Politics

Military drops general from sexual misconduct file after uproar

Amid a growing public backlash and mounting anger from sexual assault survivors, the military has pulled Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe from his new role working on the military's response to reviews of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Growing backlash after Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe was appointed to new role

Former Commander of the Special Forces Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe wrote a positive character reference for a soldier found guilty of sexual assault. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Amid a growing public backlash and mounting anger from sexual assault survivors, the military has pulled Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe from his new role working on the military's response to reviews of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Journalists reported Monday that Dawe quietly returned to work in the role. The move shocked and disappointed current and former military members who have experienced sexual trauma in the forces. They called the move tone deaf and demanded an explanation.

The story also caused division in the ranks after the military failed to explain its rationale or issue a public statement about his return to work on Sept. 15 — until late Tuesday night.

Dawe was placed on leave from his role as commander of the Special Forces in May after CBC News reported that he had written a positive character reference in 2017 for a soldier facing sentencing for sexually assaulting a retired soldier.

In a statement issued just after 9.30 p.m. ET Tuesday, the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen, apologized for the handling of the case and said Dawe will no longer be in that role.

Instead, he will hold discussions with survivors of sexual misconduct to determine how he can contribute to cultural change in the military, Allen's statement said.

"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 wrote.

"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."

Misconduct crisis

The military is in the midst of a sexual misconduct crisis with a series of senior leaders off on leave in connection to various allegations. The military and defence department has promised cultural change, but this latest move is a setback, according to experts who study military culture.

Simon Fraser University professor Megan MacKenzie said she was "disgusted," saying the handling of Dawe's case signals the military is doubling down to protect senior leaders. 

WATCH | Maj.-Gen. Dawe assigned to review sexual misconduct policy: 

Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe put in charge of military sexual misconduct policy

12 months ago
Duration 2:02
A senior Canadian military officer who was put on leave earlier this year after he wrote a letter in support of a soldier convicted of sexual assault is now working on military sexual misconduct files. Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe is now tasked with reviewing, compiling and collating recommendations from external sexual misconduct reviews, leading to questions and concern from some sexual assault survivors and experts.

In her statement, Allen said it was her job while Dawe was on leave to examine his case and recommend what to do about his future employment. She weighed the action taken against him at the time and his willingness to continue his "personal and our institutional growth," Allen said.

Dawe was then brought back to work to help "coordinate and synchronize" efforts to help others do their work to drive institutional change, Allen said. 

"[Maj.-Gen.] Dawe was to be working for me in that capacity, to enable the efforts of others in their work," Allen wrote.

"That is no longer the case."

Acting Chief of Defence Staff apologized

For now, Allen said Dawe will be talking to sexual assault survivors about how he can "contribute to meaningful culture change" in the military.

While Allen made the recommendation, it was the Acting Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, who made the decision to move Dawe into this role, according to the defence minister's office.

Eyre himself came in for criticism in the spring for protecting Dawe and issued his own apology.

WATCH: Retired military couple describes 'painful betrayal' following sexual assault:

Retired military couple describes ‘painful betrayal’

1 year ago
Duration 7:46
Kevin and Annalise Schamuhn describe what it was like when high-ranking military officers chose to support a convicted sexual offender who had assaulted Annalise, and explain why they are speaking out now.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's office still hasn't said if the minister was advised about the military's latest decision to move Dawe into the new role.

Calls for Sajjan's dismissal grow after latest uproar

Opposition parties have now renewed their calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fire Sajjan over this latest case they called troubling and an example of poor leadership.

"These are not the actions of men who are taking sexual misconduct and harassment seriously," NDP MPs Randall Garrison and Lindsay Mathyssen wrote in a media statement.

The NDP said this case is another example of Sajjan failing to ensure that those responsible for the problems with the military's culture are not rewarded.

The NDP and Conservatives are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to remove Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, right, from his post when Trudeau announces his new cabinet. The Conservatives are also demanding that Sajjan state whether he was advised about the military's decision to assign Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe to a controversial new role. (The Canadian Press)

Conservative MP James Bezan, the party's defence critic, said Sajjan needs to say if he was aware of the military's decision to put Dawe in the role. During the past year, the Conservatives have repeatedly called on Sajjan to resign or for Trudeau to fire him.

"It's clear that Harjit Sajjan has failed the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces," Bezan said. "Mr. Sajjan must answer if he was aware of this decision. The buck stops with him."

Support groups for military members who have experienced sexual trauma say they've lost trust in the department over the latest news about Dawe's new role.

Survivor Perspective Consulting Group is a volunteer group that provides survivor-based training and workshops on handling sexual misconduct. Its co-founder, Maj. Donna Riguidel, said that news of Dawe's appointment made her volunteers feel "silenced and ignored again."

"Canada deserves an effective military, and the people who serve in uniform deserve leadership they can trust," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca

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