Canada’s defence minister and chief of defence staff on Monday apologised for widespread sexual misconduct in the military, saying Ottawa had failed to protect soldiers.
“I am apologising to you on behalf of the government of Canada,” Defence Minister Anita Anand said at an event live streamed on social media.
“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,” she added.
The apology was part of the settlement of a class action 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 his remarks Monday that among soldiers, “trust can mean the difference between life and death. And we betrayed that trust.”
Ottawa has tasked a former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal (ICT), Louise Arbour, with helping clean up a culture within the military that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said doesn’t “get it” in terms of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
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.”
Arbour’s review comes five years after another taskforce found the military had “an environment that is hostile to women… and is conducive to more serious incidents of sexual harassment and assault.”
In April, the military reported to the House of Commons 581 sexual assaults and 221 incidents of sexual harassment had taken place since 2015.