Anand says she is 'determined' to resolve military misconduct crisis as defence minister
OTTAWA -- National Defence Minster Anita Anand says she is committed to ensuring “justice is served” in the fight against sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Just hours into the job, Anand says she will be relentless in her pursuit to shift the culture within the military so those in uniform feel safe, while restoring Canadians’ trust in the institution.
“My top priority is to make sure that everyone in the Armed Forces feels safe and protected and that they have the support that they need when they need it and the structures in places to ensure that justice is served,” she said, speaking to reporters on Tuesday.
“I am thorough, I am determined, I am dogged, and I am results-oriented. I will be dedicating all of my energies towards this task.”
Anand was sworn in to her new role earlier in the day as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled changes to his cabinet roster, which included sending former defence minister Harjit Sajjan to international development and making him the minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada.
Sajjan has faced criticism for his handling of allegations of sexual misconduct levied against high-ranking officers and his inability to make sufficient change.
Leah West, assistant professor of international affairs at Carleton University, told CTV News Channel Tuesday that Sajjan failed to show leadership while in the role.
“Leadership is incredibly important for setting the tone of the culture of an environment and minister Sajjan, for example, had the Marie Deschamps report on his desk in 2016 and made no real efforts to see the military implement any of her recommendations,” she said.
Trudeau thanked Sajjan for his work on the portfolio in a subsequent press conference on Tuesday.
“Minister Sajjan has consistently been someone who has been there to fight for the women and men who serve in our Armed Forces and to push back against the culture that excludes, that marginalizes people and I thank him for his leadership and service there,” he said.
In the spring, the federal government launched an independent review into harassment and sexual misconduct within the CAF, led by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour.
The announcement of that review was slammed by survivor advocates and former military leaders who called it a stalling tactic by the Liberals after the Deschamps report had already concluded the need for an independent reporting and accountability body.
Anand, the Oakville MP and former head of public services and procurement, said she will be “reviewing everything.”
“I’m going to be reading the past reports regarding misconduct in the Armed Forces as well as the recent independent review of the military justice system. I will be asking the department for an analysis of the recommendations that have already been implemented as well as the ones that have not been,” she said.
“I also hope to hear from a many of our women and men in uniform as possible and I plan to be consulting directly with them across the country.”
Anand cautioned there is no “magic solution” to solve the internal crisis and that it will take time to resolve.
Retired Maj.-Gen. Denis Thompson said it will be imperative the department get it right this time around.
“We definitely need all the qualified people we can get in order to address the concerns that have mounted around the world. We’re in a situation that’s fairly tenuous and we need to move through the culture issues and get on with some of the operational issues that face the Canadian Armed Forces,” he said on Tuesday.
Thompson added that retrieving the remaining Afghans who have been left behind in Afghanistan will also be a top priority for the new minister.
“We should take this opportunity to put our shoulder to the wheel and move as many of these people out as possible. That might require a high-level ministerial-level diplomatic mission to the region in order to sort out a third-country location where our Afghan friends can be evacuated,” he said
On that file, Anand will be working with her colleagues, new Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly and new Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser.
Trudeau welcomed the former “minister of vaccines” who led Canada’s fight to secure COVID-19 vaccine supply to her new role.
“The women and men who serve in the Armed Forces deserve better support, deserve a shift in the kind of governance they have and one of the things people will be learning about Anita Anand in the coming months is she’s a world class expert in governance,” he said.
She becomes the second woman to hold the post after Kim Campbell, who was appointed to the position for six months in 1993.
West said Anand is a “great choice.”
“Minister Anand has been a proven leader in a time of crisis…someone with the success of working through crisis is absolutely necessary now,” she said.