Arbour challenges pace of culture change
On 13 Dec 2022, Defence Minister Anita Anand released a special report outlining a process to change the culture of Canadian Armed Forces from the ground up.
Shortly after the minister tabled her report in the House, Louise Arbour, a former Supreme Court of Canada judge and chief prosecutor for high-profile International Criminal Court cases, was openly skeptical about the military’s willingness or ability to change. “To be candid, I was concerned that my recommendations would find their place in the graveyard of recommendations, which is heavily populated in the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence,” she said. “The method of implementation is the business-as-usual of sending it back to another review, another committee.”
Her concern seems warranted given that a former Supreme Court colleague, Justice Marie Deschamps – who retired in September 2019 after seven years on the bench – used a March 2015 report commissioned by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to press for change.
“Talk is cheap,” the Conservatives’ associate defence critic in the House, Ontario MP Shelby Kramp-Neuman, said after the Anand report was tabled. In a social media post the following day, Kramp-Neuman said that while she welcomed the report, “why did this government wait seven years, multiple allegations and countless victims before they acted?”
Anand, who had appeared before the committee shortly after tabling her report, pointed out that “in the fine print” of the latest judicial kick at the culture can, Arbour had acknowledged that change “is going to take several years to implement.”
Under Anand's leadership, one of the initial 17 recommendations from the Arbour Report (released in May 2022), led to the appointment of Jocelyne Therrien on October 24. Therrien had worked on harassment cases within the RCMP while working at the Office of the Auditor General.
While happy with Therrien’s appointment, Arbour criticized what she perceived as CAF resistance to transferring investigation and prosecution of sexual assault and other related crimes to civilian police and courts. Anand had already told the committee that the federal government continues to consult the provinces and territories about the aforementioned police and court staffing situation, but Arbour said it was “very obvious to me that those involved in that process are dragging their feet on the military side” and, given the relatively small number of cases transferred to date, the other governments’ financial concerns were political “posturing.”
Anand had told the committee that it takes time to amend the National Defence Act and other statutes in order to provide a more formal legal process for transferring jurisdiction, but Arbour pointed out that civilian police already have it if the military opts not to investigate or prosecute. “That requires no change whatsoever,” she countered. “Just this: the military side stops, and the civilian side takes it on.”