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Anand, Eyre offer official apology to victims of military sexual misconduct

Anand, Eyre offer official apology to victims of military sexual misconduct-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Defence Minister Anita Anand makes her way to caucus on December 8, 2021 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Canada’s defence minister, top military commander and senior defence bureaucrat today delivered a long-awaited and history-making apology to the women and men whose lives were scarred by sexual assault, misconduct and discrimination within the military.

The official apology — presented by Defence Minister Anita Anand, Gen. Wayne Eyre and deputy defence minister Jody Thomas on the government’s behalf — was livestreamed within the Department of National Defence and on Facebook.

“This misconduct and abuse of power led to a crisis of broken trust” in the leadership of the Department of National Defence, said Anand.

“I am apologizing to you on behalf of the Government of Canada. We must acknowledge the pain and trauma that so many have endured because the very institution charged with protecting and defending our country has not always protected and defended its own members.”

Anand said she was also apologizing on behalf of “those elected officials who throughout the history of the Canadian Armed Forces had the responsibility to protect you and who failed to do so.”

Anand said the government’s regrets extend to the thousands of Canadians “who were harmed because your government did not protect you, nor did we ensure that the right systems were in place to ensure justice and accountability.”

Trudeau is asked why he didn’t deliver apology

Earlier in the day, at a separate event in New Brunswick, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the apology is an important part of the government’s efforts to recognize the experiences of survivors and assure them that the government will be there for them going forward.

While Trudeau said the apology “matters deeply”  to him, he would not say why he didn’t deliver the apology himself on his government’s behalf.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers a question as Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould listens during a press conference on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

As of Friday, 18,943 serving and retired members of the military, along with civilian defence workers, have submitted settlement claims as part of a class-action lawsuit against the federal government over sexual misconduct.

Roughly 60 per cent of the survivors are women. Claims have been approved in 5,355 cases and some initial payments have been made.

Roughly 33 per cent of all claims in the class action arrived in the weeks immediately before the Nov. 24 submission deadline. That’s led some lawyers to suggest the deadline for applications should be extended again until the end of January — something that is apparently within the discretion of the settlement administrator.

‘Things can change, they must change’

Anand said that countless lives have been irrevocably harmed because of “inaction and systemic failure.” She addressed her regrets to current and former members of the military, the defence department, the staff of the non-public funds that support the military and members of the class-action lawsuit, as well as their families.

Anand concluded without promising specific solutions or actions, saying only that “things can change, they must change, and they will change.”

In his remarks, Eyre said it was a tough but important day for many in the military.

“We are confronting, and acknowledging, a number of difficult truths,” he said.

The military, Eyre said, is like a family, and family members are supposed to trust each other.

‘We have betrayed that trust’

“In our line of work, in the profession of arms, trust can mean the difference between life and death,” he said. “And we have betrayed that trust. It has been betrayed by colleagues and leaders, and by this institution because not enough has been done to stop it.”

Deputy minister Thomas delivered regrets to civilian members of the defence department who experienced harm.

The apology is meant to be a small but significant step toward formally acknowledging the violence, pain, anger and frustration experienced over a generation by thousands of soldiers, sailors and aircrew, and by the civilians who work with them.

Ann Dickey, a former private who left the military over two decades ago after reporting that she was sexually assaulted in February 1996, said last week that today’s event is something she’s waited 25 years to witness. In her case, she said her superiors confined her to barracks and ordered her not to report the rape to military police.

Dickey said that she wanted the apology to address the way military and government officials too often received sexual misconduct claims with a mixture of institutional indifference, denial and hostility.

“For me, I would like them to apologize for the personal things they did in my case after I was assaulted,” she said.

“I don’t think they have the right to apologize to me for who raped me, but I do believe they have the right to apologize to me for the things that happened after, the secondary trauma.”

Whether the majority of survivors accept the apology remains to be seen. Dickey, for one, said she was “willing to listen” and to help the military be better and do better.

The official apology will be received by people “who run the complete gamut of emotion,” she added.

Some, she said, are “not at the stage of healing where they’ll be able to accept that apology,” while others “will never be able to accept an apology because of the systemic trauma they have suffered.”

Survivors and lawyers involved in the class action lawsuit listened very closely to the precise wording of the apology.

The symbolic value of an apology coming from the highest levels of the defence establishment could still be important for many survivors, coming after 10 months of sordid misconduct revelations involving current and former top commanders.

CBC

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