PSAC-UNDE: Review of Canada’s military promising – if implemented

In national and international press coverage, words used to describe sexual harassment in Canada’s military include: “crisis,” “scourge,” and “broken.”

With 48 recommendations, including 17 that Minister of Defence Anita Anand has confirmed will be implemented without delay, Madame Justice Louise Arbour’s external review of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces holds potential to move the mark on justice for claims of harassment and discrimination – especially for equity-seeking groups.

If all recommendations are implemented with targeted oversight following the roadmap that Mme Arbour outlines, Canada’s military will have gone through the necessary structural and cultural shifts that have been identified for decades through hundreds of recommendations.

As this government seeks to modernize defence to be ready for new security threats, glaring blind spots such as misogyny, discrimination, sexual violence and trauma continue to exist within the military.

Removing caps on damages for human rights abuses – long overdue

PSAC fully endorses the recommendation of Mme Arbour that the cap on damages under the Canadian Human Rights Act be lifted. Currently, damages that victims experience as a result of discrimination are capped at $20,000 for pain and suffering and $20,000 for willful and reckless conduct. These amounts have not chanegd since 1998 and are far below other jurisdictions.

As the forum meant to drive human rights forward, caps on compensation send the signal that when the defendant is the Government of Canada, victims have less of a chance for full and fair compensation.

If implemented, Mme’s Arbour’s recommendation would recognize that limits to compensation for victims of discrimination—especially survivors of sexual violence and other forms of debilitating harm—serve only to restrict access to justice.

It was UNDE member, Bonnie Robichaud, whose complaint of sexual harassment was the first to be referred to a human rights tribunal by the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 1980.

PSAC is studying how best to support litigation to remove the cap on human rights damages so that remedies are consistent with Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights

As Mme Arbour finds, if civilian authorities have sole jurisdiction over cases of sexual harassment, there is no need to add an additional inspector general position.

The military cannot be allowed to review their own cases of sexual harassment. Instead, civilian oversight through the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is the only way to break down flawed systems to instead ensure oversight over sexual harassment perpetrated by members of the military.

PSAC-UNDE will continue to work in consultation with the Department of National Defence to create conditions for a healthy workplace for our 18,000 members.

Read more Independent External Comprehensive Review

Discussions of sexual harassment, abuse, and workplace harassment can lead to difficult emotions and reactions. If you are seeking help, there are resources available.

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July 11, 2022