The U.S. is promising quick action on military sexual violence. What’s taking Canada so long?


The Canadian government could learn a thing or two from the quick action the United States is taking on military sexual violence, experts say.

Responding to an independent review of sexual assault and harassment in the U.S. military, Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin announced last week he has asked his deputy for a road map within 60 days to implement changes.

Austin said the department would begin moving immediately on some key changes based on the review’s recommendations, including removing the prosecution of sexual assault from the chain of command, and adding sexual harassment as an offence under the uniform code of military justice.

The Canadian military has been grappling with a sexual misconduct crisis this year, but experts say the federal government has failed to get the problem under control, appearing slow to take action on what has been described as an existential threat to the armed forces.

The Canadian government was told in 2015 by an independent review led by retired Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps that an independent reporting structure for sexual assault in the military was required — but it was never established, and the government has never offered much of an explanation as to why.

The Liberals faced further criticism this past April when they launched yet another independent review into sexual misconduct — one that won’t be producing a report for at least a year, though the government maintains that the review will be able to produce interim recommendations.

What is needed is action now, starting with the implementation of the 2015 review recommendations, with a clear timeline for when solutions will be implemented, experts say.

“You see a very proactive response in the United States, where they want something to happen fast,” said Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“I think that Canada wants to be more deliberative and more cautious about this, but in the end they found themselves appearing like they’re stalling and don’t want to take action.”

Duval-Lantoine cautioned that Canada should not necessarily follow exactly what is being recommended in the U.S., but rather “emulate the attitude” the U.S. government has taken on the issue.

The U.S. review shows there are striking similarities between the American and Canadian experience, demonstrating that sexual misconduct is also pervasive in the U.S. military, leaders have failed to act, and a lack of good data has made it difficult to prevent perpetration.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked at a news conference last week whether his government would also establish a timeline for reforms by the end of the summer, but instead he pointed to the promise of interim recommendations from the yearlong independent review being carried out by retired Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour.

“Madame Arbour and I both absolutely agree we can’t wait a year for that final report, that’s why she will be offering up suggestions and recommendations as we move forward,” Trudeau said.

A spokesperson for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan — who has faced numerous calls for his resignation over his handling of the file — also pointed to the Arbour review in a statement.

“She will be providing advice on how we can create an independent reporting system that meets the needs of survivors, as well as other areas that will help us achieve the culture change that is needed,” said Todd Lane. “As Madame Arbour provides interim recommendations, we will act to implement them.”

The insistence by the government of interim recommendations — but with no idea as to when that might happen — “makes things vague and lacks credibility,” said Steve Saideman, Paterson chair in international affairs at Carleton University.

“Specificity creates credibility, lack of specificity creates doubt, and they’re just creating more and more doubt about what’s going to happen because they’re not giving us a timeline and they haven’t explained to us why they failed to implement the Deschamps report,” Saideman said.

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The government has effectively “punted” the issue of tackling sexual misconduct in the military down the road, Saideman said.

“In the United States we have a secretary of defence who has committed clearly to a course of action, whereas in Canada you have a minister of defence who has been hand-waving,” Saideman said.

“There’s a lot more credibility in the United States for Lloyd Austin to do something than there is in Canada for Harjit Sajjan to do something.”





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