Louise Arbour, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, smiles after having her star unveiled on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto on Monday, June 8, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Louise Arbour, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, smiles after having her star unveiled on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto on Monday, June 8, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Time is now for military to finally make real progress on sex misconduct, Arbour says

Feds tapped Arbour to lead a year-long review of the military’s approach to preventing, punishing sex crimes

Louise Arbour believes that after years of failed efforts and misfires, the time is finally ripe for real progress in the Canadian military’s fight against sexual misconduct.

And the former Supreme Court Justice and United Nations human rights commissioner with a reputation for speaking truth to power, says if she didn’t believe that or the federal government’s commitment to act, she wouldn’t have agreed to help with the fight.

“There’s been huge disappointment, and I suspect there’s probably a lot of skepticism about whether this exercise is going to make any difference,” Arbour said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “If I didn’t believe that it could and will, I wouldn’t be bothered.”

The federal government tapped the 74-year-old Arbour last week to lead a year-long review of the military’s approach to preventing and punishing sexual crimes and behaviour following months of outrage over the conduct of its very top commanders.

The list of those caught up in the issue expanded Sunday to include Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe as he was relieved as commander of Canada’s special forces for writing a character reference four years ago for a soldier convicted of sexually assaulting a comrade’s wife.

Brig.-Gen. Steve Boivin, who was to take over as special forces commander this summer, instead moves immediately into the position. Though he was to move into a new senior advisory position, the military now says Dawe’s future remains undecided.

Acting defence chief Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre announced the move in a statement released on Sunday.

“These are difficult times for us as an institution, and for many who continue to suffer,” he said. “That suffering is inflamed through a sense of betrayal, and I recognize that it is real.”

Much of that sense of betrayal stems from the fact some of those commanders now accused of sexual misconduct were among the military’s loudest voices in promising action after another former Supreme Court justice revealed the scale of the military’s problems in 2015.

The fact that the government and Armed Forces refused to act on Marie Deschamps’s key recommendation to set up an independent centre to monitor the military’s handling of cases and hold it accountable has also contributed to anger and skepticism about their commitment.

Arbour, who has previously worked as an adviser as the Liberal government developed its 2017 defence policy, admits to having her own questions about another review when the government reached out to her this time around.

She now sees her role as building off Deschamps’s report, which was instrumental in laying out the scope and scale of sexual misconduct in the military, by now coming up with a real way to fix the issue.

“This is an opportunity to go beyond what Marie Deschamps said, which is: ‘You must create an independent, an external center,’ but to maybe try to flesh out what exactly this should look like,” Arbour said. “In that sense, this could be chapter two.”

There are several other reasons to believe her review is different from Deschamps’s and will lead to real change, Arbour added, noting it will study the military justice system and take a close look at how military commanders are selected and trained.

Yet perhaps most important is the level of public attention on the issue right now — and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s commitment to act upon whatever recommendations Arbour makes.

Arbour previously led an investigation of the Prison for Women in Kingston, Ont., following years of controversy at the institution. Her landmark report in 1996 prompted its closing and resulted in numerous changes to how women are treated in federal prisons.

“I wasn’t the first one that said this prison had to close, but sometimes you arrive at a time when the system is right, public opinion is sufficiently engaged, that change can happen,” she said.

“This is one of these opportunities with a very public commitment that this external, independent, comprehensive review will produce recommendations that will be implemented.”

While senior commanders have responded to the current controversy with expressions of openness to external oversight, the military has shown a history of resisting such monitoring and accountability, preferring instead to deal with issues internally.

Arbour noted police forces, medical associations and others all believe they are best placed to police their own members, but suggested resistance to external scrutiny is even more acute in the military due to the way troops live and work in close proximity.

Yet while that has also contributed to some skepticism, Arbour said she is keeping both an open mind and a determined focus to get on with the fight.

“I certainly understand fully the impatience of those who are directly implicated women, some of whom have spoken out more than one, others who have yet to speak out because they have no trust in the system,” she said.

“There’s skepticism and cynicism, and impatience and so on. I have nothing more to say then: ‘But then what? Are we just going to do nothing because we did something and, six years later, we’re not quite there yet?’”

READ MORE: Trudeau acknowledges ‘system-wide failure’ in military’s handling of sexual misconduct

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Canadian Armed Forcessexual misconduct

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

The southern mountain caribou, an iconic species for the Splatsin First Nation, is threatened with extinction, much to the dismay of the First Nation. (Province of B.C. photo)
Splatsin First Nation concerned over dwindling caribou herd

Southern mountain caribou at risk of extinction, will struggle to recover without habitat protection and restoration action - report

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

Five-year-old Bayne Krause poses for a photo with his mom Marianne. Bayne’s shirt reads, ‘I have Cystic Fibrosis. Help keep me healthy, please social distance.’ Photo: Laurie Tritschler
West Kootenay mom promotes awareness of cystic fibrosis

Marianne Krause wants people to know what it’s like for her five-year-old son to live with CF

A rolled-over semi along Highway 95. The RCMP have responded to nine collisions in the last month. (Brain Duchovnay photo)
Golden/Field RCMP recap last two months

The RCMP responded to 463 calls to service over the last two months

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
UPDATE: Winfield road open following police, coroner investigation

Pelmewash Parkway closure near Highway 97 connection

Kelowna resident Sally Wallick helped rescue a kayaker in distress a week and a half ago. (Sally Wallick/Contributed)
VIDEO: Kelowna woman rescues capsized kayaker in Okanagan Lake

Sally Wallick is asking people to be prepared for the cold water and unpredictable winds

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

RCMP (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
High-risk takedown on Highway 1 following Shuswap shooting

Upon further investigation, the vehicle and its occupants were not associated with the shooting

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Most Read