Creation of Inspector General position recommended to DND, but lawyer says watchdog must be civilian

An inspector general headed by a retired senior officer is recommended to National Defense leaders as a way to restore confidence among the troops and the public, according to recently released documents.

But an Ottawa lawyer who has represented a number of victims of military sexual misconduct says that for such a watchdog to be truly independent, the person chosen must be a civilian and report directly to Parliament.

The Inspector General concept was presented in May to Deputy Minister of National Defense Jody Thomas and Chief Defense Officer Gen. Wayne Eyre as the military tried to respond to its latest sexual misconduct crisis. Such a post, held either by a retired lieutenant-general or by a former Chief of the Defense Staff, would be tasked with conducting inspections and investigations into “errors of judgment that erode professional culture ( military), “they told the two senior leaders.

An inspector general or IG “could handle or oversee allegations of misconduct against senior officers and officials,” another briefing noted. The post is said to be “CDS sensitive,” a reference to the Chief of the Defense Staff, the highest military post.

But lawyer Michel Drapeau, who has represented a number of victims of military sexual misconduct, said it would be a major mistake to involve the military in any way in an inspector general’s office. The person appointed must be seen and perceived to be fully independent and impartial, said Drapeau, a retired colonel who obtained the IG’s proposal using the freedom of information law.

“The person appointed must be a ‘real civilian’, not someone from the armed forces or the civil service,” he explained. “The Inspector General should not report to the CDS, the DM or the Minister.

The IG should be an agent of Parliament, like the Auditor General or the Privacy Commissioner, Drapeau added.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said addressing the crisis of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces is the top priority for Defense Minister Anita Anand. The Liberals have appointed retired Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbor to make recommendations to tackle sexual misconduct.

Documents obtained under the Access Act show fears within the Canadian Forces that, if it does not address the misconduct crisis, the government will impose external oversight that could result in “l ‘erosion of the professional autonomy of the CAF’.

“There are many actors outside of Defense who provide perspectives and shape public discourse,” notes the report on the concept of Inspector General. “As with taking on opponents internationally, it has become a battle over the narrative.”

The Canadian Forces went through a crisis of sexual misconduct in 1998 and 2014 and each time succeeded in combating any significant external surveillance over their activities, critics say.

The government-appointed inquiry into the troubled military mission to Somalia recommended in 1997 the creation of an independent Inspector General to investigate complaints of misconduct and harassment of officers. But the military leadership managed to convince the Liberal government of the day not to act on such a recommendation that would increase civilian oversight.

Instead, the government created the Canadian Forces ombudsman’s office, which reports to the Minister of Defense and whose expenditures are controlled by the department.

In the wake of the 2014 sexual misconduct scandal, the military turned to retired Supreme Court judge Marie Deschamps to examine the extent of the problem and make recommendations. But the military ignored most of Deschamps’ recommendations, including the need for an independent sexual misconduct response center, a Commons committee heard earlier this year. The Canadian Forces have also been accused of dragging their feet in developing a Victims Bill of Rights for military personnel, even though it was approved by Parliament in June 2019.

Throughout the spring, DND officials discussed the need for immediate action to deal with sexual misconduct, according to documents obtained through the Access Act.

The Inspector General concept was forwarded to National Defense Headquarters in May by Lieutenant-General Mike Rouleau and Major-General Steven Whelan, then Vice Chief of the Defense Staff.

Whelan told Rouleau he needed time to read the IG concept paper “to make sure I have DNA in it.”

But Rouleau responded that it was more important to quickly distribute the concept paper to senior management than to let Whelan make his own changes to the document.

Shortly after, Rouleau was embroiled in a controversy over his decision to play golf with retired General Jon Vance, who was then under military police investigation for alleged sexual misconduct. Therefore, Rouleau announced that he was leaving his post and leaving the Canadian Forces.

In June, Whelan, who had been promoted to lieutenant general, was quietly subjected to a military police investigation after an allegation of sexual misconduct was brought against him.

When asked if the Inspector General position is being considered, DND spokesperson Dan Le Bouthillier said that over the next few months Ms. Arbor will provide concrete recommendations on how DND / the CAF can establish an independent external reporting system for Defense Team members that responds to the needs of those affected by misconduct, free from the influence of the chain of command.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021

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