OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces maintains a “rigid and outdated” structure that they must change “from top to bottom” if they are serious about stopping sexual misconduct and regaining the trust they sorely need to operate.
This is what former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbor says in her final report on harassment and sexual misconduct in the Department of National Defense and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) released this morning.
“My overarching recommendation for its leaders had to be crystal clear: they need to change the way they do things on many levels, from top to bottom,” she writes in a scathing report that bluntly describes a backward, inward-looking institution. even and yet very sure of herself.
So much so that Judge Arbor warns the CAF that they would be making a big mistake “to think that they can fix their broken system on their own”.
Four soldiers a day are victims of sexual assault in their workplace, or 900 members of the regular forces and 600 of the reserves, according to data published in 2018 by Statistics Canada.
As a result, women are returning their uniforms one after the other and the army is struggling to recruit them at a time when the lack of arms is an “existential crisis” which threatens national security, says the chief of staff Wayne Eyre. But under current conditions, the situation is not about to change, warns Judge Arbor.
To remedy this, the magistrate makes 49 recommendations. In particular, it recommends that Criminal Code charges of a sexual nature against any member of the CAF no longer be a matter for military justice, but rather become "the exclusive jurisdiction of civilian authorities" and that "cases of sexual harassment be dealt with by the Canadian Human Rights Commission”.
She thus joins Judge Marie Deschamps who had also recommended the civilization of military justice in 2015, in vain.
In response to this report, which painted a damning picture of sexual misconduct in the CAF, the military created Operation HONOR to address the problem. But this operation was so little taken seriously that it was "quickly renamed 'Hop on her' [jump on her]", noted Judge Arbor.
The chief of staff who launched this operation, Jonathan Vance, and his successor, Art MacDonald, have both been splashed with allegations of sexual misconduct.
Judge Arbor deplores that from one report to another the army embarks on a “whirlwind of actions” which is more window dressing to give the impression of acting than a real change of substance.
“What is important to the CAF right now is not the actions themselves. It is to seem to act, ”said a former senior officer quoted in the Arbor report.
To prevent her report from suffering the same fate, Judge Arbor recommends “that the Minister immediately appoint a person to oversee the implementation of the recommendations”. “This person should come from outside the Defense Team” and “should produce monthly evaluation reports for the Minister”.
Defense Minister Anita Anand reacts to the report this afternoon. Its primary mandate is to change the culture within the military.