Defence minister says military sex misconduct cases will be handled by civilians
The decision follows months of allegations of sexual misconduct involving some of the military’s most senior officers.
OTTAWA — In one of her first acts as Canada’s new defence minister, Anita Anand announced Thursday she had accepted a retired Supreme Court judge’s recent call to transfer the investigation and prosecution of military sexual misconduct cases to civilian authorities.
Delivered just over a week after she became only the second female defence minister in Canadian history, Anand’s announcement was met with cautious optimism but also questions from some who have long called for the military to stop being allowed to police itself.
The Canadian Press was the first to report Thursday that retired Supreme Court judge Louise Arbour had written a letter to Anand’s predecessor, Harjit Sajjan, last month calling for civilian authorities to handle criminal cases involving sexual misconduct in the military.
The government tapped Arbour in April to lead a yearlong review of sexual misconduct in the ranks and recommend ways to address it. The move followed months of allegations against some of the military’s top officers, and criticism of the Liberals’ handling of the issue.
In her letter to Sajjan, who served for six years as defence minister and is now minister of international development, Arbour said those allegations and others “have led me to conclude that immediate remedial actions are necessary to start restoring trust in the CAF.”
To that end, she recommended all criminal cases of a sexual nature, including historical cases, be referred to civilian authorities. That includes cases currently under investigation, unless that investigation is nearly complete.
“I believe it is necessary to establish a process that will facilitate the handling of allegations of sexual offences in an independent and transparent way outside of the CAF,” she said in the Oct. 20 letter.
Arbour’s recommendation only deals with criminal cases, including sexual assaults. It does not apply to non-criminal cases such as inappropriate relationships, which are not allowed in the military will continue to be dealt with as a disciplinary issue.
She also left open the door to changing the recommendation pending the results of her final report.
Shortly after the Canadian Press report, Anand took to Twitter to announce she had accepted “in full Madame Arbour’s recommendations to move the investigation and prosecution of sexual misconduct cases to the civilian system.
“The Canadian Armed Forces are working with federal, provincial and territorial partners to implement these interim recommendations.”
Anand’s announcement sparked a firestorm of reaction from opposition parties, legal and defence experts as well as It’s Not Just 700, an advocacy and support group for victims of military sexual misconduct, which in a statement said it was “cautiously optimistic.”