Civilian probe urged for sex crime claims in Canada’s army

Canadian soldiers are pictured during a visit of Canada's Minister of Defence in Adazi, Latvia, on Feb 3, 2022. (GINTS IVUSKANS / AFP)

OTTAWA – Allegations of sex crimes in the Canadian military should be investigated externally by civilian authorities and the armed forces should establish clear targets for the promotion of women, a former supreme court justice said in a report released Monday.

Former justice Louise Arbour, who was tasked last year with leading a probe into military harassment and sexual misconduct claims in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), laid out 48 recommendations aimed at changing the culture inside the military.

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.

Louise Arbour, Canada's former supreme court justice

The Canadian military has been under pressure over allegations of sexual misconduct by senior officers, including Canada's former top soldier.

"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," Arbour wrote in her report.

"This must change."

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Arbour said the handling of sexual offenses by military court in the past 20 years "has done very little to improve efficiency, discipline and morale … therefore, I see no basis for the Canadian Armed Forces to retain any jurisdiction over sexual offences."

In the report submitted to Canada's Defense Minister Anita Anand, Arbour provides recommendations pertaining to subjects including the military justice system, definitions of sexual misconduct, as well as military colleges.

Anand, speaking alongside Arbour at a briefing, said she welcomes and accepts all the recommendations and the government will immediately begin implementing 17 of them, including offering legal assistance to victims of sexual misconduct.

The other recommendations, Anand said, would require further analysis and planning, and the government will report to parliament on its progress.

The recommendation on cases of sexual offense be handled by the civilian courts are not among the ones to be immediately implemented. Anand said it was "very important to review the military justice system," and that she would consult provincial and territorial authorities.

She said she would also appoint an external monitor to oversee the implementation of the recommendations.

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Another scathing report released last month by a four-member advisory panel found the leaders of Canada's military had failed to address systemic racism and discrimination over the past two decades and that had harmed national security.