OTTAWA — Canada’s top solider says the military will establish an independent process outside the chain of command to deal with complaints of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.
“While we are ultimately uncertain which model will be the best fit for Canada, and therefore how we will implement this recommendation, we fully recognize the need to have a centre which is independent of undue influence from the chain of command,” Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson said in a statement Wednesday.
The statement came in response to a report by CBC News that two months before a damning report on sexual misconduct in the Canadian military was made public, Lawson had issued a directive to senior officers suggesting some of its key recommendations should be ignored.
One of those recommendations called for an independent process — outside the chain of command at the Canadian Armed Forces — to handle complaints of sexual misconduct.
CBC News reported that orders from Lawson circulated to military brass on Feb. 25 suggested that idea had already been rejected, as it assumed “the current sexual misconduct investigation and justice system authorities will remain unchanged.”
Lawson said in his statement he was “disappointed” by media reports suggesting the military was not taking the issue seriously.
Lawson said the directive was issued to establish the strategic task force led by Maj.-Gen. Chris Whitecross, appointed to figure out how to implement the 10 recommendations in the report by retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps.
The assumptions described in the directive were not meant to dictate what Whitecross can or cannot do, said Lawson.
“These planning assumptions should in no way be viewed as restrictions or orders for her to ignore the recommendations of the final report. Any such suggestion is quite simply false,” Lawson said.
Lawson said the action plan developed to respond to the issue of sexual misconduct in the military is more important than the language in the directive.
“This Action Plan, as endorsed by our senior leadership and released publicly, clearly accepts all of the recommendations made by Madame Deschamps, either outright or in principle. Major-General Chris Whitecross and her team are now actively examining options for how to best achieve the intent of each of these recommendations,” Lawson said.
“There has been much discussion on the issue of Madame Deschamps’ recommendation to establish a ‘Centre of Accountability’ which is separate from the chain of command. Her report suggested that we examine models for this such as those used by the militaries of Australia, France or the United States,” Lawson said.
“To be absolutely clear, we have accepted this recommendation in principle, and Major-General Whitecross is now actively examining these models to develop recommendations for what will be the best fit in Canada. This might mean, for example, something that draws from the Australian model, which empowers victims, but also strengthens the chain of command’s ability to lead and care for the well-being of its members, and reports regularly to their Chief of the Defence Force through the Chiefs of Service Committee. We are also looking at the U.S. system, which is led by a two-star general who reports to an under-secretary of defense,” Lawson said.
When the report was released Apr. 30, the military agreed immediately to two of the 10 recommendations, but said the other eight needed further study and they seemed particularly cool to the idea of creating the independent process.
Lauren Armstrong, press secretary to Defence Minister Jason Kenney, said the he would support the Canadian Armed Forces as it acted all on all the recommendations.
“Maj.-Gen. Chris Whitecross was clear that she feels no limitations in her work. The Canadian Armed Forces are looking at how to best implement all 10 of the report’s recommendations and the minister supports this effort,” Armstrong said.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay told reporters Wednesday he had spoken to Maj.-Gen. Blaise Cathart, the judge advocate general of the Canadian Armed Forces on Tuesday about greater collaboration between the criminal and the military justice system when it comes to these kinds of cases.
“I spoke to the judge advocate general yesterday, that there should be perhaps a protocol or a consultation that takes place between Crown prosecutors and military justice system when those cases could be tantamount to a criminal charge rather than something that is done more administratively through court martials and court martials appeals,” MacKay said following the Conservative caucus meeting Wednesday morning.
“I think there’s an opportunity there for greater collaboration in some cases between our military justice system when the behaviour crosses that line. And so, you know, for years, there has been and there is a separate military justice system, and they very often use these court martials in an administrative way rather than the type of normal prosecution that would occur,” MacKay said.