Taxpayers on hook for $900M in DND claims
About 4,600 individuals have now filed claims about facing sexual misconduct or gender discrimination in the Canadian military and the Defence Department as part of a compensation deal that will cost taxpayers $900 million.
Present and past serving members of the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence are eligible to make the claims as part of a settlement reached in 2019.
DND spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier said as of April 9 the number of people who have filed claims is about 4,600.
The number is up from March, when a little more than 4,000 had filed such claims as part of the settlement of class-action lawsuits by survivors of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and sexual assault in the Canadian Forces. That settlement calls for $800 million in compensation for current or retired military personnel. Another $100 million was set aside to compensate civilian employees.
Some of the claims involve incidents dating back to the 1980s.
Over the last several months the Canadian Forces has found itself dealing with a new round of sexual-misconduct allegations. They're based on alleged events from years ago, but details are now emerging.
That has resulted in the current chief of the defence staff, Adm. Art McDonald, being placed under police investigation and temporarily stepping aside from the top military job. Another police investigation has been launched into the alleged actions of his predecessor, Gen. Jonathan Vance.
Police are also looking into allegations of sexual assault against Vice Adm. Haydn Edmundson. Edmundson has temporarily left his position as head of military personnel command while the investigation is underway. No information has been provided on when the military police investigations will wrap up.
Vance has denied any wrongdoing. McDonald has not commented. Edmundson denied previous allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
DND spokesperson Jessica Lamirande said those making claims for compensation under the 2019 class action settlement have until Nov. 24 to do so.
Claimants could be eligible for between $5,000 and $55,000. But those subjected to exceptional harm could receive more money. As part of the settlement, the Canadian government did not accept liability.
The Canadian Forces faced previous sex scandals in 1998 and 2014. But the military leadership successfully fought attempts to impose independent oversight on the military justice and police system, which critics say punishes the victims and protects sexual predators.
The Liberal government has promised action to deal with sexual misconduct in the military this time but has not provided any details.
Christine Wood, chief of strategic engagement for It's Just 700, a group of survivors of Canadian military sexual trauma, said the lawsuit settlement is playing a role in that change. “I think it will be different partly because of the class-action lawsuit,” she explained. “Money talks. I don't think it's feasible for the (Canadian) Forces to settle a lawsuit every couple of years for almost a billion dollars.”
Wood also noted the settlement has led to discussions with government officials about change. In addition, society as a whole has changed how it views sexual assault and harassment, she added.
The Commons defence committee was conducting hearings into the allegations against Vance and McDonald and who in the federal government knew about those allegations.
But on Monday the Liberal government introduced a motion to wrap up the defence committee probe by Friday.
That has shut down efforts to hear from top Liberal staffers on what they might have told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about sexual misconduct allegations against Vance.
The motion, put forward by a Liberal MP on Monday, passed with support from Liberals and Bloc Quebecois members of the committee.
The committee heard that, in March 2018, Canadian Forces Ombudsman Gary Walbourne had brought Liberal Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan details about allegations of sexual misconduct involving Vance. Sajjan declined to accept the evidence. The Prime Minister's Office and Privy Council Office were also informed there were allegations.
In addition, the committee heard testimony that the previous government, under prime minister Stephen Harper, also examined allegations against Vance. Harper met with the general in 2015 and received assurances from senior defence officials and bureaucrats that the allegations were unfounded.
Critics have said the testimony emerging from the committee undercuts Trudeau's claim that he heads a “feminist” government. Though they were privately aware of the sexual misconduct allegations, both Trudeau and Sajjan continued to praise Vance publicly.