December 13, 2021

-Global News


Defence Minister Anita Anand says successive Canadian governments have failed to dedicate the time, money and effort needed to stamp out the “scourge” of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military.

“Countless lives have been harmed because of inaction and systemic failure. This is a failure that our Canadian Armed Forces, our department, and the Government of Canada will always carry with us.”
“These institutions failed you, and for that we are sorry. I am sorry,” she said.

Survivors and victims of military sexual misconduct received a historic and long-awaited apology on Monday from Anand, as well as from Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre and Jody Thomas, deputy minister of the Department of National Defence.

More than 7,600 people watched the apology livestream on Facebook, which comes after a year in which the Canadian military has been forced to confront what experts have called a “crisis” of sexual misconduct within its ranks, particularly senior leaders.

“You were let down. You were hurt. And when you tried to get help, we did not react,” said Eyre.

“I am sorry. We sincerely apologize for the trauma that you have experienced. To those who suffered in silence, we are sorry. To those who shouted until you could shout no more at great personal risk only to have no one listen to you, we are sorry.”

Eyre said the military has not done the “deep” work needed to address the underlying issues that cause sexual misconduct, and that “the harm you suffered happened on our collective watch — on my watch.”

“Trust can mean the difference between life and death, and we have betrayed that trust,” he said, adding the onus has been unfairly placed on those who have suffered to come forward and push for change.

“We let down your many colleagues who served, and continue to serve with honour. We let down Canadians who want to be proud of their armed forces, but find that increasingly difficult with each new revelation of harms.”

The lack of action on sexual misconduct has “robbed” the military of potential future leaders who have chosen not to sign up, said Eyre, emphasizing that “tangible actions” are needed to create change.

“This time, we will not fail,” he said. “This is my commitment to you.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said on Monday morning the apology would acknowledge the “terrible mistakes of the past.”

In a press conference on Monday morning, Trudeau was asked why he is not participating in the apology as some advocates have urged him to do. He did not give a clear reason but said he has often spoken about what is acceptable behaviour in the military over the past months and years.

“Today there is a recognition of the profound regret that we have and the recognition in this country of the terrible mistakes of the past,” Trudeau said.

“We profoundly regret what has happened and we apologize to all of the survivors in the Canadian Armed Forces who should have never experienced the things that they did, when these people offered their services to our country.”

Trudeau added: “I fully and wholeheartedly support it and endorse it.”

The Canadian Forces is in the midst of what experts have called an institutional “crisis” over its handling of sexual misconduct, particularly allegations against senior leaders following exclusive reporting by Global News in February 2021.

But while national attention has focused on the problem over the past year, the problem itself is not new — a landmark 2015 report by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Marie Deschamps documented a “toxic” culture that she said was hostile to women and LGBTQ members.

In June 2021, another former Supreme Court of Canada justice wrote in a separate report that military sexual misconduct remains as “rampant” and “destructive” now as it was in 2015.

The apology Monday afternoon has been years in the making. Survivors and victims were first promised one in 2019 as part of the $900-million class action settlement approved by the Federal Court.

Defence officials have said they had hoped to be able to do the apology in person, but that the continued uncertainty and rising cases of COVID-19 across the country mean it will be delivered virtually.

Over the weekend, there were several messages from military officials as well as advocates for survivors and victims urging people to think ahead about what kinds of supports they may need to have in place for themselves, and to recognize the emotions that the apology may provoke for many.

In a statement on Monday, the advocacy group It’s Not Just 700 said many are feeling a sense of “trepidation” awaiting the apology, and that there are strong hopes it “can help bring a sense of some closure.”

“The path of healing is an individual journey. This apology may bring a range of emotions for many, and just as everyone is at a different stage in their journey, the apology will also impact them differently,” the group said.

“Many emotions are possible ranging from a peaceful sense of closure, to feeling a renewed or refreshed anger about the harm caused. Any emotion felt, or not felt, is valid.”

There have been nearly 19,000 claims submitted to the class action process.

While the class period formally ended on Nov. 24, legal counsel working on the process said victims and survivors can still come forward to submit applications.

“While the deadline to file was Nov. 24, the settlement administrator has discretion to extend this deadline by 60 days (until Jan. 23, 2022) due to exceptional circumstances, or due to a claimant’s disability,” said Andrew Astritis, one of the lawyers working on the process, in an email.

“To date, many late claims have been accepted for consideration.”

More than 40 per cent of the claims submitted have been from men.

Eyre said in an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson that the scope “speaks to the depth of the issue.”