Military 'simply doesn't get it' when it comes to sexual misconduct, PM says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today the military "still doesn't get it" when it comes to sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Trudeau said he was "dismayed" by decision to involve Maj.-Gen. Dawe in the sexual misconduct file

A Canadian flag patch is shown on a soldier's shoulder in Trenton, Ont., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today the military "still doesn't get it" when it comes to sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.

At a news conference, Trudeau reacted to the appointment of of Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe to the sexual misconduct file and the subsequent decision to rescind his appointment. Dawe provided a positive character reference to an officer who was convicted of sexually assaulting another soldier.

Dawe apologized after a CBC News story on the reference was published in April. Amid division in the ranks, he was removed from his position as commander of the special forces.

Media reported earlier this week that Dawe had returned to work in a role involving responses to reviews of sexual misconduct claims in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). The move triggered an outcry and led to pointed questions from advocates and sexual misconduct survivors. 

After repeated requests, the military told CBC News in an email that Dawe had been back at work for two-and-a-half weeks — he was placed on leave on May 1, and returned to work with the military on Sept. 15.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Acting Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said he takes responsibility for the appointment.

"As the A/CDS I remain ultimately responsible for approving general and flag officer employment.  Earlier this summer, I asked the VCDS, Lt.-Gen Frances Allen to conduct a thorough review of Maj.-Gen Dawe's actions in 2017, take any necessary administrative action, and, as appropriate, make recommendations on his potential future employment," he said.

Acting Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said he takes responsibility for the appointment. (CBC News)

"As we undertake this critical culture change, I know we must be as transparent as possible, work with and engage our stakeholders while creating an environment that holds individuals accountable for their actions and decisions and also allow for learning from mistakes and growth," he continued. "I and the Canadian Armed Forces are committed to doing better."

Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff. Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen apologized late Tuesday night and said Dawe would be removed from the role.

"Many, including Canadian Armed Forces members, victims, survivors and stakeholders were informed of Major-General Dawe's return to the workplace through the media," Allen said in a statement.

"This is not in keeping with our commitment to transparency. I recognize and apologize for the harm this has caused. The release of this news should have been handled by us with greater care and consideration."

Trudeau said he was "stunned" and "dismayed" by the decision to involve Dawe in the sexual misconduct file. 

"It is obvious that despite the work the military has done, despite the work that we have done, the military still doesn't get that survivors need to be at the centre, and the unique priority of everything in regards to sexual misconduct and harassment in the military," Trudeau said.

"This shows they simply still don't get it."

Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe wrote a positive character reference to a judge for a soldier found guilty of sexually assaulting another member. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

The military is currently undergoing an external review of its culture and its handling of sexual misconduct cases. The review is being led by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour. The review was launched in response to several high-profile reports in the media of allegations of sexual misconduct among senior leaders in the CAF.

Trudeau pointed to that review as an example of action his government is taking to address the issue.

"This is again just another reminder of how much work there is to do before people understand, within our armed forces, that survivors need to be at the centre of everything they do," he said.

Trudeau was joined today by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who said it's clear the military has a toxic culture when it comes to how it treats women.

"I think the reality is there's a systemic problem with the treatment of women, the treatment of sexual harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces. It is clear that there is a toxic culture there and it is clear to our government, as the prime minister said, that that needs to change — and it will," she said.

"It's not fair to everyone, but also to the truly brave Canadian women in uniform who go to work and serve every day. And like every single woman in Canada, they should not have to work in a place where they face this kind of a culture and treatment."

Sajjan's future as defence minister unclear

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has come under fire over his leadership on the sexual misconduct file.

Sajjan's office refused to say whether the minister was advised about decision to put Dawe in this role. Sajjan's office said that the decision was made by Gen. Eyre.

When asked if Sajjan would be returning to the ministry when a new cabinet is named later this month, Trudeau did not say yes or no.

"The reflection that goes into every single job in cabinet is who is the right person to serve Canadians, who is the right person to fulfil the high expectations that Canadians across the country have for this government in all of our priority areas," Trudeau said.

"And I can assure you that there is serious reflection going into every single role in cabinet."

With files from Ashley Burke.