OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s defense minister and its top military officer on Monday offered a live televised apology for the government’s failure to do enough to curb what they admitted was systemic sexual misconduct and discrimination in the nation’s armed forces.
Newly appointed Defence Minister Anita Anand said far too many people in uniform had suffered sexual assault or discrimination based on sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.
“This misconduct and abuse of power led to a crisis of broken trust in the defense team,” added Anand, named by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the post in October after complaints that her male predecessor Harjit Sajjan had not done enough to address the problem.
General Wayne Eyre, chief of Canada’s defense staff, told the televised event that military leaders had betrayed the trust of service members.
Several senior current and former commanders – including two chiefs of the defense staff – have been accused of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior.
Women soldiers have complained that the Liberal government of Trudeau, an avowed feminist, has not done enough to address an issue highlighted in a landmark 2015 report.
“Today, as minister of national defense, I am apologizing to you on behalf of the government of Canada,” Anand said. “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.”
Almost 20,000 serving and retired members of the military, as well as civilian defense workers, have submitted claims alleging sexual misconduct as part of a class-action lawsuit against the government.
In April, the government put newly promoted Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan in charge of a team addressing systemic misconduct inside the armed forces. It also asked former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour to lead a probe into military harassment and sexual misconduct.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Will Dunham)