After weeks of filibustering, Liberal MPs on the House of Commons defence committee have done an end-run around the opposition by issuing their own list of recommendations on addressing the sexual misconduct crisis in the Canadian military.
The Liberals offered up 24 proposals in all; the most notable one calls for an expansion of the mandate of the Department of National Defence’s Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC).
In a statement issued late today, the Liberal MPs said that they want to see SMRC become “the primary reporting resource for criminal and non-criminal sexual misconduct.”
The recommendations fall well short of a complete, non-partisan report — which is what Commons committees usually produce. The committee adjourned on Monday without issuing such a report.
The work of the four-party committee has been at a standstill for a month as five Liberal MPs have repeatedly filibustered a Conservative motion to reopen public hearings by summoning a former top adviser to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
The committee’s public hearings began in February after allegations of inappropriate behaviour were made against the former chief of the defence staff, retired general Jonathan Vance, and continued throughout the spring. The opposition-dominated committee was looking to learn what the Liberal government knew about the allegations and when.
None of the recommendations issued by Liberal MPs touch on accountability.
‘Disgusting and egregious’
Normally, all parties cooperate in writing a committee’s final report. With Parliament about to adjourn for the summer — and with a fall election still a strong possibility — the Liberals decided to leave the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Quebecois behind.
“The opposition members should be ashamed of themselves for attempting to use this committee for cheap partisan attacks, rather than delivering real change for those in the Canadian Armed Forces,” said Ontario Liberal MP Yvan Baker in a statement issued after the committee adjourned on Monday.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan told the committee that he found it “disgusting and egregious” that Liberal members put more effort into protecting the defence minister and his former chief of staff than learning why the allegations against Vance took three years to come to light.
“Watching all of these politics play out, I have never been more disheartened being a member of this committee for the past 10 years,” said Bezan.
“All of the debate we’ve listened to over the last month has barely touched on the issue of the scope of this study, which was sexual misconduct allegations against Gen. Vance and Admiral [Art] MacDonald. When it comes down to issues of ministerial accountability as it is tied to the chiefs of defence staff, that is where the Liberals have continued to filibuster.”
The Liberal say the Conservatives have not been focused on listening to survivors of sexual assault, or on how the committee could make a positive impact on a military culture that has allowed misconduct to persist.
Looking at the crisis through that sort of lens was the primary mission of another Commons committee, Bezan told committee members. Indeed, many of the recommendations the Liberals on the defence committee put forward mirror the recommendations in the final report of the status of women committee, also made public recently.
The Liberal government has ordered an independent review of misconduct in the military, headed by former supreme court justice Louise Arbour. A copy of the recommendations drafted by Liberal MPs on the defence committee has been forwarded to her.
“Given that the committee has reached an impasse and has been unable to reach an agreement on a report, we felt it was important to share our work with you, as you will be conducting an independent external review of the DND/CAF culture and policies,” said the letter to Arbour, signed by all five Liberals MPs.
“As such, we are sharing our recommendations with you and we hope you will consider them in your important mandate.”