Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday May 1, 2021
‘My recommendations will be implemented’: Louise Arbour prepares to review misconduct in Canada’s military
When faced with the idea of conducting an external review on sexual misconduct in the military — six years after a similar review was completed — retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour said her initial impression was: “Seriously? It’s been done.”
Upon reflection, Arbour said she saw an environment in which she could make a lasting contribution, having been given a broader mandate from the federal government than the one handed to retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps when she conducted a similar review.
“I have been given assurances that my recommendations will be implemented,” a point Arbour returned to several times in an interview with the Star on Friday, while acknowledging that “you might think it’s a bit naïve” considering the military’s response so far to the Deschamps review.
“Six years after the Deschamps report, I think there’s better hope this time that something will come of this…If I was profoundly skeptical and cynical, I wouldn’t be doing this. I really have to believe that there is a window of opportunity.”
Arbour’s external review, announced Thursday by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, was immediately blasted by critics as a deflection tactic by a government and military that have failed to fully implement Deschamps’s recommendations.
The Conservatives said it was meant to take attention away from ongoing questions about the government’s handling of an allegation against ex-chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance in 2018.
Deschamps — who concluded in 2015 that sexual misconduct is “endemic” in the military — told the Star she welcomed Arbour’s appointment, noting her broader mandate and that her review “would not be a mere repetition of what I did.”
A former justice on the country’s top court, UN high commissioner for human rights, and chief prosecutor at the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Arbour brings a deep knowledge of human rights issues to her new task.
“Maybe the most important part of (Deschamps’s) work was the diagnosis,” Arbour said. “It was really earth shattering, the assessment of the prevalence of this predatory, sexualized culture.”
Arbour said she understands the frustration of survivors of military sexual violence, both those who have come forward, as well as those who never have due to lack of trust in the system.
“I understand their frustration and possibly their skepticism, about just another review by another justice. I get that,” she said. “I really want to say: Just bear with me. I think moving forward, this might be the right time for the right thing to get done.”
Unlike Deschamps’s mandate, Arbour has been instructed to come up with recommendations on what external oversight of the armed forces should look like. She will also be studying the military justice system’s “systemic performance” in dealing with sexual misconduct allegations, as well as recruitment and promotion to senior leadership. (Toronto Star)