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Louise Arbour is fighting to reform Canada’s military

Louise Arbour, a former Supreme Court justice and United Nations high commissioner for human rights, has dedicated her career to confronting some of the world’s most notorious human rights violators. However, one of her most challenging tasks has been addressing domestic issues. In May, Arbour released the findings of her year-long investigation into the Canadian Armed Forces, prompted by numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, including some involving high-ranking officials. The report was scathing, revealing a deficient culture within the military and outdated practices. Arbour noted that almost every female cadet had experienced some form of sexual misconduct, and now the federal government is responsible for implementing her 48 recommendations, which include transferring sexual misconduct cases to civilian courts. Progress has been slow, and while Arbour remains patient, she acknowledges that there is a limit. This is the second inquiry into the military’s handling of sexual misconduct cases in seven years. How does this report differ from the previous one by Justice Marie Deschamps? While Justice Deschamps’ report was groundbreaking in exposing the prevalence of sexual misconduct within the military culture, it did not address the necessary changes that would come from a criminal justice response. In my report, I focused on two key issues: the ongoing prevalence of sexual misconduct and the allegations against high-ranking members of the Armed Forces. I wanted to understand how individuals with these character flaws were able to advance through the ranks. One of your most notable recommendations is for the military to transfer sexual misconduct complaints to civilian courts, where conviction rates are notoriously low. What hope for justice can victims have even if this change is implemented? I am not suggesting that the civilian system is perfect, but the military system has its own set of challenges. One of the main issues is the duty to report. It is already difficult for victims of sexual assault to come forward, but in a military environment where nothing is likely to happen, it becomes even more daunting. There are also informal consequences, such as being ostracized by colleagues. The civilian system has made efforts to address these issues, including specialized courts for sexual offences and challenging myths and stereotypes. In the civilian world, people report crimes because they have confidence that the system will respond appropriately. In the military, the opposite is often true. When she is not tackling human rights violations, Arbour enjoys spending time at her cottage with her dog, Snoro. You have mentioned that one obstacle to progress is the assumption that misogyny is the root cause of the issues in the military. But isn’t misogyny the main problem? There is no doubt that misogyny is a significant issue. Women have historically held support positions in the military, and this has contributed to a culture that is not conducive to addressing sexual misconduct. However, it is not the only issue at play. There are other factors, such as the power dynamics within the military and the lack of accountability for those in positions of authority. 

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