Defence Minister Jason Kenney said he guarantees the creation of an independent centre that would take complaints about military sexual misconduct and provide support and expertise for victims.
Kenney was responding to an NDP question in the Commons Wednesday after a CBC News story revealed that weeks before the release of a report into sexual misconduct in the military, Canada's top general ordered military brass to plan to effectively ignore key recommendations, including the creation of an independent centre.
- Military's response to sexual misconduct report curtailed by general's orders
- Military harassment report: 10 recommendations
- Harassment in Canada's military tolerated by leadership, former justice finds
Kenney was asked point blank by NDP defence critic Jack Harris whether he would "guarantee that the Canadian Armed Forces will establish an independent body to handle sexual misconduct. Yes or no."
Kenney responded: "Yes."
CBC News obtained orders written by Gen. Tom Lawson, chief of the defence staff, to military brass in response to a draft report into sexual misconduct in the military by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps. Deschamps' report found a misogynistic and sexualized culture in the Canadian Forces, in which harassment and abuse are overlooked, under-reported and poorly understood.
One of her recommendations included the creation of an independent centre to take complaints and provide support and expertise. One of the "assumptions" in Lawson's directive stated that "current sexual misconduct investigation and justice system authorities will remain unchanged."
On Wednesday, Lawson responded to the CBC News story, saying it's false to conclude his directive, issued weeks before the final report was released, suggested he was ordering recommendations be ignored.
Not be 'viewed as restrictions'
"The directive I issued for this included planning assumptions, provided to Maj.-Gen. Christine Whitecross to guide her work," Lawson said in a statement. "These planning assumptions should in no way be viewed as restrictions or orders for her to ignore the recommendations of the final report. Any such suggestion is quite simply false."
Whitecross is the general appointed by Lawson to lead the military's response team to the report.
"This Action Plan, as endorsed by our senior leadership and released publicly, clearly accepts all of the recommendations made by Madame Deschamps, either outright or in principle," Lawson said.
As for the independent centre, Lawson said that recommendation has also been accepted in principle, and that Whitecross is now actively examining different models used in other countries "for what will be the best fit in Canada."
"We fully recognize the need to have a centre which is independent of undue influence from the chain of command."
Earlier, Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair said he was "very concerned" by revelations in the CBC News story.
But Mulcair also suggested the attitude is in line with the "disgraceful" behaviour of the Conservative government, which he accused of rejecting eight of the recommendations in the external review.
"I'm very concerned about Gen. Lawson's attitude towards Justice Deschamps' report," Mulcair, speaking in French, told reporters. "She made 10 very clear recommendations. [Defence Minister] Jason Kenney, as you know, rejected eight of them, which I think is disgraceful "
'Military has to evolve'
"And I think even in the note from Gen. Lawson, he says they won't change anything, and that was before the report was made public. He was already ensuring that it would be business as usual. So I think the military has an obligation to follow the recommendations made by Justice Deschamps."
"Now, either the military has to evolve or something has to happen," Mulcair said. "But they had decided that, whatever was in the report, they would continue to do the same thing as usual."
Deschamps made 10 recommendations in her report. Lawson accepted two outright and eight "in principle." Mulcair has repeatedly accused the government of ignoring those eight recommendations.
But a statement from Kenney's office earlier Wednesday said Lawson has "accepted the recommendations from the Deschamps report and is acting on them."
It added that Whitecross "was clear that she feels no limitations in her work.
"The Canadian Armed Forces are looking at how to best implement all 10 of the report's recommendations and the minister supports this effort," the statement says.
Lawson's orders also seem to rule out Deschamps's recommendation to have civilian police handle an entire investigation, if the victim chooses.
However, Justice Minister Peter MacKay, a former defence minister, suggested Wednesday he supports that recommendation.
"I personally think, and I encourage — I spoke to the [military's] Judge Advocate General yesterday — that there should be perhaps a protocol or perhaps a consultation that takes place between Crown prosecutors and military justice system."
"I just think there's an opportunity there for greater collaboration in some cases between our military justice system when the behaviour crosses that line."