The federal government has agreed to set aside $900 million to settle class-action lawsuits from Armed Forces members and Department of National Defence employees who allege rampant sexual misconduct in the military.
“While not admitting liability, the government of Canada has agreed to a settlement,” reads a notice of the settlement.
Of the $900 million set aside, $800 million will cover current and former members of the Armed Forces and $100 million will go to Department of National Defence employees who experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault or discrimination based on sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation on the job.
“We’re a government that takes sexual misconduct extremely seriously,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Victoria. “No one should feel unsafe in their place of work, in their communities.
“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.”
Class members will be eligible for compensation between $5,000 and $55,000 depending on what happened to them.
Members who experienced “exceptional harm” and who were previously denied benefits in respect of that harm could be eligible for up to $155,000.
“Payment amounts will also depend on how many class members submit claims,” said the government in its release.
“Our government takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously. No one should feel unsafe at work,” said Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan in a statement. “We know it takes a lot of courage to come forward and share difficult and painful experiences and press for change.”
Sajjan said the Forces “will continue to learn from these survivors as we take steps to achieve lasting and positive change.”
The Federal Court still has to hold a hearing in mid-September to decide if the proposed settlement is reasonable and then, if so, certify it.
Government lawyers had previously sought to stop the class-action lawsuit and faced backlash after telling a court the government does not “owe a private law duty of care to individual members within the CAF to provide a safe and harassment-free work environment, or to create policies to prevent sexual harassment or sexual assault.”
Last year Trudeau said that language was “of concern”, and soon after the federal government moved to settle the lawsuits.
Gen. Jonathan Vance, the country’s top soldier, has made stamping out harassment a priority.
Operation Honour, one of his signature initiatives, aims to address a longstanding culture of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military.
The military also launched a sexual-misconduct response centre, which has fielded hundreds of complaints and conducted investigations into allegations of impropriety since it was established in 2016.