Anita Anand, who became Canada’s Defense Minister on Tuesday amid this week’s cabinet shuffle, now takes responsibility for a Canadian Armed Forces riven by a sexual misconduct crisis.
Ms. Anand, who was previously Minister of Public Services and Procurement, is taking over the reins at Defence from Harjit Sajjan. In the last Parliament, opposition parties called for Mr. Sajjan to resign over the government’s handling of multiple allegations of inappropriate behaviour in the military ranks, including many accusations against against top officers.
Mr. Sajjan was reassigned on Tuesday. He is now Minister of International Development, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also placed him in charge of the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada.
Ms. Anand has quickly climbed the political ladder since she was first elected in 2019 in the riding of Oakville, Ont. She has a legal background and has worked in academia, including at the University of Toronto, where she was a law professor. She also taught at Yale Law School, Queen’s University and Western University, and has researched topics including corporate governance and the regulation of financial markets.
Liberals began to regard Ms. Anand as a political star when, in her role in procurement, she handled the acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines for Canada, which involved negotiating complex contracts with manufacturers. Opposition parties initially criticized the vaccine distribution process over supply constraints.
Ms. Anand told reporters Tuesday that her top priority is to make sure that everyone in the Forces feels safe, protected and supported. She also pledged to put structures in place to ensure that “justice is served.” But she said it is important to remember that there is “no one magic solution” for sexual misconduct.
“There is no one switch that we can turn on to change everything overnight,” Ms. Anand said. “This is going to take time. And while that may frustrate some, I want to assure everyone that I will put in the necessary work, for as long as it takes to get this done.”
Ms. Anand promised to hear from as many women and men in uniform as possible and to consult with them directly.
Stéphanie Chouinard, an assistant professor in the department of political science at the Royal Military College, said Ms. Anand’s appointment signals that the government wants change after months of concern over sexual misconduct in the CAF.
Regardless of what happens in Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet, Prof. Chouinard and other experts say, the Canadian military has problems deeply rooted in its culture.
Jonathan Vance, who retired as chief of the defence staff earlier this year, became a symbol of those problems. The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service probed sexual misconduct allegations against him, but did not lay charges. Mr. Vance was separately charged with obstruction of justice in July.
In January, the Trudeau government picked Admiral Art McDonald to replace Mr. Vance as chief of the defence staff. He served in the role for only about five weeks before stepping aside to face allegations of sexual misconduct relating to a 2010 incident aboard a warship.
In August, military police announced there would be no charges brought against Adm. McDonald. But the Trudeau government did not allow him to return to his role and placed him on administrative leave. General Wayne Eyre has been serving as the acting chief of the defence staff since last February.
The government has initiated lengthy external probes of the problem. Six years ago, Marie Deschamps, a former Supreme Court justice, completed a review into sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in the military. She called for an independent centre of accountability for sexual assault and harassment, outside the chain of command.
That accountability structure was never created. Last spring, the government requested that another former Supreme Court justice, Louise Arbour, conduct a new external review aimed at recommending ways of realizing Ms. Deschamps’ recommendations. Ms. Arbour was also tasked with examining systemic issues and culture change within the military.
Maya Eichler, an associate professor and Canada Research Chair at Halifax’s Mount Saint Vincent University, said Tuesday that now is one of the most challenging times in recent Canadian history for someone to take over as defence minister. She said Ms. Anand will have to tackle many urgent and serious matters facing the Forces, including gender-based violence and culture change.
Leah West, an assistant professor of international affairs at Carleton University who spent 10 years in the CAF, said that she is glad Mr. Sajjan is no longer defence minister. He proved to be “completely ineffective in his role of holding the military accountable,” she said.
Prof. West said she expects the issue of sexual misconduct in the military to be the top line of Ms. Anand’s mandate letter.
“I really do think that if we have a minister who is willing to reassert civilian control of the military and set firm reporting requirements and expectations on Canadian forces leadership, that will go a long way,” she said.
Christian Leuprecht, also a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, said the new minister’s immediate challenge will be to foster stable leadership atop of the churning ranks of the military.
“The government has to stop trying to skirt controversy for political benefit and actually make some hard decisions,” he said.
Mr. Leuprecht said that Ms. Anand needs to help the Prime Minister pick a permanent leader for the Forces.
“I think this will be one of the first orders of business that the new minister is going to have to tackle,” he said. “However she does it, it’s going to be controversial.”
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