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

The organizers of the annual 39 days of July festival hope to return to live shows in Charles Hoey Park this year, like in this photo taken in 2019, but audiences at the show may be limited to 50 people due to health protocols. (File photo)
39 Days of July hoping for outdoor events in Duncan this summer

Annual music festival will run from June 25 to Aug. 2 this year

Cowichan Valley WildSafeBC coordinator Amanda Crowston teaches a Grade 5/6 class at Ecole Cobble Hill last fall. (Submitted)
The bears are back in town and so is WildSafeBC

The bears are back in town so keep an eye out, reminds… Continue reading

The Regional District of Nanaimo has its sights set on busing to the Cowichan Valley in time for March 2022. (News Bulletin file)
Bus link between Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley expected by next March

Unallocated transit hours already in Regional District of Nanaimo budget

North Cowichan has heated exchange over timelines of its official community plan review. (File photo)
North Cowichan’s OCP review divides council

Tight timelines leads to heated debate

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

The majority of city council votes in favour of this design for a new Salmon Arm flag on Monday, May 10, 2021. (City of Salmon Arm image)
Majority of council salutes new flag for Salmon Arm

Two councillors raise concerns about logo being too corporate for a flag

(Pixabay)
B.C. doctors could face consequences for spreading COVID misinformation: college

College says doctors have a higher level of responsibility to not spread incorrect information

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives his COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccination in Ottawa, Friday, April 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
75% of Canadians need 1st vaccine dose to have more normal summer: Trudeau

The country is on track to hit a major milestone on the road to COVID-19 herd immunity Tuesday, with 40% vaccinated with a 1st dose

A black bear, dubbed Huckleberry by Deep Cove, B.C., residents died on July 31, 2020, after becoming conditioned to food and humans. (North Shore Black Bear Society photo)
Fewer dead bears, more fines: Advocates call for B.C. conservation officer reform

B.C. Bear Alliance wants to see body cameras on conservation officers after more than 600 black bears were killed this past year

Minister of Health Patty Hajdu responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Drug users were shut out of Vancouver’s decriminalization proposal, critics say, demanding redo

The coalition is asking the city to raise the proposed drug thresholds from a 3-day supply

David and Julie Kaplan with their children Estelle and Justin. (Special to The News)
COVID-19 border closure stops B.C. family’s cross-country move

Maple Ridge couple, two kids, turned away at New Brunswick border

Kelowna RCMP precinct. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna RCMP reviewing rough arrest after video shared on social media

The video shows an officer punching a man while arresting him for allegedly driving a stolen car

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
B.C. to provide three days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

Most Read