Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took direct aim at military commanders Wednesday, stating they “don’t get it” after a 48-hour whirlwind involving a senior officer who provided a referral for a convicted sex offender.
At a news conference announcing mandatory vaccination rules for federal public servants, as well as passengers on trains and planes, Trudeau said he was “stunned and dismayed” by recent revelations about the Major General. Peter Dawe.
“It is obvious that despite the work that the army has done, despite the work that we have done, the military still does not understand that survivors should be at the center … of anything that relates to sexual misconduct and harassment. in the army, ”said the prime minister.
“And this shows that they just don’t get it yet.”
Yet despite repeated calls from survivors and experts for greater oversight and accountability from the military, Trudeau upheld his decision that a retired Supreme Court judge conduct a review of military sexual misconduct and find ways to fix it.
“We have a lot of work to do, we know that,” he said. “That is why we have brought in people like Judge Louise Arbor to see how we completely transform military culture and the way our Canadian Armed Forces operate.”
Dawe was removed as commander of Canada’s special forces in April following revelations a character reference provided four years ago during the sentencing of a soldier who was convicted of sexually assaulting a comrade’s wife.
Acting Defense Chief Gen. Wayne Eyre said at the time that Dawe’s actions had caused “division and pain,” and that he would take his time deciding the next senior officer position.
While the Department of National Defense had said as recently as July that Dawe remained in limbo and would announce any decisions about his future, the Ottawa Citizen revealed this week that he had been quietly tasked with a new job.
That new position involved working with the army’s second in command, the deputy chief of defense staff, the lieutenant general. Frances Allen, in coordinating the various efforts currently underway to change the military culture, including sexual misconduct.
Following an uproar from survivors and experts on military sexual misconduct, and despite Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan’s standing firm on the appointment, Allen announced in a statement Tuesday night that Dawe would be removed from his new post. .
The prime minister criticizes military commanders for sexual misconduct, saying they “don’t get it.” #CDNPoli #SexualMisconduct #CAF
“After an honest discussion with members of the survivor community, I have decided that for now, Major General. Dawe will take on the important task of engaging with that community, as other members have, to better understand how it can contribute to meaningful cultural change, “he said.
Allen also apologized for the lack of transparency surrounding Dawe’s appointment, but underscored both the need for accountability and tolerance for people to learn and grow from their mistakes.
“The willingness of Major General Dawe, then and now, to engage with stakeholders and affected individuals, to continue their personal and institutional growth, is, I believe, an act of responsibility and a commitment to change,” he said .
The sudden change in attitude of the top commanders, and the harsh words of the prime minister that accompany it, represent the latest chapter in a months-long trial of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military.
The Liberal government has been accused of not having done enough to address sexual misconduct in the ranks, and much of that criticism centers on its handling of an indictment against then-defense chief Jonathan Vance.
Global News first reported the existence of the indictment in February, and the fact that Sajjan was first tipped off three years earlier triggered a chain of events that saw the actions of other senior officials, as well as the government, under the microscope.
The government called Arbor in April to review the problem over the next year and provide recommendations on how to fix it, while the military created a new section dedicated specifically to the issue of cultural change.
However, survivors and experts have criticized the launch of another review and instead asked the government to act on recommendations already made by two other retired Supreme Court justices, Marie Deschamps and Morris Fish, including the creation of a body. of external supervision over the army.
Many have also called for Sajjan to be replaced as defense minister, saying he has lost all credibility on the record.
Trudeau, who has yet to reveal his new cabinet, declined to say Wednesday whether Sajjan would return to the position he has held for the past six years.
“The thought that goes into every cabinet job is: Who is the right person to serve Canadians?” he said. “And I can assure you that there is serious reflection on each of the cabinet’s roles.”
This Canadian Press report was first published on October 6, 2021.