheduled after it was reported this week that he wrote a letter in support of a service member convicted of sexual assault.
The Department of National Defence told Global News Friday that Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe, who leads the country’s elite specialized commando unit, will be replaced next week. The change of command was originally set for this summer.
“The acting (chief of the defence staff Wayne Eyre), as well as (Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan), retain confidence in (Dawe’s) ability to continue to serve Canada,” an emailed statement from the department read.
“However, the pain of his letter of four years ago persists for those impacted. We must always put victims’ considerations first.”
Dawe’s early change of command was first reported by CBC News.
Multiple sources within the Special Forces and the Joint Task Force 2, the Special Forces’ counter-terrorism unit, have told Global News they were livid with Dawe over the letter and felt he could not continue to command after losing trust.
CBC reported on Wednesday that in 2017, Dawe submitted a character reference letter to a judge prior to the sentencing of Maj. Jonathan Hamilton, who had been convicted that May on six criminal counts including sexual and physical assault.
The judge had found Hamilton guilty of unlawfully entering the home of Annalise and Kevin Schamuhn and sexually assaulting Annalise on two separate occasions, as well as physically assaulting Kevin Schamuhn twice.
The Schamuhns are both former CAF members: Annalise was a logistics officer while Kevin served in the Special Forces under Dawe’s command.
Yet Dawe, then deputy commander of the Special Forces, had written to the judge highlighting Hamilton’s military record and leadership abilities while lamenting the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on Hamilton’s life, according to the CBC report.
Speaking to CBC, Kevin Schamuhn said Dawe told him during a September 2017 phone call that he wished to influence Hamilton’s sentencing, and was unapologetic to Schamuhn and his family.
In an open letter sent Thursday to members under his command, which was obtained by Global News, Dawe apologized and acknowledged he had “failed” the Schamuhns.
“While my intent to help may have been purely driven, it is clear that the impact of my actions was profoundly harmful to the victim and her spouse,” Dawe wrote.
“Moreover, I did not consider how my actions would be viewed by other silent survivors of sexual assault in our ranks.”
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The DND pointed to Dawe’s letter as evidence that “he has clearly learned from this tragic case.”
“MGen Dawe has taken full responsibility for not taking the victims’ perspective into account,” the statement read.
Dawe’s early leave comes a day after Sajjan announced an independent, external review into sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces led by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour.
The review will centre around providing recommendations to set up an independent reporting system so that military members can share allegations of sexual misconduct outside of the military chain of command — a key request by victims and survivors who say they have for too long faced reprisals for coming forward.
The announcement came nearly three months after Global News first reported Gen. Jonathan Vance is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour. In the weeks since, military police have opened probes into Vance as well as Adm. Art McDonald, Vance’s successor as chief of the defence staff.
Multiple women have also spoken out publicly to share allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces.
Vance denies all allegations of inappropriate conduct. McDonald declined to comment, citing legal advice and the investigation that remains underway.
But the allegations have rocked the Canadian military, kicking off what experts describe as an institutional “crisis” for the force.
Two parliamentary committee probes have been launched into the allegations and overall issue of sexual misconduct in the military — one of which was shut down earlier this month.
— With files from Mercedes Stephenson, David Lao and Amanda Connolly