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Arbour calls for 'immediate' transfer of CAF sexual misconduct cases to civilians

Shortly after The Canadian Press first reported on Arbour's letter Thursday, Defence Minister Anita Anand posted on Twitter that she had accepted “in full Madame Arbour’s recommendations to move the investigation and prosecution of sexual misconduct cases to the civilian system.
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Louise Arbour speaks during a press briefing after the closing session of the UN Migration Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Dec. 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mosa'ab Elshamy

OTTAWA — All cases involving allegations of criminal sexual misconduct in the military should be immediately transferred to civilian authorities, retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour told the federal Liberal government last month.

“All sexual assaults and other criminal offences of a sexual nature under the Criminal Code, including historical sexual offences, alleged to have been perpetrated by a CAF member, past or present, should be referred to civilian authorities,” Arbour wrote in an Oct. 20 letter to Harjit Sajjan, who was defence minister at the time.

Her recommendation came six months after the Liberal government tapped Arbour to come up with ways to address sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. The call for action follows months of allegations of sexual misconduct involving some of the military’s most senior officers, which have forced an unprecedented reckoning in how such cases are handled.

Sajjan and the Liberal government have also faced criticism for not doing more. Sajjan was replaced as defence minister last week by Anita Anand. She has promised to make dealing with the issue one of her top priorities.

Shortly after The Canadian Press first reported on Arbour's letter Thursday, Anand posted on Twitter that she had accepted “in full Madame Arbour’s recommendations to move the investigation and prosecution of sexual misconduct cases to the civilian system.

“The [Canadian Armed Forces] are working with federal, provincial, and territorial partners to implement these interim recommendations,” she added.

Arbour is the second retired Supreme Court justice to have called for the military to transfer criminal cases involving sexual misconduct to civilian authorities in recent months.

Following a comprehensive review of the military justice system, Morris Fish said in June that the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults should be temporarily removed from the military’s hands until a declaration of victims’ rights is implemented.

The government and military said at that time that they had accepted Fish’s recommendations in principle, but that further study would be needed.

In her letter, Arbour wrote that she has heard widespread doubts about the independence and competence of military police, which has spawned serious mistrust in the military justice system, especially when it comes to investigations.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2021.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press