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

Just Posted

Friends, family and members of Semiahmoo First Nation met at the Surrey Provincial Court Tuesday morning for the verdict of two teens charged in the death of Paul Prestbakmo. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Friends, family ‘praying for right decision’ in South Surrey mechanic’s stabbing death

Judge’s verdict expected today in 2019 death of Paul Prestbakmo

North Surrey Sport and Ice Complex. (Photo: larkgroup.com)
North Surrey rink, Newton playground earn B.C. excellence awards

Awards presented by BC Recreation and Parks Association

The George Massey Tunnel will be closed overnight May 28 and 29 to test the tunnel’s fire suppression system and overhead lane control signals. (Black Press Media file photo)
Overnight Massey Tunnel closures coming May 28, 29

Closure to allow safe testing of tunnel’s fire suppression system and overhead lane control signals

Missing Surrey man Bernard Grempel. (Photo: Surrey RCMP)
Surrey RCMP seeks help to find missing man

Bernard Grempel was reported missing on Sunday and hasn’t been seen since Friday

Members of Whalley Legion Junior Band at an event in the early 1980s. (Facebook photo)
SURREY NOW & THEN: When the city’s ‘official band’ marched with Whalley Legion title

A weekly look back at Surrey-area landmark sites, events and people

Members of Whalley Legion Junior Band at an event in the early 1980s. (Facebook photo)
SURREY NOW & THEN: When the city’s ‘official band’ marched with Whalley Legion title

A weekly look back at Surrey-area landmark sites, events and people

Derek Descoteau with his trusty dog Harvey. (Photo submitted)
Friends provide continuing comfort for family in wake of unresolved senseless B.C. murder

Case remains before the courts five years after Derek Descoteau’s abrupt stabbing death in Chemainus

Two small dogs were also discovered by the officer, one had died, and the other was taken by animal control and sent for veterinary care with the BC SPCA. (File Photo)
Body discovered in parked van in Mission with 2 dogs, 1 dead

Remains in state of decomposure, surviving dog sent for veterinary care with BC SPCA

A prowling coyote proved no match for a stray black cat who chased it out of a Port Moody parking lot Friday, May 14. (Twitter/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Cat who chases away coyote asked to join Port Moody, Vancouver police 

Caught on camera Friday, the black cat jumps out from under a parked car and runs the wild animal out of a vacant lot

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The top photo is of a real carbine rifle, while the bottom photo is the airsoft rifle seized from a Kelowna man on May 15. (Contributed)
RCMP issue warning: ‘Imitation firearms need to be dealt with responsibly’

A man brandishing his airsoft rifle in public had his weapon seized by Mounties on Saturday

Abbotsford Regional Hospital. (Black Press Media files)
Canada marks 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began

6 in every 10,000 Canadians died of COVID-19 since March 9, 2020

Staff-Sgt. Svend Nielsen, with the 100 Mile House RCMP. (Melissa Smalley - 100 Mile Free Press)
14-year-old boy killed in serious ATV crash near 100 Mile House

Youth was travelling with a group of peers when the incident occurred last Friday

Most Read