Commander of Special Forces to be replaced ‘immediately,’ CAF chief of defence staff says

WATCH: Minister Sajjan apologizes to victims of military sexual misconduct.

The Canadian Armed Forces’ acting chief of the defence staff says he has directed the commander of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command to leave his post “immediately.” The statement comes following reports that the commander wrote a character reference for another service member who had been convicted of six criminal counts, including sexual assault.

In a statement issued Sunday, Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre said Maj-Gen. Peter Dawe will leave the position and command will immediately be turned over to BGen Steve Boivin.

Boivin currently serves as the force’s deputy commander.

“It has become increasingly clear to me that MGen Peter Dawe’s actions four years ago around sending a character reference are causing division and anger within the CAF,” Eyre said in an emailed statement to Global News.

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“His return and future employment will be determined and communicated in due course. MGen Dawe agrees this decision is best for the institution.”

Global News has reached out to the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command for comment, but did not immediately hear back.

The news comes just two days after the Department of National Defence confirmed Dawe would be replaced next week, rather than the expected change of his command this summer.

Dawe’s early replacement was first reported by CBC News.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau acknowledges years of ‘inadequate’ measures on sexual misconduct in military'
Trudeau acknowledges years of ‘inadequate’ measures on sexual misconduct in military

On Wednesday, CBC reported that Dawe had submitted a character reference letter to a judge in 2017, prior to the sentencing of Maj. Jonathan Hamilton.

Hamilton was convicted in May. The judge found him guilty of unlawfully entering the home of former CAF members Annalise and Kevin Schamuhn, sexually assaulting Annalise on two separate occasions, and physically assaulting Kevin Schamuhn twice.

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Dawe’s letter to the judge, however, described Hamilton as “a man of great character and leadership before being engulfed in PTSD” from multiple deployments to Afghanistan, and was cited by the judge during Hamilton’s sentencing, CBC reported.

Speaking to CBC on Wednesday, Kevin Schamuhn called the Dawe’s reference “an extremely painful betrayal.”

“By far, worse than anything I had ever experienced in combat,” he previously said.

“Of all the enemies I fought overseas, none of them have that level of access to my personal life and to the vulnerability of my family.”

Dawe apologized in an open letter sent Thursday, obtained by Global News.

“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.”

Eyre said in his statement on Sunday that he was confident Dawe had learned from what he described as a “tragic case.” He added that he has requested “clear direction be made available regarding character references for cases of legal proceedings.”

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Click to play video: 'Military faces second external review of sexual misconduct since 2015'
Military faces second external review of sexual misconduct since 2015

Eyre said the directive will be published online in the near future.

“While I do not expect these measures to right the wrongs of the past, or ease the sense of betrayal felt by the Schamuhn family, we must keep learning and ensure such situations are not repeated going forward,” Eyre’s statement read.

“In doing so, we must always have the victims’ perspective at the forefront and be accountable for our actions. We must do better.”

The early change in command comes just four days after Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced an independent, external review into sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces led by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour.

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The review aims to provide recommendations for 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.

“I’m truly sorry,” Sajjan said Thursday.

“We have heard you, we have listened, and we are taking action.”

The CAF is facing a reckoning over years of sexual misconduct allegations. The announcement comes after Global News first reported former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance was facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour in February.

Vance has denied all wrongdoing.

— With files from Global News’s Sean Boynton, Global News’s Amanda Connolly and CBC News 

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