Vancouver Sun

PM WADES INTO MIL­I­TARY LAW­SUIT

‘Ar­gu­ment does not align with my be­liefs’

- lee Berthi­aume Sexism · Crime · Society · Canada News · Discrimination · Sexual Abuse · Politics · Justice · Human Rights · Violence and Abuse · Law · Justin Trudeau · Justice Ministry · Jody Wilson-Raybould · Canadian Forces · Andrew Scheer · Harjit Sajjan · Federal Court · Ottawa · University of Ottawa · United States of America · New Democratic Party (Canada) · Ruth Ellen Brosseau

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau has at­tacked his own Jus­tice Depart­ment lawyers for their de­fence in an $800-mil­lion law­suit over ha­rass­ment in the mil­i­tary be­cause it doesn’t align with his or his gov­ern­ment’s be­liefs.

On Wed­nes­day, Trudeau said he had asked Jus­tice Min­is­ter and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould to fol­low up with the lawyers, “to make sure that we ar­gue things that are con­sis­tent with this gov­ern­ment’s phi­los­o­phy.”

At is­sue is a claim by Jus­tice Depart­ment lawyers that the gov­ern­ment does not “owe a pri­vate law duty of care to in­di­vid­ual mem­bers within the (Cana­dian Armed Forces) to pro­vide a safe and ha­rass­ment-free work en­vi­ron­ment, or to cre­ate poli­cies to pre­vent sex­ual ha­rass­ment or sex­ual as­sault.”

In ques­tion pe­riod, Con­ser­va­tive Op­po­si­tion leader An­drew Scheer crit­i­cized the Lib­er­als for the con­flict­ing mes­sages.

He told De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan, “This min­is­ter specif­i­cally in­structed his lawyers to ar­gue that the armed forces does not have a duty to pro­vide woman a safe place to work. That’s shame­ful.”

The gov­ern­ment is fac­ing a law­suit brought for­ward last year by three for­mer ser­vice mem­bers who say they were ha­rassed or as­saulted while in uni­form. They are seek­ing $800 mil­lion for them­selves and oth­ers in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions.

Jus­tice Depart­ment lawyers filed doc­u­ments in late De­cem­ber in which they asked the Fed­eral Court to quash the suit, which comes as mil­i­tary lead­ers are push­ing for a cul­ture change to elim­i­nate all forms of sex­ual mis­con­duct in uni­form.

The doc­u­ments in­clude a num­ber of ar­gu­ments for why the law­suit has no rea­son­able chance of suc­cess and should there­fore be dis­missed be­fore go­ing to trial.

But lawyer Ra­jin­der Sa­hota, who is rep­re­sent­ing the three for­mer ser­vice mem­bers in­volved in the law­suit along with lawyers from five other le­gal firms, cited the no “duty of care” state­ment as be­ing of pri­mary con­cern.

Trudeau on Wed­nes­day said that the ar­gu­ments were “of con­cern to me, and I’ve asked (Wil­son-Ray­bould) to fol­low up with the lawyers to make sure that we ar­gue things that are con­sis­tent with this gov­ern­ment’s phi­los­o­phy.”

“Ob­vi­ously the lawyers’ ar­gu­ment does not align with my be­liefs or what this gov­ern­ment be­lieves.”

Trudeau did not say ex­actly which ar­gu­ments were of con­cern, and his of­fice didn’t of­fer fur­ther in­for­ma­tion.

Univer­sity of Ot­tawa law pro­fes­sor Bruce Feldthusen said the gov­ern­ment was not ar­gu­ing it had ab­so­lutely no obli­ga­tion to cre­ate a safe work­place or pre­vent sex­ual mis­con­duct.

“What they’re say­ing is: ‘We have an obli­ga­tion to do it un­der the Hu­man Rights Act, we have an obli­ga­tion to do some­thing un­der the Crim­i­nal Code, but we don’t have an obli­ga­tion un­der neg­li­gence law,” ’ he said.

“‘We don’t have an obli­ga­tion to com­pen­sate in­di­vid­ual vic­tims.”’

Feldthusen said it made sense for fed­eral lawyers to make such an ar­gu­ment as part of their at­tempt to get the law­suit tossed out of court, but he didn’t be­lieve it had much chance of suc­cess.

The law­suit was front and cen­tre dur­ing a heated ques­tion pe­riod Wed­nes­day, where con­cerns about sex­ual mis­con­duct and the #MeToo move­ment have dom­i­nated de­bate for weeks.

With Trudeau hav­ing left on tour of the U.S., it fell to Sa­j­jan to re­spond to Con­ser­va­tive al­le­ga­tions that the gov­ern­ment was ar­gu­ing it did not have a duty to pro­vide a safe work­place for women in uni­form.

“We are com­mit­ted to mak­ing sure that we have a ha­rass­ment-free work­place within the Cana­dian Armed Forces,” Sa­j­jan said at one point while not­ing that dozens of ser­vice mem­bers had been kicked out for sex­ual mis­con­duct.

“We are go­ing to stomp this mat­ter out.”

But Sa­j­jan did not re­spond when NDP House leader Ruth Ellen Brosseau de­manded the gov­ern­ment end the “ir­re­spon­si­ble and rep­re­hen­si­ble” ef­forts to quash the law­suit, which she said flew in the face of Trudeau’s prom­ise to sup­port vic­tims of sex­ual abuse.

“We want to be able to work with the op­po­si­tion on this is­sue be­cause this is an im­por­tant is­sue that im­pacts all of us,” Sa­j­jan said.

“We need to make sure that we have a ha­rass­ment­free work­place, es­pe­cially in the Cana­dian Armed Forces.”

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