The federal government is making the first steps towards settling three class action lawsuits with current and former members of the Canadian Forces who allege rampant sexual misconduct, racism, and gender discrimination within the military.
"I am pleased to announce that the government and plaintiffs of several class action lawsuits filed on behalf of members of the Canadian Armed Forces relating to sexual assault, racism, harassment, and discrimination have agreed to suspend the current litigation processes," Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a statement announcing the decision.
"This will allow discussions to begin in order to potentially resolve these matters outside court," he said.
In 2016, Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould was served with two proposed class action lawsuits from members of the Canadian Forces alleging systemic sexual assault, sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and a third alleging discrimination and harassment based on race and Aboriginal status.
"The government will not be proceeding with motions to strike these proceedings. We look forward to commencing these discussions to bring closure, healing, and acknowledgement to the victims and survivors of sexual assault, racism, harassment, and discrimination," Sajjan said Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had been criticized by the opposition parties for his government’s attempts to quash a lawsuit, which alleged systemic sexual harassment, sexual assault and discrimination within the forces.
In that matter, the federal government argued in court filings that it does not "owe a private law duty of care to individual members within the CAF to provide a safe and harassment-free work environment, or to create policies to prevent sexual harassment or sexual assault."
After CTV News first reported this, Trudeau said that arguments presented by government lawyers in the case did not align with his personal views and he instructed Wilson-Raybould to follow up with the lawyers, "to make sure that we argue things that are consistent with this government's philosophy.”
Amy Graham, a sexual assault survivor and lead plaintiff in the case, said she was “quite pleased” by the government’s change of course.
“This is what we’ve been hoping would happen for over a year,” Graham told CTV’s Power Play on Friday. “It’s an indication that they’re starting to respect where the victims are coming from.”
Graham did not offer complete details on what would need to be included for the potential settlement to be accepted. But one of her major concerns is establishing a group support system for military victims of sexual assault. She says the existing system is intended for service members with combat-related injuries.
Graham credits the Liberal government’s about-face to media attention and outcry from politicians and the public.
Graham, who has publically shared personal details of her 2010 sexual assault, said she did so in hopes of making a difference. If the case is indeed settled, Graham said many other victims will finally have a sense of closure.
“So I have satisfaction, personally, that those efforts have not been in vain,” she said.
During a press conference Friday, Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan said he was pleased with the progress made on these cases, saying it is in the best interest of all involved.
"I think the spirit of being able to sit down and come to a settlement outside the court is very important," he said.
With files from CTV News' Mercedes Stephenson