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Canada’s military a ‘broken system’ that’s a ‘liability’ to the country, report finds

Click to play video: 'Canada’s military needs dramatic overhaul according to new sexual misconduct report'
Canada’s military needs dramatic overhaul according to new sexual misconduct report
WATCH: A much-anticipated report into the Canadian military's sexual misconduct crisis has been released, with calls for dramatic changes to what former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour describes as a "broken system" and a "liablity" to the country. Mercedes Stephenson reports on the damning new details regarding the military's culture, and the abuse of power entrenched in it, and Ottawa's new promises for a better path forward. – May 30, 2022

The top ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces are “incapable” of recognizing the “deficient” parts of a culture that keep sexual misconduct and abuse of power entrenched, according to a blistering new report.

That highly anticipated report into the culture of the Canadian Forces from former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour was released on Monday, exactly one year after the review formally began in May 2021.

Global News first brought to light allegations in February 2021 of sexual misconduct against senior leaders in the Canadian Forces — the first of dozens of exclusive reports into such allegations and the military’s handling of them over the past 18 months.

Those revelations and the courage of survivors and victims who spoke out spurred a political and societal reckoning that remains underway.

Click to play video: 'Report issued on sexual misconduct in Canadian military'
Report issued on sexual misconduct in Canadian military
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In her 403-page report, Arbour describes an institution that is fundamentally out of sync with the values of Canadian society, and which poses a “liability” to the country.

“Firmly entrenched in its historical way of life, the military has failed to keep pace with the values and expectations of a pluralistic Canadian society, increasingly sophisticated about the imperative of the rule of law,” Arbour wrote.

“Operating as a totally self-regulated, self-administered organization, entirely reliant on deference to authority, it has failed to align with the ever-changing, progressive society we live in. This disconnect is a liability for the CAF and for Canada.”

Click to play video: 'A five-year plan to reshape military culture'
A five-year plan to reshape military culture

Arbour said the military was not yet ready to accept the findings of the landmark 2015 Deschamps report, which documented sexual misconduct as “endemic” in its ranks.

Now, the military has no choice, she said.

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“The women warriors are here to stay.”

Arbour’s report comes one year after she was brought on by the federal Liberals to investigate a military in the grips of chaos.

With the military facing what experts call an existential crisis, Arbour said change is essential but will require the political will to act.

More than 40 recommendations made

With 48 recommendations, Arbour’s report charts out a new path to fundamentally change the way military sexual misconduct allegations are reported and handled to restore confidence in the Canadian Forces, which is struggling to recruit new members amid the controversy.
Click to play video: 'Canada’s military court has done little to act on sexual misconduct, eroding discipline: Arbour'
Canada’s military court has done little to act on sexual misconduct, eroding discipline: Arbour

She said she received more than 4,000 documents and conducted hundreds of interviews and meetings with stakeholders in order to shape the report. Arbour recommended someone be appointed to implement all of her recommendations.

She said all are interconnected and their success will rely on all recommendations being put in place together in order to fundamentally change the landscape and culture of the military.

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Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre, left, joins Minister of National Defence Anita Anand, and former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour (not pictured) as they release the final report of the Independent External Comprehensive Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces in Ottawa on May 30. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Defence Minister Anita Anand said at a news conference on Monday that she will appoint an independent official to oversee the implementation of recommendations.

“The external monitor will report directly to me and will publish regular public reports,” she said.

“Our response to all of these recommendations will be clear open and collaborative.”

Key in that will be an emphasis on civilian review and transparency, including greater details on how bureaucrats investigate allegations against senior governor-in-council appointees.

The handling of a Privy Council Office examination into allegations against Canada’s former top soldier, retired general Jonathan Vance, came under heavy scrutiny last year during parliamentary committee meetings into the allegations and the culture of the military.

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“In my view, two things could derail the path to significant change. The first would be to assume that this is only attributable to a culture of misogyny, and that change will come naturally with time and more enlightened attitudes. The second would be for the CAF to think that it can fix its broken system alone,” Arbour said in the report.

“The long-established way of doing business in the CAF is anchored in operational imperatives that are often nothing more than assumptions. One of the dangers of the model under which the CAF continues to operate is the high likelihood that some of its members are more at risk of harm, on a day to day basis, from their comrades than from the enemy. This must change.”

Arbour also recommended the military’s formal definition of sexual misconduct be “abolished” as it currently “is too broad a term” that captures everything from sexual assault and harassment to the many microaggressions that are the “weapons of choice for the expression of discriminatory views, harmful stereotypes and even unconscious biases.”

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The military should bring its definition in line with the wording of the Criminal Code, with sexual assault included as a standalone item in the definitions sections of the relevant CAF policies.

Furthermore, Criminal Code sexual offences should be removed from the jurisdiction of the CAF, Arbour said. They should be prosecuted exclusively in civilian criminal courts in all cases.

Meanwhile, the military’s colleges, RMC Kingston and RMC Saint-Jean, should also be subject to review, Arbour said in her report.

“The military colleges appear as institutions from a different era, with an outdated and problematic leadership model. There are legitimate reasons to question the wisdom of maintaining the existence of these military colleges, as they currently exist,” she said.

“There is a real risk that the perpetuation of a discriminatory culture at the colleges will slow the momentum for culture change the CAF has embarked upon. There is enough evidence that military colleges are not delivering on their mandate that I believe alternatives must be explored with an open mind.”

Arbour also recommends the defence minister examine what efforts are being made to correct the over-representation of white men in high-ranking positions, and create a system of progressive targets for the promotion of women to increase the number of women in each rank, including top ones.

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“I absolutely agree that we must take steps to set and meet clear goals for diversity in our military to ensure that this crucial institution represents the demographic composition of our great country,” Anand said.

'The time for action is now'

Arbour submitted her final report to Anand on May 20. However, the government had until May 30 to make the report public.

Ottawa has already begun work on 17 recommendations, Anand said.

Other “recommendations require further analysis, planning and consultation,” she said.

“We will develop plans to address these remaining recommendations as quickly as possible, and we will report to Parliament on our progress.”

Click to play video: 'Gender and military researcher finds Vance verdict discouraging'
Gender and military researcher finds Vance verdict discouraging

Arbour’s investigation is not the first report to probe the culture of the Canadian Forces — the landmark 2015 report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps described a “toxic” environment that was hostile to women and LGBTQ2 members, and where sexual harassment and misconduct were routinely swept under the rug.

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Arbour was tasked specifically with providing recommendations on how best to set up an independent system for reporting military sexual misconduct. She issued an interim recommendation in the fall that sexual misconduct cases be handled by civilian authorities until a new system is in place.

Anand implemented that recommendation, but there remain dozens of cases that are not being transferred because they are close to completion within the military system.

Fixing the culture of sexual misconduct and abuse of power is Anand’s top priority, she has said.

Anand should inform the House of Commons by the end of the year which recommendations she does not intend to implement, Arbour said in the report, calling it one of her most important recommendations during the news conference.

“The CAF is currently sitting on hundreds of recommendations.The first clarity that we should expect is if something is not going to happen, let’s just say it,” she said.

“The current problem is that you never get a clear answer on that…. After that, I just hope that these recommendations don’t end up a little box on their chart of the many that are still being studied.”

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The minister committed to meeting Arbour’s timeline on Monday.

While I have listed 17 of Madame Arbour’s recommendations that are in progress or which will be acted on immediately, this is just the beginning of our response. We will act quickly to analyze, review and plan our responses to each and every one of Madame Arbour’s recommendations,” Anand said.

“The time for action is now and together we will deliver reforms that stand the test of time to strengthen, grow and improve this crucial institution.”

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