While Major-General Dany Fortin was arguing that politicians interfered in the military to unfairly oust him from his post, the rest of the country should be angry that Liberal politicians didn’t intervene in the military enough.
Maj.-Gen. Fortin had taken the government to court, arguing that political leaders were so spooked by the snowballing sexual-misconduct scandal in the military that they overreacted to an allegation over a 33-year-old incident and forced the military to remove the general from his job heading Canada’s vaccine rollout.
On Monday, a Federal Court judge, Ann Marie McDonald, rebuffed Maj.-Gen. Fortin’s request to be reinstated, telling him that proper process required him to file a grievance with the military before he brought his case to the courts. At any rate, the job leading the vaccine rollout is now effectively over and Maj.-Gen. Fortin now faces a criminal charge of sexual assault filed in August, which he denies.
But the question of whether Liberal politicians have intervened too much in the military over sexual harassment allegations has implications well beyond Maj.-Gen. Fortin. Just look at the running series of allegations made against military leaders – the latest of which emerged only Wednesday when the Department of National Defence said the change-of-command ceremony for the new head of the army, Lieutenant-General Trevor Cadieu, was postponed last month because he is under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct.
That comes through when we hear the disapproving statements made recently by senior figures in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, notably Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Last week, she agreed with a reporter’s suggestion that the military brass “doesn’t get it” when it comes to dealing with sexual misconduct, and she expressed concern that Major-General Peter Dawe, who had written a letter of reference for a soldier convicted of sexually assaulting a female soldier, had been assigned to work on matters related to sexual harassment.
In June, when two senior officers went golfing with the former chief of the defence staff, Jonathan Vance, even though the latter was still under investigation for sexual misconduct, Ms. Freeland asserted that there “needs to be a real change in the culture of the Canadian Forces.” Mr. Trudeau had said something like that in April, too, as a series of allegations of sexual harassment continued to rock the Forces.
Yet they didn’t say much about Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, or his responsibility for changing that culture, and fixing the problems of sexual misconduct in the military that had been identified as a major problem before he took office in 2015.
It is as though the top politicians in the Liberal government don’t realize that it is Mr. Sajjan’s job, and their job, to fix problems in the military. Especially when the leadership of the Canadian Forces has shown that it cannot fix itself. Over the last six years, the politicians have abdicated responsibility, except for tut-tutting about the culture.
“It is appalling that they can’t see that civilian control of the military means civilians controlling the military,” said Stephen Saideman, the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University and the director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network.
Mr. Sajjan famously rebuffed the defence department’s then-ombudsman Gary Walbourne when the latter tried to show him an allegedly inappropriate e-mail that Mr. Vance sent to a female subordinate. That’s instructive of the Liberal approach: They didn’t want to get mixed up in military business, for fear that accusations of meddling would come back to bite them politically.
Which brings us back to Maj.-Gen. Fortin. It’s hard to judge whether he was removed hastily, in part because details of the charge against him, laid three months after his removal, have not been made public. But his allegation that politicians forced the acting chief of the defence staff, General Wayne Eyre, to fire him shouldn’t shock us, even if it is true.
At the time, the military was facing a series of allegations against senior officers and was under fire for failing to police its own. The politicians had reason to second-guess the brass’s handling of such cases, and in particular, their handling of officers who faced allegations.
The real problem was that politicians didn’t get involved sooner. Maybe a take-charge minister would have insisted years ago that the Canadian Armed Forces establish a responsive system for sexual harassment allegations, and accountability for senior officers. Maybe a less risk-averse government would have ensured the brass lived up to it. If the politicians had exercised proper civilian control years ago, the military would not be in crisis now.
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