Politics

Defence minister says military sex misconduct cases will be handled by civilians

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OTTAWA — The federal government has accepted “in full” retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour’s call for the transfer of all criminal cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct in the military to civilian authorities, Defence Minister Anita Anand said Thursday.

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The surprise announcement came shortly after The Canadian Press revealed Arbour’s recommendation, which the former judge and UN high commissioner for human rights made last month in a letter written to Anand’s predecessor, Harjit Sajjan.

The Liberal government tapped Arbour in April to lead a yearlong review of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces and find ways to address it. Her appointment followed months of sexual misconduct allegations involving some of the military’s top officers.

“I have accepted in full Madame Arbour’s recommendations to move the investigation and prosecution of sexual misconduct cases to the civilian system,” Anand wrote on Twitter, where she also posted a copy of Arbour’s Oct. 20 letter to Sajjan.

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“The Canadian Armed Forces are working with federal, provincial and territorial partners to implement these interim recommendations.”

Arbour is actually the second retired Supreme Court justice to have called for the military to transfer criminal cases involving sexual misconduct to civilian authorities in recent months.

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Following a comprehensive review of the military justice system, Morris Fish in June said the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults should be temporarily removed from the military’s hands until a declaration of victims’ rights is implemented.

The government and military said at the time that they had accepted the recommendation in principle, but further study was needed.

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In her letter, Arbour wrote that she had heard concerns about Fish’s recommendation, including worries civilian authorities didn’t know enough about the military and that cases could be delayed and result in less severe sentences for perpetrators.

While Arbour does not identify who made those comments, they do echo past statements from military officials.

“On the other hand, I have heard, in the course of my review, significant skepticism on the part of stakeholders and most importantly survivors, with respect to the independence and competence of the CFNIS (and military police),” Arbour writes.

The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service is responsible for investigating serious crimes in the military.

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Arbour also says that while secrecy in the early stages of a police investigation may be necessary, “in the current climate it serves to increase suspicion about the CAF’s ability to police itself,” and raises questions when officers under investigation are promoted.

“In light of the above, 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.”

Arbour’s call — and Anand’s promise to act — follow months of allegations of sexual misconduct involving some of the military’s most senior officers, which have forced an unprecedented reckoning in how such cases are handled.

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