The solution to the sexual-misconduct scandal that has long enveloped Canada’s military, according to the current federal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is an independent review led by a former Supreme Court justice.
Oh, wait — make that another independent review led by another former Supreme Court justice.
As the controversy — which most recently has involved allegations of misconduct by the very military leaders tasked with stamping it out, and questions regarding how long senior members of the Liberal government were aware of those allegations — continues its downward spiral, it’s difficult to imagine a more inept and bald-facedly cynical next step than the one announced last week by Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan.
Six years after former justice Marie Deschamps outlined the findings of her review of sexual misconduct within Canada’s Forces — including recommendations that clearly have not been followed in a manner that effectively addressed the stated concerns — Mr. Sajjan has appointed former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour to conduct a study that will chart a path for the Forces to deal with sexual misconduct within its ranks.
Meanwhile, tensions run high in Ottawa this week after the government suddenly cancelled a defence committee meeting at which Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, was expected to appear. Earlier testimony before the committee had indicated Ms. Telford, as well as Mr. Sajjan, was aware in 2018 of serious complaints against former chief of defence Gen. Jonathan Vance, who resigned his post last year, months before allegations of sexual misconduct were made public.
The shifting storyline most recently asserts that Ms. Telford and Mr. Sajjan were aware in 2018 that there were allegations against Mr. Vance, but did not know they involved sexual misconduct. The Prime Minister’s Office also maintains that Mr. Trudeau was not informed of the allegations by his chief of staff.
Rather than directly addressing issues of accountability, the Liberals this week tried to redirect blame by questioning how much former prime minister Stephen Harper knew about allegations against Mr. Vance in 2015 before appointing him to the role of defence chief.
It’s all so dishearteningly predictable.
It goes without saying that in the heat of battle, the fate of the armed personnel involved in the fight very much depends on decisive leadership and sound decision-making. So, too, is the peacetime well-being of a nation’s military dependent on the effectiveness and integrity of those at the top. And as this still-unfolding scandal continues to reveal, the failures of leadership in both the military and political realms are numerous and profound.
This much, however, is clear: no matter how much they bob and weave and duck and dive, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Sajjan are directly responsible for the current state of affairs and must take direct action — something considerably more decisive than the creation of a review that turns addressing military misconduct into a perverse kind of Groundhog Day for its victims — to set things right in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Chinese philosopher and military strategist Sun Tzu offered this bit of wisdom in his still-influential ancient treatise The Art of War: "The worst calamities that befall an army arise from hesitation."
Add evasion and misdirection into the mix, as Mr. Sajjan and Mr. Trudeau seem so deliberately to have done, and you will surely have created a mess that leaves an armed force embarrassed, distrusted and disempowered. Canada’s military woes will not easily be repaired, but the earnest effort to do so must start now.