Sajjan out as defence minister; Anita Anand takes helm of embattled military amid misconduct crisis

WATCH ABOVE: Former procurement minister Anita Anand was sworn-in as Canada’s new defence minister during a cabinet swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall on Tuesday morning. Anand takes over the position from former defence minister Harjit Sajjan, who faced months of criticism over his handling of the sexual misconduct crisis in the Canadian military.

After months of criticism over his handling of the military sexual misconduct crisis, Harjit Sajjan will no longer serve as the minister of national defence – Anita Anand is taking over the role.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his new cabinet in a ceremony at Rideau Hall on a rainy Tuesday morning in Ottawa, shuffling a number of major roles as the government prepares to confront key challenges, including the military misconduct crisis when Parliament returns next month.

Anand has been touted as a strong contender for weeks among defence industry experts who told Global News that moving her into the role would send a powerful signal to survivors and victims of military sexual misconduct that the government is serious about implementing major reforms.

She was first elected as a rookie MP in 2019 representing Oakville and served as procurement minister throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, stickhandling the country’s contracting and negotiations for coveted COVID-19 vaccines and is widely viewed as a rising star in cabinet.

Anand has a deep background as a corporate lawyer and has worked extensively on corporate governance, which refers specifically to the laws and rules in place to manage the operations of businesses.

Sajjan will become minister of international development.

“We know there is a crisis within the culture of our Canadian Armed Forces,” said Trudeau during a press conference on Tuesday following the reveal of his new cabinet.

“One of the things people will be learning about Anita Anand over the next months is she is a world class expert in governance, that she will bring to bear to make sure the Canadian Armed Forces, the leadership thereof, are worthy of the extraordinary men and women who chose to serve.”

Anand told journalists she plans to get up to speed with her new department and be able to provide “very forthright” responses to questions in the coming days.

She emphasized the skills she says she brings to the new role.

“The fact that I’m a woman is, I guess, one aspect of that calculation, but there are other areas of expertise that I will also be imparting to the role, including my expertise of governance, and my knowledge of law and process,” Anand said.

“My top priority is to make sure that everyone in the armed forces feels safe and protected, and that they have the supports that they need when they need them, and the structures in place to ensure that justice is serviced.”

READ MORE: Trudeau unveils new cabinet with 9 new faces, major shake ups to top jobs

The Canadian military is facing intense public and political pressure to change its culture and create better systems for both preventing and handling sexual misconduct allegations.

Among those changes are calls for an independent reporting system to ensure allegations of sexual misconduct are handled outside of the chain of command.

Following exclusive reporting by Global News in February into high-level allegations of inappropriate behaviour, Sajjan announced in April an external review into the military’s handling of sexual misconduct, but the government has so far not offered a timeline for a key change urged since 2015.

TIMELINE: The Canadian Forces sexual misconduct crisis

That was when former Supreme Court of Canada justice Marie Deschamps issued a landmark report that documented what she described as the “toxic” culture of the military towards women and LGBTQ2 members, and that urged the creation of an independent reporting system outside the chain of command.

The Liberals came into power just months after that review was issued, yet never heeded its core recommendation. Trudeau and Sajjan have said they support an independent system, but have said they are waiting for the recommendations of the ongoing review before commenting further.

That review, led by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour, isn’t set to wrap up until next spring and Global News confirmed earlier this month Arbour has no plans to issue interim recommendations.

“We know that there are serious problems in the Canadian military, and we want to see results,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a press conference reacting to the cabinet reveal on Tuesday.

“For six years, this Liberal government and Justin Trudeau have been sitting on the Deschamps report which said very clearly there needs to be an independent process for women to bring forward serious concerns … sexual misconduct continues.”

“That has to end,” he added. “They have to fix that problem.”

READ MORE: Should he stay or should he go? Speculation heats up on Sajjan’s future in defence post

In the meantime, the number of complainants seeking to join the military’s class-action settlement for victims of sexual misconduct continues to rise, and the pressure on the government to act continues to build after an internal power struggle between the current and acting chiefs of the defence staff spilled out into public view two weeks ago.

Adm. Art McDonald stepped aside as chief of the defence staff in February after military police opened an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct against him.

Military police said this summer they did not have enough evidence to lay a charge – which McDonald claimed in a letter sent to senior military officers this month meant he had been exonerated, and the allegation deemed “unsubstantiated.”

That’s not true, according to the military’s provost marshal.

“As stated in August 2021, the CFNIS investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct against Admiral McDonald resulted in no charges being laid based on insufficient evidence,” the office said in a statement shared with Global News.

“This does not mean that the allegation was unfounded, which is defined by Statistics Canada as ‘After a police investigation it is concluded that no violation of the law took place nor was attempted’.”

Gen. Wayne Eyre has been acting in McDonald’s place and called the letter sent by McDonald “shocking,” adding it appeared to challenge the key tenet of civilian control of the military.

READ MORE: Adm. Art McDonald’s letter ‘will be taken into account’ on deciding his fate: Trudeau

McDonald serves at the pleasure of the government, meaning he can be removed from the role of chief of the defence staff at any time, for any reason.

The question of whether to dismiss or reinstate McDonald is expected to be among the most pressing items on Anand’s new agenda. Trudeau has refused to say why no decision had yet been made and on Tuesday, offered no specific timeline.

He did note, though: “That decision is currently underway.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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