His comments come the day after Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan officially announced the details of an external review into the issue of harassment and sexual misconduct in the military, nearly three months after allegations against senior leaders sparked a reckoning for the Canadian Forces.
“Over the past years there have been many things done to counter the culture in the military, to provide better support to providers, to anyone who comes forward with experiences or allegations of sexual misconduct or assault or harassment,” Trudeau said.
“We have brought in a number of measures. They have all been inadequate.”
Trudeau said the government needs to “transform” the culture in the military — something he says is the goal of the new review.
“We need to make sure that anyone who has experience harassment, intimidation, assault or any unacceptable actions in the force has the confidence that they will be heard and supported as they come forward,” he said.
“That has simply not been the case in the past many, many years and that why we are taking action today.”
Sajjan said the review is set to draft a “bold” vision for structural change to the Canadian Forces: how they handle sexual misconduct, but also how they train and promote leaders, and how military police handle investigations on misconduct.
The reviewer, Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, will also provide recommendations for an independent reporting system, so military members can share their allegations of sexual misconduct without having to go through the military chain of command. This was a key request from survivors, who say they’ve long faced reprisals for coming forward.
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While that probe gets underway, the force will also create a new internal organization led by Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan as the new chief of professional conduct and culture. The move was described as a way to make sure the military can quickly act on interim recommendations that Arbour might make, according to a Thursday press release.
Trudeau said Carignan “will be there right now” to help any survivors who wish to speak out.
“We should not have to wait a year before we can take action, or provide support,” he said.
“We need to make sure that anyone who has experienced harassment, intimidation, assault or any unacceptable actions in the force has the confidence that they will be heard and supported as they come forward. That has simply not been the case in the past many, many years and that why we are taking action today.”
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The announcements came nearly three months after Global News first reported allegations of inappropriate behaviour levelled against former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance. In the weeks since, military police have opened investigations into Vance as well as Adm. Art McDonald, Vance’s successor as chief of defence staff. Multiple women have also spoken out publicly, sharing allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces.
Vance denies all allegations of inappropriate conduct. McDonald declined to comment, citing legal advice and the investigation that remains underway.
The series of allegations have the military “reeling,” sparking what many experts have called an institutional “crisis” within the force as it reckons with the need to change a culture that former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps called “hostile” and “endemic” in 2015.
Deschamps led the landmark report into sexual misconduct in the military that sparked the creation of Operation Honour, the military’s formal initiative to root out sexual misconduct. But in the years since, “very little has changed,” as Deschamps told the House of Commons defence committee just over two months ago.
“There’s been many an exercise in government where an external reviewer is brought in to take a look at something that resulted in something other than a full and swift enactment of whatever change that they say is needed to really bring about a better outcome,” said David Perry, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
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He wasn’t alone in his skepticism.
“I think there’s been tremendous loss of faith and trust in the organization, how that can be remedied is something that I don’t have an answer to,” said Linna Tam-Seto, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University, speaking to Global News on Thursday.
But Tam-Seto said she’s “cautiously optimistic” for the review.
“I think that we all need to continue to push forward, put pressure on the DND and CAF and on the government to make the change, to speak up for those who have tried to speak up but have been unsuccessful at being heard,” she said.
Sajjan, meanwhile, has insisted that this time, things will be different.
“Even though we have certain processes in place, those processes have not worked. And what this is about, this is not just about doing another review,” he said.
“This is about taking a much … bolder step than we have taken in the past.”
Arbour said while there are some similarities between her mandate and the one Deschamps was given in 2015, Arbour’s mandate goes further — looking at all of the factors behind misconduct.
“I really believe sometimes it needs more than one,” she told Global News in an interview.
“The first effort, sometimes opens the door. And maybe — six years later — this might be the opportunity to actually put it right.”
–With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.