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

Memorials have been set up to honour those who died during the Second World War. (Pixabay.com)
COLUMN: It’s time to stop making comparisons to Hitler

The deadliest, most destructive war in human history should not become a metaphor

Oliver’s Fairview Bridge needs work to remove the lead-based paint, but it may cost the town more than they’re currently willing to pay. (Google Maps)
Oliver bridge work may not happen until 2022

Bids for the project came in over what the town had budgeted

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

Upgrades will be completed on a portion of the Kettle Valley Railway trail north of Penticton. (Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen photo)
Contract awarded for improvements to trail near Penticton

Portion of Kettle Valley Railway trail will receive upgrades

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Gord Judson steers his log truck down a forest service road, using two-way radio and call signals to mark his position for oncoming traffic. (B.C. Forest Safety Council)
Planning some B.C. wilderness fishing? Don’t catch a log truck

Remote recreation areas bracing for heavy pandemic pressure

Former University of British Columbia student Stephanie Hale, 22. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Bassett
Human Rights Tribunal to hear complaint against UBC Okanagan for ‘mishandling’ sexual assault report

Stephanie Hale did not return to campus after the student she alleges attacked her was cleared of wrongdoing

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman’s restaurant is located in the tiny community of Field, which relies on tourism

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Kelowna seen from the top of Knox Mountain. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press Media file)
Accessibility concerns raised as Kelowna ponders banning vehicles from Knox Mountain

Knox Mountain Drive, which leads to two lookouts, has been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic began

(Pixabay photo)
Cow-based wildfire mitigation pilot contended by Southeast Kelowna group

‘Targeted grazing’ program would see 50 cows deployed to 60-hectare parcel above Field Road

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Cops for Kids riders will be spinning 30 feet in the air on scissor lifts at SaveOn Foods locations in Kelowna, Lake Country and West Kelowna Saturday, May 8, 2021. (File photo)
Cops reach new heights for Okanagan kids

Nor-Val Rentals is doing the heavy lifting Saturday in Kelowna, West Kelowna and Lake Country

Most Read