Singh vows to force military to hand sexual assault cases to civilians

Click to play video: 'Report: Sexual misconduct in CAF remains “rampant”'
Report: Sexual misconduct in CAF remains “rampant”
Sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces remains as "rampant" today as it was in 2015 when the federal government first documented the problem, according to a new report by former Supreme Court Justice Morris Fish. Mercedes Stephenson reviews the findings, which includes a total of 107 recommendations to change the system – Jun 1, 2021

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says if elected prime minister, he would order the military on his first day in office to hand over all sexual assault allegations to civilian investigators.

The pledge comes as the Canadian Forces remains embroiled in what experts have described as an institutional “crisis” over its handling of sexual misconduct within its ranks.

A landmark 2015 report into the problem identified a “toxic” culture towards women and LGBTQ+ members and a subsequent 2021 report from former Supreme Court of Canada justice Morris Fish urged sexual assault cases should be handed over to civilians until major reforms are made.

“It is wrong that Justin Trudeau continues to allow powerful men to be investigated by their friends in the military. We’re going to put a stop to that and stand up for service women,” Singh told Global News.

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“I will act on the recommendation on my first day in office by directing the military to transfer sexual assault cases to civilian investigators as quickly as possible.”

READ MORE: Sexual misconduct in Canada’s military remains as ‘rampant’ in 2021 as in 2015: report

The military’s handling of sexual assault and sexual misconduct cases more broadly has been under intense scrutiny over the past six months amid a reckoning over multiple allegations of high-level sexual misconduct levied against current and former senior leaders.

At issue is the chain of command structure and a culture that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on Thursday said shows “a pattern of looking away from unacceptable actions.”

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Yet while Trudeau’s government has accepted the findings of the Fish report, neither he nor Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan have committed to when they will ensure that military leaders aren’t picking and choosing which sexual assault cases get handled internally, and which go to civilian authorities.

Trudeau did not provide a clear answer when pressed for a timeline on Thursday during a press conference on the campaign trail, citing an external review underway by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour tasked with providing recommendations for building an independent system.

A progress tracker published by the government prior to the election call this weekend said there will be a “governance committee” set up to discuss implementation of the Fish report findings in September.

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But it offered no timeline for when that committee’s work will wrap up.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole also vowed in his platform to ensure that “the investigation of sexual misconduct is done by investigators outside the chain of command” but has not provided a timeline.

“It is unacceptable that allegations against a superior need to be reported to someone who reports to that person and may share information with them,” his platform states.

Click to play video: 'No charges against defence chief Adm. Art McDonald following military investigation'
No charges against defence chief Adm. Art McDonald following military investigation

Global News has confirmed military officials made the decision not to refer to civilian authorities an investigation launched earlier this year into an allegation of sexual misconduct and sexual assault against Adm. Art McDonald, who temporarily stepped aside as chief of the defence staff as a result.

Military police decided against charging him under either the military code of service or the Criminal Code of Canada after an investigation that they said did not yield enough evidence to do so.

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READ MORE: Military police will not charge Adm. Art McDonald after sexual misconduct probe

The navy combat engineer behind the allegation said the decision left her feeling like she had been “punched in the stomach.”

Global News asked the Department of National Defence why officials have not yet put in place a requirement for sexual assault cases to be handed over to civilian authorities automatically.

“We decided, following an investigative assessment, to maintain the lead of the investigation,” said a spokesperson for the department.

“The assessment considered several factors including the possibility that the outcome of the investigation could have resulted in service or criminal offences. The Military Police have the experience and knowledge to operate in both the military and civilian justice systems.”

The department said military police operate independently and that victims are able to file a complaint with the Military Police Complaints Commission if they feel their complaint wasn’t handled properly, or go to civilian authorities like police or the RCMP.

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