New military judges will be required to take sexual assault law training

Click to play video: 'Few military police investigators are women'
Few military police investigators are women
A Global News investigation has found that less than a quarter of Canadian military police investigators who lead probes into sexual misconduct allegations are women. David Akin reports on the latest example of gender imbalance within the Canadian Armed Forces – May 8, 2021

New military judges will be required to get sexual assault law training akin to that required under Bill C-3, Global News has learned.

The bill was sponsored by Justice Minister David Lametti and requires federally appointed judges serving on provincial and territorial superior courts to get training on sexual assault law, “problematic interpretations” of it and the “social context” around sexual assault.

They must also commit to continuing education.

“We are committed to ensuring that our military justice system meets the needs of sexual assault survivors,” said Daniel Minden, a spokesperson for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

“Minister Sajjan will be working with Minister Lametti to require that new military judges receive training on sexual assault matters similar to the measures outlined in Bill C-3 for civilian judges. We will continue to take action to make the military justice system more responsive to the needs of survivors.”

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A senior government official told Global News the work is a priority for the government.

Click to play video: 'David Lametti praises Rona Ambrose for her work on Bill C-3'
David Lametti praises Rona Ambrose for her work on Bill C-3

The new law has been praised by advocates as a major step in trying to address the discrimination and prejudice towards victims of sexual assaults who try to seek justice through the court system.

It received royal assent last week after roughly four years of work to get proposals for required training through the parliamentary system, first as a private member’s bill put forward by former Conservative MP Rona Ambrose, then as a 2017 government bill modelled on her original plan.

According to a spokesperson for Lametti, military judges were not covered in that because Bill C-3 amends the Judges Act, and military judges are appointed under the National Defence Act.

But the senior government official told Global News that since military judges are governor-in-council appointments — effectively, appointed by executive order — updating an existing memorandum of understanding between Sajjan and Lametti on their appointment could quickly make similar training a requirement and bypass the need to amend legislation.

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Lametti said last week after Bill C-3 passed the Senate that it sends a “clear message” to survivors.

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“The justice system must serve you fairly and respectfully. Sexual assault cases will be heard without the influence of myths and prejudices,” he said.

In the three months since Global News first reported on allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces, witnesses testifying before twin parliamentary committees probing the problem have shared their experiences trying to get justice in the military system, to little avail.

Some recounted being distressed when forced to share their allegations of sexual assault and violence with male investigators. Global News has since reported that less than one-quarter of military police investigators handling sexual misconduct are female.

Others pointed to problems in the military justice system where perpetrators are allowed to plead down to lesser offences that yield little in the way of apparent accountability, while victims say they struggle to overcome workplace reprisals in a culture where their experiences are not taken seriously.

“Getting justice for incidents of sexual assault is generally very difficult for the average female in our Canadian society,” navy Lt. Heather Macdonald said in testimony last month.

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“It becomes more difficult when you are trying to get justice through the military under the National Defence Act, where there are more options to plead down to an NDA offence that carries little consequences for the perpetrator.

Macdonald is a 16-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy and a combat systems engineer.

She’s also the woman at the heart of an allegation against Adm. Art McDonald, who temporarily stepped back as chief of the defence staff in February as military police launched a probe.

That came just weeks after military police launched an investigation into allegations against Gen. Jonathan Vance, the former chief of the defence staff, following Global News reporting on Feb. 2.

READ MORE: Military sex crimes a ‘scourge’ that must be handled by civilians: former military leaders

Those allegations exposed what one prominent female military leader — who quit in disgust over the military’s handling of them — described as a “seething undercurrent of rage” among female members.

Experts have described the reckoning the military is facing as an institutional crisis, stressing that trust has been broken between leadership and those who look to them to lead.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that Bill C-3 will “help restore trust” in the wake of several high-profile cases of judicial prejudice in civilian sexual assault proceedings.

Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute who focuses on military culture and women in the military, said requiring similar training for military judges should be part of any effort to restore some of the trust broken among military members over misconduct.

“I think that this bill is very important,” she said.

“With the shortcomings of the military justice system in addressing sexual misconduct, I think that it will be beneficial to make the military subject to that law.”

But she urged that the training should not be limited only to new military judges and that there should be clear measurements to gauge how the training is working for both civilian and military judges.

“All judges should go through that training, because at this stage, how do we make sure cases of sexual misconduct gets the right judge?” she said.

“We don’t want the fate of victims’ search for justice to only be decided by chance.”

Linna Tam-Seto, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University, said it would be “quite problematic” for military judges not to be included in efforts to better-train judges on handling sexual assault cases.

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“There is a big push for people to become much more educated and much more informed about the experiences of sexual misconduct within the military and what that means for the system,” she said.

“As a whole, being military judges that are within the military system, that they are sort of part of this culture, this culture of power, abuse and toxic masculinity,” Tam-Seto continued.

“I absolutely think that this is the right time to move forward, to expand that expectation, to ensure that all judges that are working within the Canadian context get this training.”

Click to play video: 'Bill C-3 will ‘help restore trust’ in criminal justice system for sexual assault survivors, Trudeau says'
Bill C-3 will ‘help restore trust’ in criminal justice system for sexual assault survivors, Trudeau says

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