Ottawa Citizen

Taxpayers on hook for $900M in DND claims

- DAVID PUGLIESE

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.

 ?? ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES ?? The Commons defence committee heard that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan declined to accept evidence from the Forces ombudsman about sexual-misconduct allegation­s involving Gen. Jonathan Vance.
ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES The Commons defence committee heard that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan declined to accept evidence from the Forces ombudsman about sexual-misconduct allegation­s involving Gen. Jonathan Vance.

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