Scheer: PM can't 'blame a lawyer' for response to military sexual misconduct lawsuit
The Conservatives and NDP took aim at the Liberals Wednesday in question period after a CTV News report revealed the government’s attempts to quash a class action lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct and discrimination within the Canadian Armed Forces.
“This Liberal government is arguing in court that they have no duty to provide a safe place for women to work in the armed forces,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said in question period.
“That is shameful and it flies in the face of every phoney statement the prime minister has ever said on this issue,” he added.
“And the prime minister cannot blame a government lawyer,” Scheer went on. “The prime minister actually instituted a cabinet committee to oversee litigation, to put a political screen on all of these types of arguments, and you know who sits on that committee? The minister of justice.”
Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan responded, saying that 55 members “have been released” from the Canadian Armed Forces due to the inappropriate sexual behavior since Sept. 2015.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said last April that he planned to remove any military members found guilty of sexual misconduct. The military has made extensive efforts to stamp out sexual misconduct, including through a plan called Operation Honour.
“We are committed to making sure we have a harassment-free workplace and (Operation) Honour is going to get that job done,” Sajjan went on.
New Democrat House Leader Ruth Ellen Brosseau also blasted the Liberals.
“By attempting to quash the lawsuit, the example the prime minister is setting is completely irresponsible and reprehensible,” said the Quebec MP. “Will the prime minister withdraw the government’s attempts to discredit these victims?”
Again, Sajjan stood to respond. “We need to make sure we have a harassment free work place, especially in the Canadian Armed Forces and with our new defence policy and with Operation Honour we are going to get the job done,” he said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the federal lawyer’s views do “not align” with his, or his Liberal government’s beliefs.
Trudeau said he has asked Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to follow up with the lawyers, "to make sure that we argue things that are consistent with this government's philosophy.”
Wilson-Raybould later told reporters that she “will look for opportunities where we can ensure where matters are in the public interest, that we will proceed on a less adversarial basis.”
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."
Veteran Amy Graham, one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, told CTV News that the Liberal government’s attempts to stop the lawsuit was contradictory to Trudeau’s public support for victims of sexual misconduct.
With a report from CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson in Ottawa