Politics

Anand, Eyre offer official apology to victims of military sexual misconduct

Saying that trust had been "broken" and countless lives have been harmed, Canada's defence minister, top military commander and senior defence bureaucrat today delivered a long-awaited and history-making apology to the women and men whose lives were scarred by sexual assault, misconduct and discrimination in the military.

Defence Minister Anand reaches out to those 'who were harmed' because the government 'did not protect' them

Defence Minister Anita Anand makes her way to caucus on December 8, 2021 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Saying that trust had been "broken" and countless lives have been harmed, Canada's defence minister, top military commander and senior defence bureaucrat today delivered a long-awaited and history-making apology to the women and men whose lives were scarred by sexual assault, misconduct and discrimination in the military.

The official apology — presented by Defence Minister Anita Anand, Gen. Wayne Eyre and deputy defence minister Jody Thomas on the government's behalf — was livestreamed within the Department of National Defence and on Facebook.

"This misconduct and abuse of power led to a crisis of broken trust" in the leadership of the Department of National Defence, said Anand.

"I am apologizing to you on behalf of the Government of Canada. 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."

WATCH: Defence Minister Anita Anand on her government's apology to sexual misconduct victims:

'We are solely focused on the need to address the culture crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces': Defence minister

8 months ago
Duration 8:56
Defence Minister Anita Anand joined Power & Politics Monday to discuss the federal government's formal apology to victims of military sexual misconduct.

Anand said she was also apologizing on behalf of "those elected officials who throughout the history of the Canadian Armed Forces had the responsibility to protect you and who failed to do so."

The minister said the government's regrets extend to the thousands of Canadians "who were harmed because your government did not protect you, nor did we ensure that the right systems were in place to ensure justice and accountability."

Trudeau is asked why he didn't deliver apology

Earlier in the day, at a separate event in New Brunswick, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the apology is an important part of the government's efforts to recognize the experiences of survivors and assure them that the government will be there for them going forward.

While Trudeau said the apology "matters deeply"  to him, he would not say why he didn't deliver the apology himself on his government's behalf.

WATCH: Sexual misconduct survivor says Trudeau should have made an apology too: 

'I really would have liked to see the prime minister make this apology': Sexual misconduct survivor

8 months ago
Duration 6:20
Leah West, former armoured officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, joined Power & Politics Monday to discuss the federal government's apology to survivors of military sexual misconduct.

As of Friday, 18,943 serving and retired members of the military, along with civilian defence workers, have submitted settlement claims as part of a class-action lawsuit against the federal government over sexual misconduct.

Roughly 60 per cent of the survivors are women. Claims have been approved in 5,355 cases and some initial payments have been made.

Roughly 33 per cent of all claims in the class action arrived in the weeks immediately before the Nov. 24 submission deadline. That's led some lawyers to suggest the deadline for applications should be extended again in individual circumstances until the end of January — something that is apparently within the discretion of the settlement administrator.

'Things can change, they must change'

Anand said that countless lives have been irrevocably harmed because of "inaction and systemic failure." She addressed her regrets to current and former members of the military, the defence department, the staff of the non-public funds that support the military and members of the class-action lawsuit, as well as their families.

Anand concluded without promising specific solutions or actions, saying only that "things can change, they must change, and they will change."

Later, following question period in the House of Commons, the minister said the defence department will hold a briefing later this week to outline concrete measures.

In his remarks, Eyre said it was a tough but important day for many in the military.

"We are confronting, and acknowledging, a number of difficult truths," he said.

The military, Eyre said, is like a family, and family members are supposed to trust each other.

'We have betrayed that trust'

"In our line of work, in the profession of arms, trust can mean the difference between life and death," he said. "And we have betrayed that trust."

Deputy minister Thomas offered her regrets to civilian members of the defence department who experienced harm. She also spoke about her own time in uniform — how she, having experienced and witnessed harassment, chose not to make "a fuss" because she feared the impression it might create in a male-dominated institution.

WATCH | Survivors now want to see change in the military:

Survivors hope for change after military’s apology to victims of sexual misconduct

8 months ago
Duration 2:27
A historic apology to service members who experienced sexual misconduct in the military has some survivors feeling cautiously optimistic that cultural change will be the next step for the Canadian Armed Forces.

"And so I endured what was happening to me and what was happening around me, hoping to prove I was tough enough and deserved to be there like so many of my colleagues," said Thomas. "I didn't understand at the time that such behaviour was not about me, but rather about power and the abuse of it."

The culture of institutional indifference displayed by those in authority has been toxic, she suggested.

"In too many cases, willful disregard and entitled obliviousness have worsened the impact of harm," said Thomas, who during her tenure as deputy minister partially oversaw Operation Honour, the recent failed attempt to stamp out sexual misconduct in the military.

Deputy Minister of National Defence Jody Thomas told victims of military sexual misconduct today that she herself was reluctant to speak out while in uniform. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The apology is meant to be a small but significant step toward formally acknowledging the violence, pain, anger and frustration experienced over a generation by thousands of soldiers, sailors and aircrew, and by the civilians who work with them.

Ann Dickey, a former private who left the military over two decades ago after reporting that she was sexually assaulted in February 1996, said last week that today's event is something she's waited 25 years to witness. In her case, she said her superiors confined her to barracks and ordered her not to report the rape to military police.

Dickey said that she wanted the apology to address the way military and government officials too often received sexual misconduct claims with a mixture of institutional indifference, denial and hostility.

"For me, I would like them to apologize for the personal things they did in my case after I was assaulted," she said.

"I don't think they have the right to apologize to me for who raped me, but I do believe they have the right to apologize to me for the things that happened after, the secondary trauma."

Whether the majority of survivors accept the apology remains to be seen.

Retired captain and logistics officer Annalise Schamuhn, a sexual assault victim, said she hopes that the military's culture of denial, deflection and blaming the victim will be abolished once and for all.

"That to me is almost the worst part of the harm because it can go on and on," Schamuhn said.

"You know, like you can heal with support after a traumatic experience, but without that support and without even being validated, that is just like constant re-traumatizing."

The symbolic value of an apology coming from the highest levels of the defence establishment could be important for many survivors, coming after 10 months of sordid misconduct revelations involving current and former top commanders.

The opposition Conservatives and New Democrats weighed in late Monday, saying that the ministry's words need to be followed by actions.

Kerry-Lynne Findlay, the Conservative defence critic, accused the Liberal government of failing to address the misconduct crisis throughout its tenure.

"It's time for the Liberals to take concrete action, including implementing the recommendations from the 2015 Deschamps report, and ensure that the process in place to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct is transparent and respectful," she said referring to a 2015 independent review by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps. That review made a number of recommendations to address misconduct — some of which were ignored.

The Liberal government has ordered another review, led by another former Supreme Court justice. The results of that review won't be delivered until next year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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