Top Canadian officials have apologised for the government’s failure to do enough to stop widespread sexual abuse in the military.
Newly appointed Defence Minister Anita Anand said on Monday that far too many people in uniform had suffered sexual assault or discrimination based on sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.
“We must acknowledge the pain and trauma that so many have endured because the very institution charged with protecting and defending our country has not always protected and defended its own members,” Anand said during a news conference.
“I am apologising to you on behalf of the government of Canada … This misconduct and abuse of power led to a crisis of broken trust in the defence team.”
The apology was part of the settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed against the government by almost 19,000 serving and retired members of the military, as well as civilian defence workers.
It comes after several senior officers faced sexual misconduct investigations, including former Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance, who has since been charged with obstruction of justice in that probe.
Current Chief of the Defence Staff, General Wayne Eyre, noted in remarks on Monday that among soldiers, “trust can mean the difference between life and death – and we betrayed that trust”.
Women soldiers have complained that the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a self-described feminist, has not done enough to address an issue highlighted in a landmark 2015 report.
Canada has tasked a former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal, Louise Arbour, with helping clean up a culture within the military.
Anand last month accepted Arbour’s recommendation that investigations and prosecutions over sexual misconduct in the military be handed over to civilian authorities because of “serious mistrust in the military justice system”.
In April, the military reported to Parliament that 581 sexual assaults and 221 incidents of sexual harassment had taken place since 2015.