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Government, military set to formally apologize to sexual misconduct victims

The country’s acting top military commander and the deputy minister of National Defence are expected to deliver a formal apology to survivors of sexual misconduct in the armed forces as early as this week, CBC News has learned.

An internal briefing document intended for newly appointed Defence Minister Anita Anand, dated Oct. 19, 2021, said the apology would come in “mid-November.”

The 37-page document, obtained by CBC News, maps out in detail the department’s plan for extracting the military from its worst social, legal and political crisis in a generation.

The briefing includes a detailed breakdown of how much money the defence department plans to spend in the near term to address sexual misconduct and change the culture of an institution that has for decades resisted meaningful reforms related to gender equality.

As much as $77.7 million has been earmarked for supports to survivors, justice and accountability initiatives and culture change. The biggest portion of that sum — $22.1 million — has been set aside to expand services at the military’s Sexual Misconduct Response Centres (SMRC) in five regions across the country.

The Liberal government promised earlier this year to bolster the SMRCs. The internal document said services will be expanded this month to cover former military members and those working on the civilian side for the defence department within the public service. 

Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said that while the upcoming apology is significant, it would have more of an impact coming from the Government of Canada as a whole.

“There needs to be an acknowledgement that things were not done properly in the past 30, 40 years,” she said. “Whether or not people buy into it will depend on what happens afterwards, if measures are going to be put in place and if there is transparency.”

“[People] don’t want their leaders to continuously apologize,” Duval-Lantoine added. “They also want them to learn from the lessons and change their ways.”

‘No quick fix’

Daniel Minden, a spokesperson for Anand, said an apology was proposed as part of the settlement of the class action lawsuit involving survivors of sexual assault in the military.

He did not say when the apology will be delivered.

“While there is no quick fix that will solve this systemic problem overnight, the expansion of the SMRC reach and services and apology to victims and survivors of military sexual misconduct are clear steps forward in building a respectful, professional military culture,” he said in an email.

Minden also noted the last federal budget committed $236 million overall to fighting sexual misconduct and gender-based violence in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Since early February, the military has been besieged by a series of sordid revelations and allegations of sexual misconduct involving some of its highest-ranking leaders, including current Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Art McDonald. Over a half dozen senior-ranking commanders have either been the subjects of complaints or have been sidelined over how they handled misconduct cases.

government military set to formally apologize to sexual misconduct victims
Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Art McDonald. (Screengrab)

Last spring, the federal government appointed retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour to come up with proposals to end the abuse, intimidation and sexual assault that have been endemic in the military for more than generation. 

Duval-Lantoine said she’s concerned by what she’s seen in the briefing because it offers no single point of accountability — and the military has not defined the kind of institution it wants to become.

To say they want “a more welcoming climate is necessary, this is a good thing,” she said. “But they don’t qualify that and say what a more welcoming climate looks like.”

She also pointed out that only $2.2 million out of the $77 million set aside by the federal government to tackle the problem is earmarked for the “comprehensive development of training” related to culture change.

“That is not enough,” she said.

Duval-Lantoine said she’s also worried about the pace of the federal government’s efforts, pointing out that it will be 2023 before the department puts monitoring structures in place to gauge whether the reforms are working.

“That is a problem when you’re putting in place measures now,” she said. “If you don’t have the monitoring structure in place right away, you’re going to have problems.”

The internal briefing document also says it will be spring of next year before the provisions of Bill C-77 — which introduces a Victims Bill of Rights to the military justice system — are fully implemented. That would be three years after the legislation was passed by Parliament.

The strategy outlined in the document looks like a placeholder in some respects, or a plan awaiting the results of the Arbour review. But the Department of National Defence is taking some steps now — by changing how its leaders are selected, for instance.

Starting this fall, selection boards are looking at generals and flag officers through a different lens — one that takes into account their “emotional intelligence.”

“This includes requiring candidates to complete three types of emotional intelligence assessments, which factored into their ‘scoring,’ as well as the addition of a civilian board member, to bring additional perspectives,” said the internal briefing document.

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