It has become nothing short of a national disgrace — a list of Canadian military commanders accused of sexual misconduct that seems to get longer with each passing week.
It’s a crisis without precedent in the Canadian Armed Forces, as analysts say they have never seen so many high-ranking leaders in any military in the world swept up in scandal at the same time.
Since early February, 11 senior Canadian military leaders — current and former — have been sidelined, investigated or forced into retirement, triggering a public backlash and division within the ranks.
In some cases, senior officers have been pegged to replace a leader accused of misconduct, but have then faced their own allegations before assuming the new post.
On Oct. 12, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin lost a court bid to be reinstated as head of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. He is facing a criminal charge of sexual assault. The next day, it was revealed that the installation of Lt.-Gen. Trevor Cadieu as commander of the army was postponed in September because he is being investigated following an allegation of sexual misconduct.
On Oct. 15, it was reported that the head of military personnel, Lt.-Gen. Steven Whelan, had stepped aside during an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct. His predecessor in the role, Vice-Adm. Haydn Edmundson, went on leave in March and is also the subject of a probe into an allegation of sexual misconduct.
This ever-widening crisis has engulfed Canada’s last two chiefs of defence staff. On Jan. 14, Gen. Jonathan Vance officially stepped down as Canada’s top soldier and handed the reins to Admiral Art McDonald. Less than a month later, on Feb. 2, news broke that Gen. Vance, the architect of the military’s campaign to stamp out sexual misconduct, was facing allegations of inappropriate relations with lower-ranked female staff.
On Feb. 25, his successor, Adm. McDonald, abruptly stepped aside after reports he was being investigated by military police over an allegation of misconduct involving a junior female crew member aboard the warship HMCS Montreal in 2010.
These accumulating accusations leave no doubt there’s a well-documented toxic culture within the military, and an abject failure by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to curb a scandal that has soiled the reputation of Canada’s military.
"I think we have a prime minister who’s identified as a feminist prime minister, but he and the minister of defence have zero credibility on this file," said Megan MacKenzie, the Simons Chair in International Law and Human Security at Simon Fraser University and leader of an international project studying sexual misconduct in the military.
In August, the Forces turned down a former military member’s request for the RCMP to investigate her claim that a senior military leader raped her. The refusal came despite a report by retired Supreme Court Justice Morris Fish urging the military to surrender control of sexual assault investigations to civilian authorities until it reforms the way it deals with victims’ rights. The military has yet to hand over a single investigation to civilian police.
It’s clear the military is unable to stem this growing tide of misconduct, which means it’s time for the civilian criminal justice system, including the RCMP, to step in and handle criminal cases in the military. It’s also time for the military to overhaul a vetting process that has become an insult to victims of abuse.
There’s a longstanding joke in the military that states: "Hurry up and wait!" The victims of assault and misconduct in the Canadian Forces have waited long enough.