Matt Gurney: Trudeau can no longer put off the mess of military misconduct

Every week or so, we learn another example of a senior officer being dismissed, or seeing a transfer or promotion derail, due to allegations of sexual misconduct.

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After last month’s election, things slowed down in Ottawa. Not just the kind of slowdown we’ve seen since the campaign began, as the federal government went into interim mode and staff moved from their government jobs to their partisan campaign jobs. What happened after the election was different: People, in all parties, from the prime minister to the bottom, needed a break.

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Our federal officials and their staff have been operating at a tremendous pace since the onset of the pandemic and it is truly in our collective interest that they have the opportunity, from time to time, to rest and rejuvenate. Burnout is a proven obstacle to good judgment and decision making. We too often forget that the people who run our government, whether elected or not, are human beings who need time off.

Still… maybe we should see some progress on some of the big files, right? It’s been a full month. Some of our ailments can wait. Like the long-standing sexual misconduct scandal in the military.

Every week or so, we learn of yet another example of a senior officer being dismissed from his post, or derailed from a transfer or promotion, because of allegations of sexual misconduct. Last week Admiral Art McDonald, who stepped down as Chief of the Defense Staff after allegations of sexual assault aboard a ship surfaced, sent a letter to d ‘ other senior commanders, declaring himself exonerated and ready to resume his duties. (General Wayne Eyre replaced the Acting Admiral.)

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The admiral’s statement was quickly challenged by the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, who told Global News in a statement that “the military investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct against Admiral McDonald has not resulted in no charges based on insufficient evidence… This does not mean that the allegation was unfounded, which is defined by Statistics Canada as “After a police investigation, it is concluded that no violation of the law has occurred. has taken place and has not been attempted ”. “

The admiral had previously attempted to simply return to duty, claiming that since he had voluntarily stepped down, he could return at any time, once the investigation was completed. It was rejected by the government… but that is all it did.

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The provost’s statement is a pretty clear rebuke from the admiral, but there was more. General Eyre was forced to send his own letter, calling the admiral’s letter “shocking”. Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan told Global the statement was “inappropriate and unacceptable” and that “in Canada, civilians provide the necessary oversight of the military and decide who is best placed to lead the military. McDonald’s email does not reflect this, nor the need to prioritize survivors and victims of sexual misconduct.

Does this all sound good? Doesn’t that last track actually sound pretty bad? Does anyone else find it strange that we have a Minister of Defense who deems it necessary to remind the Admiral of the fundamental democratic value of civilian control of the armed forces, which is some kind of big problem , but isn’t it doing much else to follow up?

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The scandal is much bigger than Admiral McDonald or Major-General. Dany Fortin, whose first attempt to sue the government for dealing with an allegation against him was dismissed by a court on jurisdictional grounds just a few weeks ago. A CBC report by Ashley Burke on Thursday listed 11 senior officers, past and present, who are currently involved in some sort of sexual misconduct investigation or scandal. Ten of these officers are generals or admirals, with a naval commander completing the list.

The point here is not to assess the innocence or guilt of any of the officers – it is for the authorities. The accused is entitled to a defense and deserves to be heard. But that’s separate from the big picture: we need a functioning army, especially in these difficult times.

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The senior command of the Canadian Armed Forces is clearly in a state of disarray. This sends a terrible message to our allies and enemies, and little can do for the morale of military fighters at a time when we have had to call them over and over again for help during the pandemic.

This is the kind of problem any federal government should be concerned about fixing, and it is also a rare case where the power to do so is entirely within the Prime Minister’s grasp. The army is entirely under federal jurisdiction. The Chief of the Defense Staff serves entirely at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. There are no tricky constitutional questions here, no pesky prime ministers. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense own it. It is their problem to solve.

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Yet it drags on with nothing more than disapproving statements, probably in large part because it is widely expected that Canada will have a new defense minister after the new cabinet is announced next week.

We need it, clearly. It is long overdue. But there is no reason to delay addressing this issue one more day – frankly, we’re already too late. The Prime Minister cannot fix the lingering issues of sexual misconduct in the military overnight, and it would be foolish to pretend he could. But he can solve the problem right at the top – immediately.

He was tired after the election. Who would not be ? But a month went by, and we lost a month before that when he was campaigning. There are costs to these delays, and those costs are paid first and foremost by members of the Canadian Armed Forces, including thousands of women, who cannot help but see the government’s inaction.

The responsibility ends with the Prime Minister. It’s time for him to make a call.

National post
Twitter.com/mattgurney

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