In a long-awaited apology to survivors of sexual misconduct, Defense Minister Anita Anand acknowledged that “successive governments have not done enough to end this scourge” in the Canadian military.

“This is a failure that our Canadian Armed Forces, our department and the government of Canada will always carry with us,” Anand said. during the apology on Monday. “These institutions failed you, and we are sorry. Sorry.”

The apology was first promised in 2019 as part of a $ 600 million settlement agreement with current and former service members involved in various class action lawsuits; To date, almost 19,000 claims have been filed.

For survivors of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military, feelings about the apology will be mixed, but some were left with hope.

“I’m still in conflict, but grateful,” said Dawn McIlmoyle, a military sexual assault survivor who advocates for abuse survivors. “I think about my lost career, but I also have this feeling of joy that it is really recognized and taken seriously.”

McIlmoyle says that after reporting her sexual assault, she was disciplined and even forced to stand next to her attacker during disciplinary proceedings.

She left the military shortly thereafter, feeling “invisible”, “abandoned” and “rejected”, and dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the following years.

Now, McIlmoyle says he believes change can happen, a feeling he hasn’t had in a long time.

Dawn McIlmoyle with her dog Dutchess while in Montreal for a documentary on military sexual trauma in early December. McIlmoyle is a military sexual assault survivor who now advocates for abuse survivors. Photo courtesy of Dawn McIlmoyle

Along with Anand, Defense Chief General Wayne Eyre and Department of Defense Deputy Minister Jody Thomas offered apologies on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defense.

Reactions to Ottawa’s apology to survivors of military sexual misconduct are mixed, some feeling hopeful and all calling for concrete action #cdnpoli # apology #Military #SexAbuse

The apologies went not only to those directly harmed by the military’s sexual misconduct, but also to their families, friends, and colleagues, something McIlmoyle appreciated given the far-reaching impacts sexual assault and misconduct have on. people and their loved ones.

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Thomas referenced his own experiences with sexual misconduct in the navy.

“I endured what was happening to me and around me hoping to show that I was strong enough and deserved to be there,” he said.

“I didn’t understand at the time that that behavior wasn’t about me, but rather, about his power and abuse.”

Thomas says the Department of National Defense is currently working “to propose fundamental changes to key elements of CAF’s systems, processes and governance.”

“It was a beautiful apology … I don’t know how much anything will change, but at least there was some acknowledgment that it happened,” McIlmoyle said.

In a statement emailed to National Observer of CanadaGreen Party Acting Leader Amita Kuttner said the apologies were “necessary and welcome” and highlighted statements by Anand, Eyre and Thomas that an apology is only the first step.

“Urgent next steps include real support for survivors, increased transparency and accountability, and a detailed plan to change the culture in our military so that the safety of all who serve can be ensured,” Kuttner’s statement reads.

NDP defense critic Lindsay Mathyssen issued a statement echoing that sentiment, adding that liberals have yet to implement the recommendations of a landmark 2015 report by the former Canadian Supreme Court judge. Marie Deschamps that exposed the problems of sexual harassment and misconduct in the military and included actions. articles for the federal government.

“This government has to show that they are going to do better,” says Mathyssen’s statement.

“After decades of being fired and ignored, members of the Armed Forces do not trust that their complaints will be taken seriously. How can they do it when the government has protected powerful men at the top of CAF and allowed this troubled culture to continue for so long? “

The recognition and sincerity of the apology was encouraging, said Sam Samplonius, co-chair of It’s not just 700, a group that advocates for survivors of military sexual misconduct.

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However, including some specific examples of what is being done would have further enhanced the apology, Samplonius said.

In the short term, Samplonius said that many survivors need the support of their peers, adding that because each survivor was “hurt differently,” there will be a variety of reactions to the apology.

“Some people were hurt recently, or were hurt so badly that there’s nothing they feel they can hear that makes them feel better, so you’re going to get those people to say that the apology doesn’t mean anything to them,” he said.

“And then you’re going to find those who are at a point in their healing journey where they have come to terms with what happened… so this is what they wanted to hear; they wanted to hear people apologizing sincerely. “

Samplonius and It’s Not Just 700 encourage people to communicate with friends, family, and colleagues who are victims of military sexual trauma, particularly after the apology.

It also says that people who have been perpetrators or bystanders of inappropriate sexual conduct by the military should come forward, when appropriate and only if they sincerely feel it, to apologize for their past behavior.

Moving forward, McIlmoyle is hopeful that collaboration between the military and survivors can result in healing.

Allowing and encouraging survivors to give speeches and share their experience with entire groups or battalions could be one way to “give power back,” McIlmoyle said.

“The trauma of the past does not define us. The military simply recognized it and apologized; whether you want to believe it was sincere or not, it has been done, “he said.

“It is a stepping stone. Now we have to get to the next stone. “

– With files from The Canadian Press

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada National Observer

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