The federal government needs to appoint an independent inspector-general of the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence who is empowered to confront sexual misconduct in the military, the House of Commons Status of Women committee says in a new report released Thursday.
The committee’s recommendation follows long-standing calls from experts for this type of mechanism to be implemented in Canada. Other countries, such as the United States, Australia and France, have created such offices.
The report recommends the appointment of an inspector-general to exercise oversight over the military and act as the head of an independent reporting structure that would manage reports of sexual misconduct in the CAF. The aim would be to make it so that survivors feel protected and supported when they come forward with their complaints.
The committee, which began studying sexual misconduct within the CAF in March, released its findings at a critical juncture for the military. In recent months there has been considerable political pressure on the CAF and Ottawa to address concerns about the issue.
In its report, the committee notes recent allegations of sexual misconduct made against high-ranking officials in the military, including former chief of the defence staff General Jonathan Vance and his successor, Admiral Art McDonald.
Among the 20 other action items contained in the report is a call to implement the recommendations in an earlier report on sexual misconduct and harassment in the CAF, completed in 2015 by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps. One of the central gaps identified in Ms. Deschamps’s report was the lack of a reporting mechanism outside of the chain of command.
The new report also recommends that the government impose a freeze on promotions and salary increases of military brass until an independent investigation is conducted to ensure their conduct is “beyond reproach.”
On the same day as the report’s release, the Conservatives used an opposition day motion to call for the censure of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. Meanwhile, Conservatives on the Status of Women Committee released a statement saying that, despite formal reports on sexual misconduct in previous years, including the 2015 report by Ms. Deschamps, there has been a “serious lack of action” by Mr. Sajjan.
Mr. Sajjan said Thursday that he welcomed the committee’s report, and that he is committed to reviewing its recommendations to “help guide our actions to stamp out sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Mr. Sajjan added that former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, whom Ottawa appointed in April to lead a new independent review of sexual harassment and misconduct in the CAF, will “thoroughly examine the CAF’s institutional culture and make both interim and final recommendations about actions we must take to establish a respectful and inclusive work environment and build better institutions that our personnel can trust.” He also noted the appointment of Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan to lead a new internal organization overseeing professional conduct and culture.
The committee’s report also said witnesses described a working environment in the CAF that was hierarchical, male-dominated and toxic, where incidents of sexual misconduct can occur and go unchecked.
“Patriarchal gender norms have created a sexualized and masculine culture in the CAF, sometimes referred to as an ‘old boys’ club,’” the report said. “There is denial among many CAF members that this culture and boys’ club exists.”
The report also said survivors of sexual misconduct in the CAF spoke about the treatment they have endured.
“Witnesses described feeling mistreated and disrespected, as well as experiences of sexual harassment and assault in their work environment,” it said.
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