Defense Minister Anita Anand announced Tuesday that she has directed the Canadian Armed Forces to end its jurisdiction over sex crimes, even as military police say they face challenges in handing over such cases to their civilian counterparts.
The minister revealed her order to the military on Tuesday, as she updated Parliament and Canadians on efforts and plans to stamp out sexual misconduct in the ranks of the armed forces.
The report featured an update on the implementation of 48 recommendations made by retired Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbor following a comprehensive review earlier this year, which Anand said had now been accepted.
“This is an ambitious reform roadmap developed through months of work and consultations,” Anand said in prepared remarks.
“We will continue to work at full capacity to make substantive changes to the way the Department of Defense and the Canadian Armed Forces work.”
Among the accepted proposals, which Anand initially rejected: formally transfer responsibility for sex crimes to civilian authorities.
One exception: When a crime occurs outside of Canada, military police can start an investigation, but civil authorities will be contacted as soon as possible. Such cases still need to be prosecuted in civil courts.
“I have directed officials, in consultation with federal, provincial and territorial partners, to present options on how this jurisdictional change can occur,” Anand said, according to prepared comments.
She added that her direction includes consideration of the civilian police’s ability to investigate historic cases and events outside of Canada, including in conflict zones. She also warned it would likely require legislative changes, which would take years.
Yet shortly before Anand announced her expectations for the military, senior officials revealed in a technical briefing that they had struggled to enforce similar demands over the past year.
While Arbor’s scathing report was only released in May, the retired Supreme Court justice issued an interim recommendation in November 2021 calling on the military, police and prosecutors to start referring cases to civilian authorities.
Civilian police have since accepted 57 cases but rejected another 40, Colonel Vanessa Hanrahan, deputy commander of the military police, told reporters during a technical briefing on Monday. They were eventually investigated by the military police.
Hanrahan said that there is not a single reason for civilian police to reject military applications, but because the federal government and some provinces are involved in disputes over funding and other resources, a large number of cases are rejected.
Ontario and British Columbia, in particular, have publicly called on Ottawa to provide more resources to facilitate the transfer of cases from the military to the civilian justice system.
Federal government and military officials have met with their provincial and territorial counterparts several times, but they did not specifically address the provinces’ concerns about funding, officials told reporters at a Monday briefing.
Instead, Deputy Attorney-General Col. Stephen Strikey said discussions would continue into the new year, with military officials planning to offer Anand options to move forward in the coming months.
Anand also said she had directed the military to begin a review of the Royal Military Academy in Kingston, Ontario, and its French-language academy in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec.
Arbour’s recommendations follow a year-long review that coincided with explosive allegations of misconduct by many top military officials, which he said should focus on the agencies’ benefits, shortcomings and costs.
While some have suggested that the review should include whether the university should close, officials have said that would not be part of the review — a stance that Anand appeared to echo on Tuesday.
“These universities attract some of the best talent that Canadian society has to offer,” she said. “But let’s be clear: There has to be a major change in the culture of our military academies — and we’re going to make sure that happens.”
The minister also said she had directed the military to set targets to increase the number of women in senior positions over time.
When she released her scathing report in May, Aber criticized the armed forces and its leadership for failing to act on hundreds of previous recommendations from outside sources aimed at addressing its culture.
The military monitor, as well as a group of ex-armed members, have also just condemned the group for failing to act on dozens of studies and reviews of racism in the military over the past two decades.
In a technical briefing, Brigadier General. Roger Scott insists this time will be different, in large part because of the appointment of an external monitor, Jocelyne Therrien, who previously worked in the auditor-general’s office.
Anand said she had met with Tyreen and “she will continue to provide open, transparent and accountable updates.”