Amid mounting public backlash and growing anger from survivors of sexual assault, the military withdrew the Major-General. Peter Dawe from his new role working on the military response to reviews of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Reporters reported on Monday that Dawe quietly returned to work in the role. This decision shocked and disappointed current and former military personnel who have suffered sexual trauma in the forces. They called the movement deaf and demanded an explanation.
The story also sparked division in the ranks after the military failed to issue a public statement or explain its rationale until late Tuesday night.
Dawe was taken on leave from his role as Special Forces Commander in May after CBC News reported he wrote a positive character reference for a soldier facing conviction for sexually assaulting another’s wife soldier.
In a statement released just after 9:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, the Vice Chief of the Defense Staff, Lieutenant General. Frances Allen, apologized for handling the case and said Dawe would no longer play this role.
Instead, he will hold discussions with survivors of sexual misconduct to determine how he can contribute to cultural change in the military, according to Allen’s statement.
“Many, including members of the Canadian Armed Forces, victims, survivors and responders, have been informed of Major-General Dawe’s return to work through the media,” Allen wrote.
“This is not in line with our commitment to transparency. I acknowledge and apologize for the harm this has caused. The publication of this news should have been treated by us with more care and consideration.”
The military is in the midst of a sexual misconduct crisis with a series of senior leaders on leave in connection with various allegations. The Ministry of the Army and Defense has promised a cultural change, but the latest move is a setback, according to experts who study military culture.
Simon Fraser University professor Megan MacKenzie said she was “disgusted,” saying the move meant the military was doubling down on efforts to protect senior leaders.
In his statement, Allen said it was his job while Dawe was on leave to review his case and recommend what to do about his future job. She weighed the actions taken against him at the time and his willingness to continue his “personal and institutional growth,” Allen said.
Dawe was then brought back to work to help “coordinate and synchronize” efforts to help others do their jobs to drive institutional change, Allen said. But the military still hasn’t revealed when Dawe started the new post.
“[Maj.-Gen.] Dawe had to work for me in this capacity, to allow the efforts of others in their work, ”Allen wrote.
“This is no longer the case.”
Acting Chief of Staff apologizes
For now, Allen has said Dawe will speak to survivors of sexual assault on how he could “contribute to a meaningful culture change” in the military.
While Allen was making the recommendation, Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan’s office said it was Acting Chief of Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre who made the decision to give Dawe that role. and not to the government.
Eyre himself came under fire in the spring for protecting Dawe and offered his own apologies.
The Ottawa Citizen reported that Eyre was the senior officer in charge of Dawe’s regiment – the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry – when he published the reference letter for a convicted sex offender, a former soldier.
As anger grew within the military ranks over the original CBC story in April, Eyre then apologized to the military for adding to their pain and allowing Dawe to take his new post. He then put Dawe on paid leave in May.
Sajjan’s office has yet to say whether the minister has been made aware of the military’s latest decision to transfer Dawe to the new role.
Calls for Sajjan’s dismissal increase after latest outcry
Opposition parties have now renewed their calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to sack Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan over the latest affair they have called troubling and an example of bad leadership.
“It’s not the actions of men who take sexual misconduct and harassment seriously,” NDP MPs Randall Garrison and Lindsay Mathyssen wrote in a statement.
The NDP said the case is yet another example of Sajjan’s failure to ensure that those responsible for issues related to military culture are not rewarded.
“New Democrats urge the Prime Minister to ensure Minister Sajjan does not return to his role as Minister of Defense and to take concrete steps to change the culture of sexual misconduct in the military,” said writes Garrison and Mathyssen.
Conservative MP James Bezan, the party’s defense spokesman, said Sajjan was to say if he was aware of the military’s decision to hand Dawe in the role. Over the past year, the Conservatives have repeatedly asked Sajjan to resign or Trudeau to fire him.
“It is clear that Harjit Sajjan has let down the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces,” Bezan said. “Mr. Sajjan must respond if he was aware of this decision. The responsibility ends with him.”
Support groups for servicemen who have suffered sexual trauma say they have lost confidence in the department following the latest news about Dawe’s new role.
Survivor Perspective Consulting Group is a volunteer group that provides survivor-focused training and workshops on managing sexual misconduct. Her co-founder, Major Donna Riguidel, said news of Dawe’s appointment had made her volunteers feel “again silenced and ignored”.
“Canada deserves an effective military, and the people who serve in uniform deserve leadership they can trust,” she said.