Sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces “remains persistent, preoccupying and widespread,” concludes an independent review of the military justice system.
The review, led by retired Supreme Court Justice Morris Fish, was tasked with conducting a comprehensive examination of the entire military justice system, and its findings and recommendations, which were released on Tuesday, are all the more important in light of the recent sexual misconduct scandal that has rocked the military.
To increase the military judicial system’s independence, Fish advises that the government revamp it completely.
He recommends creating a Military Court of Canada to act as a superior court for the Canadian Armed Forces, and recommends that military judges “cease to be members of the CAF and renounce their military rank at the time of their appointment.”
He also says the Provost Marshal — the commander of the military police — should report directly to the defence minister, rather than to the vice chief of the defence staff.
Further, Fish makes recommendations on the current “duty to report,” a requirement that individuals in the CAF report incidents of sexual misconduct. Fish noted that it led to complainants reporting incidents when they did not feel ready or were fearful of reprisals in doing so. The duty to report has led to widespread criticism from experts, he said.
He recommends an exception to the duty to report should be created for victims, their confidants, and health professionals. And he said a working group should be established to determine if the duty to report should also be removed for witnesses, or whether it should be modified to mandate them to only report to the civilian-run sexual misconduct response center.
The department of national defense and the military said in a statement Tuesday they “accept in principle” Fish’s 107 recommendations and will begin implementation in the short term on 36 of them.
The military will finalize an implementation plan for the remaining recommendations and provide an update in the fall to the House of Commons standing committee on national defense, the statement said.
Fish wrote that his recommendations “complement or reiterate…in substance at least” the recommendations from an independent review in 2015 of sexual misconduct in the military by retired Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps, whose main recommendations were never implemented.
“The nature, extent, and human cost of sexual misconduct in the CAF remain as debilitating, as rampant, and as destructive in 2021 as they were in 2015,” Fish wrote.
He recommends strengthening the powers of the sexual misconduct response center, by allowing it to investigate the military for “systemic issues” related to sexual misconduct, and recommends that Parliament grant the center the power to compel the production of evidence.
Independent reviews of the military justice system are required under the National Defence Act. This is the third such review.
Fish was tapped by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to lead the review last November, just months before the Canadian military was rocked by a sexual misconduct crisis.
Two former chiefs of the defense staff are under military police investigation facing allegations of inappropriate behavior, and other senior leaders are also under investigation.
It has led to calls for a massive culture change in the armed forces, and for sexual misconduct allegations to be handled by a civilian body.
The Fish review is separate from an independent investigation announced by the Liberals in April that is being led by retired Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour.
That probe, which is ongoing, is looking at sexual misconduct in the military — including how it is dealt with in the military justice system — recruitment and promotion and is tasked with providing recommendations on how to set up independent oversight of the military.