Military sidelines Special Forces commander after handling of sexual assault case revealed

The commander of Canada’s Special Forces is being placed on leave following revelations that he wrote a letter in support of a soldier convicted of sexual assault ahead of sentencing in a 2017 case.

Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe will turn his command over to the unit’s deputy commander and proceed on leave with pay, according to a statement released Sunday by the acting chief of the defence staff, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre.

The move comes just days after Eyre announced Dawe would be rotated out of his role leading Special Forces next week, in advance of his original departure date this summer.

“In the interests of CAF cohesion and morale, and to maintain the operational focus of CANSOFCOM, both national imperatives, yesterday, I directed that MGen Dawe immediately turn command over to BGen Steve Boivin, the current Deputy Commander, and proceed on leave,” Eyre’s statement reads.

Scrutiny of Dawe’s leadership was sparked by revelations in a CBC News story that Dawe had written a letter in support of a soldier who had been convicted of sexual assault, while offering no support to the victims themselves. Kevin and Annalise Schamuhn spoke out publicly for the first time this week to express their lack of confidence in Dawe’s continuing leadership.

Dawe penned an open letter earlier this week apologizing for his handling of the case.

Eyre’s statement said Dawe’s “return and future employment will be determined and communicated in due course.”

“I have confidence in MGen Dawe as an officer who has accepted full responsibility and has learned from this tragic case. However, the needs of the institution must take priority.”

Eyre also promised to examine the practice of recommendation letters in legal proceedings.

“While I do not expect these measures to right the wrongs of the past, or ease the sense of betrayal felt by the Schamuhn family, we must keep learning and ensure such situations are not repeated going forward. In doing so, we must always have the victims’ perspective at the forefront and be accountable for our actions,” the statement concludes.

“We must do better.”

More to come