Canada’s government will pay nearly C$1bn ($770m) to members of the military who took part in class-action lawsuits alleging widespread sexual misconduct.
“No one should feel unsafe in their place of work, in their communities,” Justin Trudeau told reporters on Thursday, according to the CBC. “There was a lot of negotiation and discussion with both the people concerned and their representatives and we were pleased that we got a settlement that was acceptable to the people involved,” the prime minister said.
According to a statement, the government does not admit liability. Under the terms of the agreement, the federal government set aside C$900m ($690m), of which C$800m ($612m) will be payable to current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces. The remaining C$100m ($77m) is pegged to members of the Department of National Defence.
A 2016 survey found that 27% of women in the armed forces had been sexually assaulted during their career, while members of the military were twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as the general population of working Canadians.
Eligible members of these institutions will be able to apply for between C$5,000 ($3,826) and C$55,000 ($42,090) in compensation. Members who experienced “exceptional harm” and those who previously applied for and were denied benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada in relation to their claim may receive as much as C$155,000 ($118,600).
Besides the payment, participants will also be able to take part in a “Restorative Engagement Program”, according to the settlement. In the program, they will be able to tell senior members of the military about their experiences and have them taken into account as the military tries to change its culture.
Amy Graham, the primary plaintiff in one of the lawsuits, told the Toronto Star that she hopes the restorative justice program will help with “getting some real change to decrease the amount of victims”. But the culture of the military is “ingrained”, she said, and will take time to change.
The lawsuits and the attendant reckoning within the military have been playing out for years.
In December 2017, lawyers for the government argued that the government does not “owe a private law duty of care to members within the CAF to provide a safe and harassment-free work environment, or to create policies to prevent sexual harassment or sexual assault”. Asked about the statements not long after, Trudeau said they were “of concern” and the government began settlement proceedings in early 2018.