After considerable pushback from the public, Maj. Gen. Peter Dawe, who wrote a positive reference letter for a sex offender, is no longer responsible for files on external sexual misconduct reviews. In a statement Tuesday, Lt.-Gen Frances Allen, vice-chief of the defence staff, said Dawe "will be undertaking the important task of engaging with that community to understand better how he can contribute to meaningful culture change."
In early May, Dawe left his post "immediately" following reports he wrote a character reference for another service member convicted of six criminal counts, including sexual assault. A source confirmed the news first reported by the Ottawa Citizen that Dawe returned to work and oversaw material from multiple sexual misconduct reviews. The reviews included a June report from former Supreme Court Justice Morris Fish, which found that sexual misconduct remains "rampant" and "destructive," and another from former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour on establishing an independent reporting system.
Allen apologized for not being transparent about Dawe's return, recognizing the harm it caused. "Many, including Canadian Armed Forces members, victims, survivors, and stakeholders, were informed of Major-General Dawe's return to the workplace through the media," she said in the statement. "This is not in keeping with our commitment to transparency. We should have handled the release of this news with greater care and consideration."
The Canadian military is in the grips of an institutional crisis over its handling of sexual misconduct and, in particular, the conduct of its senior leaders — some of whom now face allegations of misconduct. Now experts are questioning the CAF's willingness to tackle sexual misconduct within its ranks, with Dawe returning to work discreetly in July.
"I'm honestly at a loss for words. It's so hard to understand why this individual would be put in this position," said Megan MacKenzie, who studies military sexual misconduct at BC's Simon Fraser University. "To put someone in a position of power over this issue which has made really poor judgment, I think, really signals to the forces that this isn't going to be a moment of change."
"You have victims coming forward and really making themselves vulnerable, and then this…is just further traumatizing victims who are already in such a difficult position coming forward," she said. "Again, I'm just at a loss."
As a former military member and sexual assault survivor, Colten Skibinsky expressed confusion over charging Dawe to oversee these files. "My initial thoughts, and the thoughts of the community, were that this is the wrong person for this position. Entirely the wrong person," he said.
Speaking on behalf of It's Not Just 700, a support group to aid current and former military members traumatized by sexual misconduct while serving in uniform, Skibinsky wants to know how this benefits Canada and Canadians.
"Nobody's saying General Dawe can't return to work. But why is he returning to work in this role? How does this better serve Canada?" he asked? "I really don't think this is the time or position for a man like Pete Dawe to have a learning experience."
The prime minister's office refused to comment, deferring instead to Sajjan's spokesperson, who said they are "working to deliver reforms that will bolster CAF members' confidence in the military justice system. Daniel Minden continued: "Our members and employees deserve institutions in which they can have full confidence."
Sajjan's spokesperson added that the Acting Chief of Defence Staff Lt.-Gen Wayne Eyre is responsible for the chain of command, and the decision to bring Dawe back lies with him. "Our government remains committed to a complete institutional culture change in the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces," said Minden.
Both Skibinsky and MacKenzie said intervention from outside the armed forces is needed to ensure a fundamental change in how the military handles sexual misconduct.