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Sunday, October 24, 2021

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Conservatives propose independent agency to investigate sexual misconduct claims in military

The federal Conservatives promised today that, if elected, they would set up an independent body to handle claims of sexual assault and misconduct in the military.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole (left) and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

The federal Conservatives promised today that, if elected, they would set up an independent body to handle complaints of sexual assault and misconduct in the military.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, a former air force officer, insisted the pledge is not meant to politicize the growing crisis within the military but is an honest reflection of what his party believes needs to be done.

“This is a pressing issue that cannot wait to be fixed,” he said. “We must ensure that any woman can serve her country with honor and without compromise.”

The military’s two most senior ranking officers, Admiral Art McDonald and Gen. Jonathan Vance, are the focus of separate investigations related to allegations of inappropriate behavior.

O’Toole said there should be a wide-ranging independent investigation of the military’s culture and promised a government led by him would launch one.

As a member of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet, O’Toole was at the table when the Conservative government launched the last study into sexual misconduct in the military.

That study, led by retired supreme court justice Marie Deschamps, came to some scathing conclusions about the military’s hyper-masculine culture and overly sexualized environment.

Dechamps recommended in 780 that an organization be established – completely independent of the military chain of command – to handle misconduct complaints.

Neither the Conservative government nor the subsequent Liberal government followed through on the recommendation.

Speaking to a House of Commons committee earlier this week, Deschamps said she was disappointed with how the military’s campaign against sexual misconduct, known as Operation Honor, has unfolded – and specifically cited the absence of an independent organization.

The military did establish a sexual misconduct response center, but advocates and military justice experts have said its mandate does not go far enough.

Admiral Art McDonald addresses a Royal Canadian Navy ceremony in Halifax. (Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau turned aside questions today about the case involving McDonald, who was only appointed chief of defense staff two months ago.

McDonald abruptly stepped aside Wednesday night after learning he was under investigation by military police for alleged misconduct.

Trudeau declined to discuss specifics, including whether the vetting process should have picked up concerns before the admiral was appointed.

He said the federal government’s focus has been, and will always be, on maintaining a safe, harassment-free workplace in the military and other institutions.

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