Feds agree to $900M settlement over military sexual misconduct class action

Plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces will be compensated after the government reached a settlement.

The federal government has reached a deal worth $900 million to compensate the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, Global News has learned.

The settlement comes more than four years after former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps released a landmark report identifying what she called an “underlying sexualized culture” in the military that was hostile to women and LGBTQ2 members.

READ MORE: Military making little progress in eradicating sexual misconduct — survey

The class-action lawsuit, which launched one year after that report came out by seven former military members, included thousands of men and women who alleged they had experienced sexual misconduct. The settlement was finalized on Thursday.

There will be an $800-million cap on settlements for military victims and $100-million cap for civilians.

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Lead plaintiff Amy Graham said that she was satisfied with settlement reached.

“I think there is going to be some shock value to the taxpayers when they see the amount, but the individual amounts are quite low,” she said.

According to sources on all sides of the case, those involved expect potentially tens of thousands of individuals to file claims under the settlement.

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It has the potential to be even larger than the settlement reached with victims of sexual harassment in the RCMP, sources say.

“We are pleased that the government and the plaintiffs have been able to reach a comprehensive settlement which will advance the project of real and lasting cultural change,” the military said in a joint statement from Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance and Jody Thomas, the deputy minister of the Department of National Defence.

“To all those who have had the courage to come forward as part of these class actions – and to those who will come forward – we offer our sincere regret that you experienced sexual misconduct in our workplace. We recognize that it takes a lot of courage to come forward to share difficult and painful experiences, and press for change.”

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The statement continued, adding “we hope that the settlement will help bring closure, healing, and acknowledgement to the victims and survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination.”

The statement also added the settlement includes measures outlining next steps for the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence to take to combat the issue of sexual misconduct within its ranks.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said that the government takes such allegations seriously — and no one should feel “unsafe” in their workplace.

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“We know it takes a lot of courage to come forward and share difficult and painful experiences and press for change,” he said in a statement.

He added that the settlement reached builds on the work the military is doing to address the problem.

“We will continue to learn from these survivors as we take steps to achieve lasting and positive change,” he said.

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Government lawyers had previously argued in court that the government had no obligation to ensure a safe work environment in the military and fought the lawsuit for years.

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The settlement also comes after the RCMP announced earlier this month it was settling a $100-million class-action lawsuit launched by volunteers and contract employees, who alleged they had experienced sexual harassment during their time working for the force.

The RCMP had previously settled another $100-million class action involving full members in 2016.

In both cases the maximum payout for individuals was set at $220,000, significantly higher than in the military settlement.

Members of the Canadian Forces class will mostly be eligible for between $5,000 and $55,000, with higher compensation for people who were subjected to exceptional harm and were denied disability benefits related to that harm. Those members could receive up to $155,000.

READ MORE: Second $100M settlement announced in RCMP sexual harassment case

Both forces have faced rampant allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment in recent years amidst a growing social and political movement towards eradicating misogyny and discrimination.

Following the Deschamps report, the military launched Operation Honour, which it billed as an effort to eradicate sexual misconduct within its ranks and encourage more victims to come forward.

Statistics Canada surveyed members to assess how prevalent the problem was, and in 2016, the responses it received indicated women in the military were four times more likely than their male counterparts to experience sexual assault.

The same survey in 2018 revealed there appears to have been little progress in stamping out the problem, despite institutional changes to how members can report sexual misconduct that created an external process for handling complaints outside of the military chain of command.

One of the problems originally cited in the Deschamps report was that victims of sexual misconduct within the military generally had to file their complaints through the military chain of command or hierarchy and because of that, faced institutional barriers in getting accountability.

In cases where a complainant was victimized at the hands of another member of their unit or their superior, the chain of command structure meant they would end up having to file their complaint to that same boss or leader of their unit.

Deschamps said that led to an institutional failure to take complaints as seriously as they should have been.

With files from Kerri Breen and the Canadian Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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