The Current

Military can't 'lock the doors' and try to fix sexual misconduct alone: Louise Arbour

The Canadian military must accept outside help to solve systemic issues around sexual misconduct, says former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour

Change will come, but not overnight, says former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour

From left, Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, Minister of National Defence Anita Anand, and former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour at the release of Arbour's final report on sexual misconduct in the military last week. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Story Transcript

A week after she made sweeping recommendations to address sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour says survivors may "have to be patient" for change to come.

"I can't imagine that any of the pretty substantial changes that I've recommended would happen overnight," said Arbour, who conducted a year-long inquiry prompted by a series of sexual misconduct scandals, some involving top leadership.

"I'm relatively confident that they will happen, but not overnight," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

Arbour released 48 recommendations on May 30, including that the military should permanently transfer jurisdiction over investigating and prosecuting sexual offences to civilian courts. She wrote that the armed force's definition of sexual misconduct is too broad, and should be brought into line with civil definitions. And she also called for a review of the culture of misconduct at military colleges to determine if those institutions could be reformed, or should be scrapped.

She wrote in her report that the military needs "to adapt to a new reality — the women warriors are here to stay," adding that "they will stay on their terms, seeking the substantive equality to which they are entitled."

WATCH | Former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour discusses her recommendtions:

Arbour recommends military criminal sexual offences be handled exclusively by civilian justice system

10 months ago
Duration 8:52
Former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour joins Power & Politics to discuss her report on the sexual misconduct crisis facing the Canadian Armed Forces.

Arbour's report is the second of its kind in seven years, following former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps' external review in 2015.

Minister of National Defence Anita Anand said the federal government welcomed and agreed with all of Arbour's recommendations. Seventeen of the 48 would be implemented in the near term, while the remainder required analysis that would take place in the coming months, she said.

"If we do not take this moment for what it is, and implement the recommendations … we run the risk of not being a fully effective military domestically and internationally," she said.

'Closed' military challenged by diversity

Arbour said the drive for effective performance has been part of the military's problem. 

"Uniformity, homogeneity is very much part of the ease with which they feel they can deliver operationally," she said.

That means it's much easier to be effective "when everybody's the same," and trying to integrate women and underrepresented Canadians into military culture has been a challenge, she said. 

The answer is you have to open up, let some external oxygen into your system so that you keep more in pace with how Canadian society has evolved- Louise Arbour

As a result, "they have had more problems than other sectors of society in incorporating the ideals of diversity into their efficiency models."

The military is also a "closed" system, where recruits join at a young age and spend their careers steeped in tradition and established rhetoric. Senior leadership is also drawn from that pool, without the potential for external recruitment.

"The answer is you have to open up, let some external oxygen into your system so that you keep more in pace with how Canadian society has evolved," she said.

Arbour pointed to other parts of Canadian society that have undergone dramatic culture changes, including the judiciary in the course of her career. 

"There were many men, judges in very senior positions, who were persuaded that women couldn't do that job," she told Galloway.

She said those judges believed women didn't have "the moral fibre or the intellectual toughness" for the court, but they were proven wrong.

"This is the kind of culture change that we've seen happen in civilian life. It can happen [in the military], but it won't happen if they lock the doors and try to fix it all by themselves."

'A lot of backbone' needed

Speaking at the release of Arbour's report, National Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said the military must accept the recommendations as a tool "to make us a better institution."

"Change is absolutely necessary. We have to welcome an external view of our organization because as we've made clear over the course of last year, we don't have all the answers," he said.

WATCH | Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre reacts to Arbour's report:

'We owe it to our people' — Gen. Eyre reacts to report on military sexual misconduct

10 months ago
Duration 1:38
National Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre acknowledged the recommendations Former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour made in her report on sexual misconduct in the Armed Forces.

Arbour said it will also take "a lot of backbone" from the civilian political leadership to help the force enact change, but ultimately the military must start "with the fundamental premise that they can't fix it by themselves."

"They've been at it for I don't know how long — studies, recommendations, charts, discussions, and they're just turning in a circle," she said. 

"They don't have all the skills to do it. So if they accept that, I think we're good."

Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin. 

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