Military drops general from sexual misconduct file after uproar

Politics

Amid a growing public backlash and mounting anger from sexual assault survivors, the military has pulled Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe from his new role working on the military's response to reviews of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Former Commander of the Special Forces Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe wrote a positive character reference for a soldier found guilty of sexual assault.(Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Amid a growing public backlash and mounting anger from sexual assault survivors, the military has pulled Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe from his new role working on the military's response to reviews of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Journalists reported Monday that Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe quietly returned to work in the role. The military failed to issue a public statement or explain its rationale until late Tuesday night.

Dawe was placed on leave from his role as commander of the Special Forces in May after CBC News reported that he had written a positive character reference for a soldier facing sentencing for sexually assaulting the wife of another soldier.

In a statement issued at 9:38 p.m. the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen, said Dawe will no longer be in that role but will be engaging in some sort of restorative process.

"It has been made clear to us by the survivor community that this kind of restorative engagement is critical for members to undertake, to truly appreciate the lived experience of survivors," Allen wrote in a statement to CBC News.

Allen also apologized for the military's mishandling of the file and for failing to be transparent.

"Many, including Canadian Armed Forces members, victims, survivors and stakeholders, were informed of Major-General Dawe's return to the workplace through the media," Allen wrote.

"This is not in keeping with our commitment to transparency. I recognize and apologize for the harm this has caused. The release of this news should have been handled by us with greater care and consideration."

Calls for Sajjan's dismissal grow after latest uproar

Meanwhile, opposition parties renewed their call on Tuesday for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fire Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan over this latest case they called troubling and an example of poor leadership.

"These are not the actions of men who are taking sexual misconduct and harassment seriously," NDP MPs Randall Garrison and Lindsay Mathyssen wrote in a media statement.

Sajjan's office still hasn't said if the minister was advised about the military's decision to move Dawe into the role.

The NDP said this case is another example of Sajjan failing to ensure that those responsible for the problems with the military's culture are not rewarded.

"New Democrats are urging the prime minister to ensure Minister Sajjan is not returned to his role as defence minister and to take concrete action to change the culture of sexual misconduct in the military," Garrison and Mathyssen wrote.

The NDP and Conservatives are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to remove Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, right, from his post when Trudeau announces his new cabinet. The Conservatives are also demanding that Sajjan state whether he was advised about the military's decision to assign Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe to a controversial new role.(The Canadian Press)

Conservative MP James Bezan, the party's defence critic, said Sajjan needs to say if he was aware of the military's decision to put Dawe in the role. During the past year, the Conservatives have repeatedly called on Sajjan to resign or for Trudeau to fire him.

"It's clear that Harjit Sajjan has failed the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces," Bezan said. "Mr. Sajjan must answer if he was aware of this decision. The buck stops with him."

The majority of MPs in the House voted in June to censure Sajjan, accusing him of mishandling the sexual misconduct crisis and of other failings during his six years in the department.

Sajjan's office said Tuesday that the decision to assign Dawe was made by Acting Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre, not the minister.

Eyre was roundly criticized by many in the military last spring for his handling of Dawe's case.

Some military members accused Eyre of protecting Dawe, who is the highest-serving officer responsible for Dawe's regiment, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. Eyre later apologized for his handling of Dawe's case.

Support groups for military members who have experienced sexual trauma say they've lost trust in the department over the latest news about Dawe's new role.

Survivor Perspective Consulting Group is a volunteer group that provides survivor-based training and workshops on handling sexual misconduct. Its co-founder, Maj. Donna Riguidel, said that news of Dawe's appointment made her volunteers feel "silenced and ignored again."

"Canada deserves an effective military, and the people who serve in uniform deserve leadership they can trust," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca

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