The federal government is sticking to a three-year timeline to implement its promised victims’ bill of rights for the military justice system, while the opposition says it is taking too long.
Parliament passed the Declaration of Victims’ Rights as part of Bill C-77 in 2019, during the Liberal government’s first mandate. More than two years later, opposition politicians say the failure to bring the bill into force shows a lack of commitment from the government to address a sexual misconduct crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces.
A legal expert also warned on Tuesday that the delay is failing victims.
The bill would ensure many of the basic rights that victims are guaranteed in the civilian justice system are extended to victims under the military justice system. That includes rights to information, protection, participation in the process, and restitution.
On Tuesday, The Globe and Mail reported on the case of one civilian who said she was sexually assaulted by a senior officer when she accompanied the Canadian Armed Forces on a trip abroad. She reported the assault early this year, but without the bill fully in place, she and her lawyers say she is not receiving help to navigate the system or mental health support.
The Globe and Mail does not identify people who report sexual assault unless they consent to be publicly named.
On Nov. 11, Defence Minister Anita Anand’s office said Bill C-77 would be enacted next spring.
On Parliament Hill on Tuesday, Ms. Anand said consultations on the regulations to establish the Declaration of Victims’ Rights are “very close to being finalized and the regulations are being drafted. So we are going to see Bill C-77 implemented in 2022.”
In 2019, the Liberal government heralded the bill’s passage as a “historic moment in the evolution of the military justice system,” and the Forces said it “reinforces Canada’s position as a global leader” in military justice.
Two years later, talking points drafted for then defence minister Harjit Sajjan on Jan. 15 showed the government preparing for questions about the delay implementing Bill C-77. At the time, the pre-crafted remarks (which were released through the government policy called proactive disclosure) cite the consultations as the reason the bill was not yet in force.
Since February, an escalating number of senior officers have been put on leave over allegations of sexual misconduct. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces means the government should have implemented the declaration of rights much faster.
“I don’t buy that it takes three years to consult and to implement something that’s going to protect survivors and victims, there’s no justification for that,” Mr. Singh said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Conservative MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay said in a statement that “there are no excuses” for the delay.
“If Justin Trudeau were really taking the crisis of sexual misconduct in the military seriously, this bill would already be enacted,” she said.
On Nov. 4, in response to interim recommendations from the government’s latest review of sexual misconduct and harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces and defence department, Ms. Anand said military sexual assault cases will be moved to the civilian justice system. That could change after the final report.
Elaine Craig, a law professor at Dalhousie University and research director at the Canadian Centre for Legal Innovation in Sexual Assault Response, said the move should be permanent.
“The failure of the government to ensure the implementation of protections for sexual assault survivors under Bill C-77 is one of the many factors that suggest the military courts should permanently lose shared jurisdiction over sexual offences,” Prof. Craig said.
She added that the woman in The Globe’s Tuesday report “would not be the only woman to be victimized by the government’s failings in this regard.”
The woman does not qualify for victims’ services under the civilian justice system because her case is being dealt with in the military system, her lawyer, Michel Drapeau, told The Globe. The Forces have not provided her with the support, and requests from her lawyers for a discretionary payment to cover the costs of therapy have not been successful.
Mr. Singh said the case is a “really horrible example of the failure of previous governments to deal with the problems in the Canadian military” and the government needs to ensure support is given to the woman in this case and other survivors of sexual assault.
Ms. Anand did not say on Tuesday whether the woman would receive the requested help.
“My top priority is to make sure that victims of sexual assault have recourse, have the ability to have mechanisms at their disposal,” Ms. Anand said. She added that Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan, the Forces’ chief of professional conduct and culture, is working to ensure that “all victims of sexual assault in the military” have access to rehabilitative and restorative programs.
The Defence Department later clarified to The Globe that the policies Lt.-Gen. Carignan is developing are for Forces members and Defence employees, so the woman in this case (who is a civilian) would not benefit from them.
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