Time to take military reform seriously

A crucial mission awaits Anita Anand, Canada’s defence minister.

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Opinion

A crucial mission awaits Anita Anand, Canada’s defence minister.

The future of the Canadian Armed Forces depends on whether she treats her task — stamping out sexual misconduct within the military ranks and restoring the forces’ tattered reputation — with less cynicism than her predecessors and top military brass, some of whom have been part of the problem.

Harassment and abuse — sexual or otherwise — is so troublesome in Canada’s military that three separate former Supreme Court justices have been asked to study the armed forces in the past seven years and offer solutions.

While the matter requires exploration, bringing three judges out of retirement to investigate — each issuing a red alert about an outdated structure that has done little to prevent misconduct — amounts to engaging in delaying tactics aimed at passing the buck rather than addressing legitimate concerns.

The latest report, released Monday, was written by Louise Arbour, who besides once being a justice on Canada’s top court has also served as the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights.

The Canadian Press In her 420-page report, Louise Arbour chastises those in the armed forces’ top ranks for leading a deeply damaging organizational culture. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press files)

In her 420-page report, Ms. Arbour cites incidents such as date rape, degrading comments and inappropriate relationships between people of different ranks, and chastises those in the armed forces’ top ranks for leading a “deeply damaging organizational culture” that has brought the military into disrepute.

Perhaps her most damning criticism is her assertion that some military personnel, especially women, “are more at risk of harm, on a day-to-day basis, from their comrades than from the enemy.”

Don’t expect those words to find their way into the military’s recruitment materials.

While her recommendations are welcome, the government didn’t need to enlist Ms. Arbour to identify — again — the military’s problems and declare how urgently they need to be addressed.

High-profile cases involving some of Canada’s top officers are hardly the stuff of top-secret dossiers.

High-profile cases involving some of Canada’s top officers are hardly the stuff of top-secret dossiers.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, a former chief of defence staff who retired in 2021, pleaded guilty in March to obstruction of justice in a case revolving around his relationship with an officer of a lower rank. His successor, Adm. Art McDonald, resigned after the military launched an investigation into sexual-misconduct allegations.

In May 2021, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who had been appointed to head Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, resigned from the post after the military announced a similar investigation, which has led to sexual assault charges.

Ms. Arbour provided 48 recommendations, and Ms. Anand would be wise to consider every one of them. Some include forwarding sexual-harassment complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission and a reform of Canada’s military colleges, which Ms. Arbour described as institutions from a bygone era.

Defence Minister Anita Anand says the government agrees with the issues Louise Arbour identified. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press files)

Ms. Anand made a good start last November — after less than a month on the job — by enacting an interim recommendation from Ms. Arbour that urged the military refer all sexual-misconduct cases to civilian authorities.

The defence minister made further inroads Monday by implementing 17 more of Ms. Arbour’s proposals, including a vital one: appointing someone from outside the military to oversee the reforms.

Ms. Anand said the government agrees with the issues Ms. Arbour identified, adding that “this is the moment to create change.”

For the Canadian Armed Forces, simply following through on Ms. Anand’s commitment would be a major change.

Failure to implement these reforms will continue a pattern by Canada’s forces of attempting to defend an indefensible position — a manoeuvre which, as any military strategist could confirm, has no chance of success. Maintaining long-entrenched attitudes will only continue a great disservice that has been done to the men and women who make it their mission to protect our nation.

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