Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

The fight against sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces entered a new era on Tuesday when former Purchasing Minister Anita Anand only became the second woman to sit as Canada’s Secretary of Defense.

The appointment ended weeks of speculation about who would take over from Harjit Sajjan, whose fate appeared to be almost sealed after monitoring a crisis of confidence in Canada’s military leadership over the past eight months triggered by accusations against several senior officers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke passionately about his new defense minister during a press conference held after the extensive ceremony in Rideau Hall, where his new cabinet was sworn in, more than a month after his Liberals were re-elected to another minority mandate.

The Prime Minister specifically noted Anand’s role as leader of Ottawa’s efforts to purchase vaccines and other supplies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while highlighting her previous experience as a business management expert as directly relevant to her new role.

“We know there is a crisis in the culture of our Canadian Armed Forces,” he said.

“And one of the things people will learn about Anita Anand in the coming months is that she is a world-class expert in governance, with decades of professional experience that she will take on board to ensure that the Canadians armed forces … are worthy of the extraordinary women and men who choose to serve. “

But while Anand’s appointment was met with cautious optimism, there were also warnings that her arrival is not a quick fix, with the government facing new calls to establish external and independent oversight of the Canadian Armed Forces to solve its many problems. .

“It is quite remarkable to have a woman in this role as defense minister, and that is something that I think should be highlighted,” NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said during a news conference shortly after the new cabinet was sworn in.

“But in the end, they have had six years to start an independent process. And that has not changed. And that is a big problem for me.”

Anand is only the second woman to serve as Canada’s Secretary of Defense. Kim Campbell held the post for six months in 1993, before becoming Prime Minister. While Anand’s appointment no doubt sends a message, observers said it alone is not enough to bring about change.

“I’m not one of those people who thinks that simply putting a woman in this position will magically solve the problems,” said Megan MacKenzie, an expert on military sexual misconduct at Simon Fraser University. in Vancouver.

“She’s stepping into that role at a time when we’ve had a long crisis. So I really hope she’s supported so she can do her job and not be expected to solve the systemic problem in a way without the right tools. . “

Anand arrives at a critical time for the Canadian military, which has been hit by months of worrying allegations that some of the military’s senior officers engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior – with new allegations appearing to appear a few weeks apart.

Trudeau blew up the upper brass earlier this month after it was revealed that a general who wrote a character reference to a soldier convicted of sexual assault had been reassigned to a job overseeing some of the military’s work on sexual assault. offense. Trudeau said they “simply do not understand it.”

Opposition critics, defense experts and victims’ support groups have blamed much of the ongoing scandal on the Liberal government and especially Sajjan, who will now serve as minister of both international development and economic development in BC

When Sajjan first took over the role in early November 2015, the former Vancouver police officer was widely seen as a positive choice given his previous service as a lieutenant colonel in the Army’s reserves, which included stays in Afghanistan.

Yet Sajjan struggled to communicate effectively when it came to military affairs, and was seen as being too reverent towards the top commanders, such as the then Chief of Defense Staff Jonathan Vance, under whom he had served in Afghanistan.

These concerns exploded in public discourse in February after Global News reported on several allegations of sexual misconduct involving Vance. It was later revealed that one was first flagged to Sajjan by the military ombudsman in March 2018.

“It’s a key that the Secretary of Defense’s job is to manage the relationship between civilians and the military,” said Carleton University defense expert Steve Saideman. “And it’s done badly. I would say that the military has been left to fend for itself. “

Despite what was tantamount to a clear demotion for his longtime defense minister, Trudeau defended Sajjan as “one who has been there to fight for the women and men who serve in our armed forces and to push back against it. an exclusionary culture that marginalizes people. “

One of the key questions that Anand faces is the extent to which she will be able to exercise control over the Canadian military, which has a reputation for pushing back against attempts to rein it in.

While Anand’s role in procuring personal protective equipment, ventilators and vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic has been praised, her work on corporate governance was noted by It’s Not Just 700, a victim support group.

“INJ700 does not look at whether the new (Minister of National Defense) is male or female – INJ700 is looking for a Minister of Defense who has the skills to do what is required of them in the defense portfolio and the military sexual offenses,” the organization says . said in a statement

“The military sexual offenses are complex. The INJ700 expects Minister Anand to continue intense scrutiny and focus on these long-standing issues while addressing the complexity of the national defense portfolio.”

MacKenzie said the need for external oversight of the military when it comes to sexual misconduct, which retired Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps first called for after an explosive review of the issue in 2015, remains clear.

“Appointing a new minister, woman or man, should not detract from the very complex and detailed recommendations that Marie Deschamps came up with,” MacKenzie said.

“It was very well thought out recommendations that came after a very thorough examination of this issue. Ignoring the 10 very serious recommendations and simply putting in a new minister certainly simplifies the problem in a way that is not accurate.”

Trudeau refused to commit to any new external oversight of the military, pointing instead to an ongoing review of the issue, led by retired Supreme Court Justice Louis Arbor.

Sexual misconduct is far from the only problem the Armed Forces is facing at the moment, and the new Secretary of Defense will have to get started quickly on a variety of topics, including the many missions that are underway around the world and the ongoing efforts to buy new ones. military equipment.

Anand has an advantage over many of her ministerial colleagues taking over new portfolios, as her previous job involved significant oversight of various military procurement projects. It includes the planned purchase of new fighter jets and warships.

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