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Former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour releases the final report of the Independent External Comprehensive Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, in Ottawa on May 30.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The federal government should resist half-measures and act immediately to implement the latest set of advice to ensure the safety of women in the Canadian Armed Forces, says former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government released Ms. Arbour’s report that contained 48 recommendations for sweeping and profound changes to a system repeatedly found wanting. Defence Minister Anita Anand said her department would move immediately on one-third of the recommendations and decide on the others by the end of this year.

“Needless to say, I would have liked a totally unambiguous statement: ‘Yes, we’re on it, everything is going to happen,’” Ms. Arbour said in an interview on Tuesday.

While the report was released this week, Ms. Arbour noted that the government has been aware of all of the recommendations since March, when she submitted her draft report for review.

Military has ‘failed’ to keep women in uniform safe from sexual assault, former justice Louise Arbour finds

Her report was the third in seven years to raise serious concerns about the state of the Canadian Armed Forces and its inability to prevent widespread sexual misconduct and support victims of harassment. Ms. Arbour said the military failed to meaningfully act on previous recommendations and is still weighing hundreds of past suggestions. On Tuesday, she said her fear is that, like the reports that came before, hers will also end up in the “graveyard of recommendations.”

Ms. Arbour said she’s hopeful history won’t repeat itself because the government has already accepted two recommendations aimed at avoiding a similar fate. Chief among them is the recommendation to immediately appoint an external person to monitor implementation and issue monthly progress reports. That should happen “now,” Ms. Arbour said.

The government’s recent history proves why, she said. Despite accepting recommendations in a separate report (which also covered sexual misconduct and the military justice system) last June, Ms. Arbour said by the fall the government “had not initiated anything” to actually make the changes.

“Politicians have to own a lot of the responsibility,” she said. Because the crisis in the military does not influence election outcomes, Ms. Arbour said it’s difficult to get the heavy work of fixing the problem to the top of the government’s agenda. To ensure her recommendations are implemented, she said the external monitor will have to be “like a dog with a bone.”

Without the scrutiny, she said even on an issue that the government has agreed to act on, it would take years to see a change.

The 17 recommendations that the government has so far accepted are the “low hanging fruit,” Ms. Arbour said. Much more difficult to implement are others like giving the civilian justice system exclusive jurisdiction over sexual-assault cases in the military, she said. That change would require legislative changes that in the past have been slow to move through Parliament and slow to be enacted through regulations.

“Am I confident that they’ll go the distance? I could see the temptation not to. I really hope that there’ll be enough clear-headed analysis,” Ms. Arbour said.

Jurisdiction over sexual-assault cases was extended to the military justice system (in addition to the civilian system) in 1998. The aim was to improve efficiency, discipline and morale, instead it eroded it, Ms. Arbour said. Undoing that decades-old change will be difficult both because the military police don’t want to give up jurisdiction but also because some provinces and police forces are resisting the extra work – a position Ms. Arbour said is “nothing short of scandalous.”

Heading into Question Period on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau avoided answering a question about his personal responsibility in ensuring the changes are made. Military members have “faced far too much of a culture of toxicity that needs to change and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

While the government has not yet committed to implementing all of the recommendations, both the Defence Minister and Prime Minister on Monday said they accept the report in its entirety.

The government will “make sure that we’re moving forward in the right way and accepting the report fully,” Mr. Trudeau said.

The task ahead won’t be easy, in particular because of the military’s insular culture, which makes it “allergic to change,” Ms. Arbour said. But she warned the Forces that if it fails to change, “you may suffer a lot of damage, and you have already.”

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