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.
In her 403-page report, Arbour describes an institution that is fundamentally out of sync with the values of Canadian society, 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.”
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.
“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 says 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 that 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.
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 the specific task of implement all of her recommendations.
She said all are interconnected and their success will rely on all being put in place together in order to fundamentally change the landscape and culture of the military.
Key among 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 former top soldier Retired Gen. Jonathan Vance came under heavy scrutiny last year during parliamentary committee meetings into the allegations and the culture of the military.
“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.”
Gender and military researcher finds Vance verdict discouraging
Arbour also recommended the military’s formal definition of sexual misconduct should be “abolished” as it’s currently “is too broad a term” that captures everything from sexual assault and harassment, to the many micro aggressions that are the “weapons of choice for the expression of discriminatory views, harmful stereotypes and even unconscious biases.”
The military should bring its definition in line with 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.
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.
Arbour submitted her final report to Defence Minister Anita Anand on May 20. However, the government had until May 30 to make the report public.
It 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 LGBTQ members, and where sexual harassment and misconduct were routinely swept under the rug.
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 should 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.
The person appointed to oversee the implementation of recommendations in the report should produce monthly “monitoring assessment and advice” reports directly to the minister and publish bi-annual public reports, she added.
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