Does Canada’s bill to protect military victims go far enough?

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COMMENTARY

by Lindsay Rodman

The Globe and Mail
May 24, 2018

Earlier this month, the federal government tabled bill C-77, which establishes a Victims’ Bill of Rights in the military that will mirror the protections that already exist for Canadian civilians, with one additional provision: a Victim Liaison Officer to help shepherd the victim through the justice process. This is a laudable step for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as it works to take on the pernicious problem of sexual assault in the military. However, having served in the U.S. military when the United States was struggling with legislation to help tackle the same problem, I wonder whether this bill goes far enough.

Merely mirroring what is available to civilians did not prove helpful in the United States – it was only when we went well beyond what was available to civilians in comparable situations that we started to see some progress. In the United States, having Victim Liaison Officers did not work; we had to give victims their own attorney.

Bill C-77 is a codification of the Victims’ Bill of Rights in the military justice system. While there are many important differences between the military justice system and the civilian criminal-justice system, they are justified due to the exigencies of war and the special requirements that come from living within the military context. As modern militaries tackle the problem of sexual assault, some of those differences have been revealed to be traditional relics, rather than necessities. When it comes to protecting victims and responding to their needs, the military context possibly requires more protection than the civilian world offers.

Image credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Kawai

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