Canada to review handling of military sex misconduct claims

Ottawa, Canada: Former International Criminal Court prosecutor Louise Arbour on Thursday was tasked with reviewing the handling of sexual misconduct accusations in the Canadian military, including against two former chiefs of staff.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced that the former Supreme Court justice and onetime UN high commissioner for human rights would also make recommendations for setting up a complaints reporting system outside of the military chain of command.

"It is clear we have not lived up to our responsibility to protect members from harassment and misconduct," Sajjan told a news conference.

It is "critical," he said, that the military builds "a true culture of inclusion, where everyone is treated with dignity and respect."

"We are committed to a lasting change, one that sheds the toxic and outdated values, practices, and policies that have harmed our people."

For months, sexual misconduct accusations in the military have rocked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's self-proclaimed "feminist government," as opposition parties sought clarity on what, if anything, was done about former top soldier general Jonathan Vance's alleged inappropriate behavior and relations with subordinates.

Vance, who retired in January before these were made public, has denied any wrongdoing.

Weeks later, his successor Admiral Art McDonald also stepped aside after an investigation was launched into separate allegations against him.

Arbour's review comes five years after a previous task force sought to put an end to sexual misconduct within the military's ranks.

It built on a report by another retired Supreme Court justice that in 2015 found the military had "an environment that is hostile to women... and is conducive to more serious incidents of sexual harassment and assault."

Since the creation of that task force, the military has reported 581 sexual assaults and 221 incidents of sexual harassment, according to information provided this week to the House of Commons.

Some 4,600 current and former soldiers have also sought redress through a Can$1 billion class-action lawsuits settled in 2019.

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