The Canadian government has announced a significant change in the handling of complaints related to sexual misconduct, harassment, and discrimination within the military. Members of the military now have the option to directly approach the Canadian Human Rights Commission with such complaints, bypassing the traditional Canadian Armed Forces grievance process.
This policy shift applies to both new and existing complaints and enables military personnel to seek an independent review before exhausting internal procedures. The decision to allow this direct approach to the Human Rights Commission was influenced by the recommendations made by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour in her May 2022 report, which addressed issues of sexual misconduct and a toxic culture within the Armed Forces.
The government’s commitment to implementing these recommendations, as outlined in a report to Parliament last December, underscores its dedication to modernizing complaint processes as part of broader cultural reform efforts within the Defence Department. Arbour’s report highlighted that only 42 complaints related to sex-based discrimination were filed with the Human Rights Commission by military members between 2015 and 2021, largely due to a requirement to exhaust internal grievance processes. It is anticipated that the Human Rights Commission will be prepared to manage an increased volume of cases from the military with adequate resources. Additionally, Defence Minister Bill Blair affirmed that the government would no longer object to human-rights complaints on the grounds of ongoing processes, aligning with another of Arbour’s recommendations.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission welcomes these changes and anticipates that implementing these recommendations will facilitate swifter access to human rights justice. Notably, complaints concerning harassment and discrimination unrelated to sex will continue to be addressed through internal military procedures.