Military sexual misconduct survivors were promised an apology in 2019. Why the delay?

Click to play video: 'Canadian military sexual misconduct survivors still wait for apology from Ottawa'
Canadian military sexual misconduct survivors still wait for apology from Ottawa
WATCH ABOVE: Survivors of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces are still waiting for an apology from the federal government, as the number of claimants in a class-action lawsuit continues to rise. Mercedes Stephenson explains how this apology will be different from other high-profile apologies the federal Liberal government has issued – Nov 16, 2021

Survivors of Canadian military sexual misconduct are still waiting for details on a formal apology that was promised two years ago under the settlement terms of their class-action lawsuit against the federal government.

As the deadline to submit claims to that settlement looms next week, eyes are turning to the question of why it it has taken the government so long to move on its promise — even as the number of claimants to the class action continue to soar to more than 15,000.

“Apologies can be very powerful when they’re sincere,” said Sam Samplonius who is with ‘It’s Not Just 700’, a group that advocates for survivors and victims of military sexual misconduct.

“An apology is a validation.”

TIMELINE: The Canadian Forces sexual misconduct crisis

Click to play video: 'Claims in Canadian military sexual misconduct lawsuit nearly double'
Claims in Canadian military sexual misconduct lawsuit nearly double

The apology for survivors and victims of sexual misconduct is a legal requirement for the government — agreed as part of the $900-million class-action settlement reached in 2019.

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Military officials confirmed in November 2020 to the Canadian Press that an apology was in the works but did not give a clear timeline, nor has the government. That report suggested it would be the head of the military who offers the apology, rather than the defence minister or prime minister.

A senior defence official said the acting chief of the defence staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, is expected to release a statement as soon as Wednesday regarding the promised apology.

But experts say given the crisis of sexual misconduct allegations against senior ranks of the military, any apology should come directly from the prime minister, who is responsible for appointing the chief of the defence staff, as well as the defence minister.

“Pushing the responsibility to non-elected officials and particularly for Gen. [Wayne] Eyre … is a little bit problematic, especially considering that it was the Government of Canada as a whole that was sued under the class action lawsuit and not just the military,” said Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute specializing in toxic leadership within the military.

“Having the elected Government of Canada apologizing will do a lot in terms of acknowledging past wrongs and that it has been a problem that has been 30, 40 years in the making and has been the failure of elected officials since then,” she added.

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Click to play video: 'Civilian sexual assault trials bring assurance of fairness to military complaints: Anand'
Civilian sexual assault trials bring assurance of fairness to military complaints: Anand

Megan MacKenzie holds the Simons Chair in international law and human security at Simon Fraser University. She’s an expert in military culture and gender norms, and said the question of who should be issuing the apology matters for survivors and victims.

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“I think an apology coming from the prime minister will be really meaningful for victims. There’s kind of an irony that there’s been two different chiefs of defense staff that could have delivered this apology, but are now embroiled in their own scandals and allegations,” she said.

“So in some ways, certainly leaders within the CAF should be part of this apology. But I think having an apology from an elected member of the Canadian government and ideally from the prime minister is really important.”

READ MORE: Should past military probes be reviewed by civilians? Anand says it’s something to consider

Global News first reported in February 2021 that now-retired Gen. Jonathan Vance was facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour from two female subordinates. He has denied any improper behaviour. Military police charged him with one count of obstruction of justice in July in connection with alleged conduct during their investigation into the matter. His trial is set for May 2023.

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Military police also launched an investigation in late February into Adm. Art McDonald. At the time, he was the newly named chief of the defence staff replacing Vance. McDonald denied the allegation, which Global News has reported is specifically one of sexual assault.

That probe ended without any charges, with military police citing a lack of evidence. Subsequent claims by McDonald that he had been exonerated and the allegation deemed “unsubstantiated” prompted the military provost marshal to issue a public statement confirming the investigation did not result in a determination the allegation was “unfounded.”

Experts have said the Canadian military is facing an existential “crisis” over sexual misconduct within its ranks — a decades-old problem that came under renewed national scrutiny following exclusive, ongoing reporting by Global News about allegations facing its senior leaders.

A decision by the federal Liberals not to act on the key recommendations in the landmark 2015 Deschamps report regarding the issue has put them on the defensive over the past year against criticisms that they failed to take the issue seriously.

The former defence minister, in particular, was censured by the House of Commons for his handling of the problem. Now, all eyes are on newly named Defence Minister Anita Anand for action.

READ MORE: Military must transfer sexual misconduct cases to civilians: Anand

Anand announced earlier this month that the military is being instructed to transfer sexual offences to civilian authorities for investigation, and that move raises questions about whether previous cases should be reviewed by civilians to ensure they were properly handled.

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A spokesperson for Anand said fixing the sexual misconduct crisis remains her top priority.

“While there is no quick fix that will solve this systemic problem overnight, an apology to victims and survivors of military sexual misconduct is a clear step forward in building a respectful, professional military culture,” said Daniel Minden in an email.

“We have an obligation to protect those who protect our country, and we are working hard to regain their trust.”

—With files from Global’s Mercedes Stephenson and Marc-Andre Cossette.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says Anand appointed defence minister to ‘support’ Canadians amid culture of sexual misconduct in military'
Trudeau says Anand appointed defence minister to ‘support’ Canadians amid culture of sexual misconduct in military

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