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Emma Phillips speaks to The Current

April 30, 2021

How the #MeToo movement could shape the new review of military sexual misconduct

Emma Phillips spoke to Matt Galloway on CBC’s The Current this morning about the new external review into sexual misconduct in the military.

The federal government has appointed former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour to examine sexual misconduct in the military, even though a there was a previous review only six years ago. In the first part of the interview on CBC’s The Current, Justice Arbour talks about the decision to hold another review.

Matt then talks to Emma Phillips, who acted as legal counsel tin the previous external review of the military led by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Marie Deschamps in 2015. As the CBC reports in a story published following the interview, Emma notes that there has been a real cultural shift in the intervening years:

“It was before #MeToo, it was before the class-actions, the Jian Ghomeshi trial hadn’t happened,” said Emma Phillips, a partner at Goldblatt Partners, who was legal counsel to former supreme court justice Marie Deschamps’ external review six years ago.

Phillips pointed to an interview that former Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson gave in the wake of the 2015 review, where he told the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge that sexual misconduct in the military was due to “biological wiring.”

“That was the mentality that many in the military had, and so there was tremendous resistance to the idea that this is a real problem that needs to be addressed,” she told The Current’s Matt Galloway.

In the intervening years, sexual harassment and misconduct came to global attention with the #MeToo movement. The hashtag dates back to 2006, but went viral in Oct. 2017 as survivors around the world went public with the abuse they had suffered in all walks of life. The movement has led to several high-profile convictions, including Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein.

“I do think we are in a different moment now than we were in 2015, and that creates opportunity,” Phillips said.

Phillips said she welcomes Arbour’s expanded mandate, including powers to look at the military justice system. However, she noted that many survivors are frustrated that more wasn’t done after 2015.

“I understand when I hear survivors say, ‘You know, enough studies, enough external reviews already, the government has had a clear recommendation and it failed to implement it,'” she said.

Phillips said the government did not implement Deschamps’ recommendation to establish an independent body outside the armed forces, to deal with issues of sexual misconduct.

“What we got instead was the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, which is really only a victim support service,” she said.

She’s also been disheartened to see reports of sexual harassment from women who joined the armed forces after 2015, suggesting the “culture of serious sexual misconduct” has persisted.

“Unfortunately, there have been some changes, but it’s not nearly sufficient.”

Phillips said it’s good the federal government is starting from a point of accepting that there is a sexual misconduct problem, as well as a need for external oversight.

“We’ve got a crisis in the very highest levels of leadership in the military,” she said.

“If this isn’t a moment in which there’s going to be concrete change, I don’t know when there would be.”

Listen to the interview here.


Emma Phillips

Practice Areas

Human Rights Law