The Current

How the #MeToo movement could shape the new review of military sexual misconduct

Six years after a review into sexual misconduct in the military, the federal government has appointed former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour to lead another. Emma Phillips says a lot has changed since she worked on the review in 2015, and that creates an opportunity.

Previous Deschamps inquiry conducted at 'a different time': Emma Phillips

The Liberal government has ordered another external review into sexual harassment and misconduct in the Canadian military, 6 years after the former Conservative government conducted one. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Read Story Transcript

The 2015 inquiry into sexual misconduct in the military was conducted in "a different time," says a lawyer who worked on it — and that creates an "opportunity" for the new external review announced this week.

"It was before #MeToo, it was before the class-actions, the Jian Ghomeshi trial hadn't happened," said Emma Phillips, a partner at Goldblatt Partners, who was legal counsel to former supreme court justice Marie Deschamps' external review six years ago.

Phillips pointed to an interview that former Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson gave in the wake of the 2015 review, where he told the CBC's Peter Mansbridge that sexual misconduct in the military was due to "biological wiring."

"That was the mentality that many in the military had, and so there was tremendous resistance to the idea that this is a real problem that needs to be addressed," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

In the intervening years, sexual harassment and misconduct came to global attention with the #MeToo movement. The hashtag dates back to 2006, but went viral in Oct. 2017 as survivors around the world went public with the abuse they had suffered in all walks of life. The movement has led to several high-profile convictions, including Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein

"I do think we are in a different moment now than we were in 2015, and that creates opportunity," Phillips said.

Gen. Lawson: On harassment


6 years ago
Gen. Tom Lawson, the outgoing chief of the defence staff, tells Peter Mansbridge the problem of sexual harassment in the military persists because of how men are 'biologically wired.' 1:32

On Thursday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced the external review into sexual harassment and misconduct in the Canadian military, which will be led by former supreme court justice Louise Arbour. In recent months there have been allegations of misconduct against senior military leaders, and reports of at least 500 sexual assault allegations in the last five years.

The earlier Deschamps report was conducted at the request of the former Conservative government, under Stephen Harper. Its final report was delivered six months before Justin Trudeau was sworn in as prime minister. 

Phillips said she welcomes Arbour's expanded mandate, including powers to look at the military justice system. However, she noted that many survivors are frustrated that more wasn't done after 2015.

"I understand when I hear survivors say, 'You know, enough studies, enough external reviews already, the government has had a clear recommendation and it failed to implement it,'" she said.

Phillips said the government did not implement Deschamps' recommendation to establish an independent body outside the armed forces, to deal with issues of sexual misconduct.

"What we got instead was the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, which is really only a victim support service," she said. 

Sajjan is asked why the military needs another report to help end sexual misconduct

12 days ago
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan spoke with reporters Thursday about the plan to change how the military deals with sexual misconduct. 1:30

She's also been disheartened to see reports of sexual harassment from women who joined the armed forces after 2015, suggesting the "culture of serious sexual misconduct" has persisted.

"Unfortunately, there have been some changes, but it's not nearly sufficient."

Aim to take 'diagnosis to intervention': Arbour

Speaking to The Current, Arbour said she also initially wondered about the need for a new review so soon after the last, but ultimately decided it was clear the problems persisted.

"This kind of sexualized culture is still, it seems, very entrenched, and whatever has been done so far doesn't seem to be performing," she told Galloway. 

"Are we going to wait another 15 years to say, 'Well, now now would be the right time?'" she said.

WATCH: Full interview with former supreme court justice Louise Arbour

Power and Politics

12 days ago
Louise Arbour, who will lead the external review into military sexual misconduct, joined Power & Politics Thursday to discuss her mandate. 9:42

She thinks her work will be able to build on the Deschamps report.

"Maybe it's going to take the second step to go deeper into trying to address, from diagnosis to intervention — a real one," she said.

"Honestly, I do trust that what I will recommend — and I'll make every effort to get it right — will be implemented."

On Tuesday, Deputy Defence Minister Jody Thomas said the findings of the new report will be implemented.

Phillips said it's good the federal government is starting from a point of accepting that there is a sexual misconduct problem, as well as a need for external oversight. 

"We've got a crisis in the very highest levels of leadership in the military," she said.

"If this isn't a moment in which there's going to be concrete change, I don't know when there would be."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Paul MacInnis and Ines Colabrese.

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