Getting military to buy into system to eliminate sexual misconduct will be ‘challenging,’ Arbour says

The former Supreme Court justice tasked with leading an external review into sexual misconduct in the Canadian military says that no matter what she recommends, it will be difficult to get enough “buy-in” from the military to make it work. 

“Frankly, this is not a problem that is unique to the Armed Forces,” Louise Arbour told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics today. “We’re not doing exactly brilliantly, I think, in the eradication and prosecution of sexual harassment, sexual offences, sexual misbehaviour.

“But in this particular subculture, I think it’s very challenging to get the buy-in to put in a system that will work.”

Arbour told host Vassy Kapelos that her review has three goals. The first is to look into the existing system for reporting sexual misconduct and determine where it falls short, while the second is to provide recommendations for a new system. 

She said that work will include looking at the “continued barriers” preventing people from coming forward and will examine existing mechanisms for reporting misconduct.

The third goal will be to look at the military’s leadership to see if it’s up to the challenge. 

“I am going to look at the entire recruitment, training, performance, evaluation and promotion, particularly to the higher ranks of command positions, to see whether that is facilitating this profound culture change that has to take place, or whether we are looking at an institution that still is blind to this very toxic environment,” she said. 

Six years ago, the former Conservative government conducted its own external review of sexual misconduct in the military, led by another former supreme court justice, Marie Deschamps. She recommended the government establish an independent agency for reporting misconduct.

That recommendation was largely ignored. Instead, the Department of National Defence created a sexual misconduct response centre which, while independent of the military chain of command, only provides advice to victims.

Arbour said that she was motivated to take the task on now because she has been given a year to conduct her review with a mandate that is broad enough to have an impact.

“You can’t wait another 20 years to get back to it, considering what’s been happening in the meantime, which is certainly a lot of evidence of continued prevalence of this sexualized culture and it would appear, the inadequacies currently in place to address it,” she said.

Her review, she said, will move beyond limited areas of inquiry such as punishment to look at systemic issues in the Forces. 

“Can we really think, which I think would be very naive, there there will be a huge culture shift and change in the armed Forces simply if we tighten up prosecutions for misbehaviour? I don’t think so.”

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