Defence Minister Anita Anand announced Tuesday that she has directed the Canadian Armed Forces to end its jurisdiction over sexual crimes, even as military police say they have faced challenges transferring such cases to civilian counterparts.
The minister revealed her order to the military on Tuesday as she offered an update to Parliament and Canadians on the efforts and plan to eliminate sexual misconduct in the Armed Forces ranks.
The report specifically offered an update on the implementation of 48 recommendations made by retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour following a sweeping review earlier this year, which Anand said are all now being accepted.
“This is an ambitious road map for reform developed through months of work and consultation,” Anand said in prepared remarks.
“We will continue to put our shoulders to the wheel and deliver substantive changes to the way things are done at the Department of National Defence and in the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Among the recommendations accepted, which Anand had initially resisted: officially transferring responsibility for sexual crimes to civilian authorities.
The one exception: When an offence occurs outside Canada, military police can start an investigation but contact civilian authorities as soon as possible. Such cases are still to be prosecuted in civilian courts.
“I have directed officials to present options on how such jurisdictional change can occur, in consultation with federal, provincial, and territorial partners,” Anand said, according to prepared remarks.
She added that her direction includes considering the capacity for civilian police to investigate historical cases and incidents outside Canada, including in conflict zones. She also warned that it could require legislative changes, which will take years.
Yet shortly before Anand announced her expectations for the military, senior officials revealed in a technical briefing that they have already had trouble implementing a similar demand over the past year.
While Arbour’s scathing report was only published in May, the retired Supreme Court justice issued an interim recommendation in November 2021 calling for military police and prosecutors to start transferring cases to civilian authorities.
During a technical briefing on Monday, military police deputy commander Col. Vanessa Hanrahan told reporters that civilian police had since accepted 57 cases but declined another 40. They ended up being investigated by military police.
Hanrahan said there was no single reason for why civilian police refused the military’s cases but the large number of rejected cases comes as the federal government and some provinces have been locked in a dispute over funding and other resources.
Ontario and British Columbia, in particular, have publicly called on Ottawa for more resources to facilitate the transfer of cases from the military to civilian justice systems.
Officials told reporters during Monday’s briefing that the federal government and military officials have met with provincial and territorial counterparts several times, but they did not specifically addressed the provinces’ concerns about funding.
Deputy judge advocate general Col. Stephen Strickey instead said discussions will continue in the new year, with military officials planning to provide Anand with options for moving ahead in the coming months.
Anand also said that she has directed the military to start working on a review of the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., and its French-language counterpart in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.
Arbour, whose recommendations followed a yearlong review that coincided with explosive allegations of inappropriate behaviour by many of the military’s top officers, said the review should focus on the benefits, disadvantages and costs of the institutions.
While some have suggested the review should include whether the colleges should close, officials indicated that would not be part of the review — a position that Anand appeared to echo on Tuesday.
“These colleges attract some of the best that Canadian society has to offer,” she said. “But let’s be clear: the culture at our military colleges must change significantly — and we will ensure that this occurs.”
The minister also said that she had directed the military to create targets to increase the number of women in senior positions over time.
When she released her scathing report in May, Arbour criticized the Armed Forces and its leadership for having failed to act on hundreds of previous recommendations from outside sources designed to address problems with its culture.
The military ombudsman, as well as a panel of retired Armed Forces members, had also just chastised the organization for failing to act on dozens of previous studies and reviews on racism in the ranks over the last two decades.
During the technical briefing, Brig.-Gen. Roger Scott insisted that this time would be different, in large part due to the appointment of an external monitor in the form of Jocelyne Therrien, who previously worked in the auditor general’s office.
Anand said she has met with Therrien, “and she will continue to provide open, transparent and accountable updates.”
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press