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Pti

Canada's Indian-origin Defence Minister Anita Anand and the top military commander have tendered a long-awaited apology to current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces who suffered sexual assault, sexual harassment or discrimination.

The Canadian military had been facing intense public and political pressure to change its culture and create better systems for both preventing and handling sexual misconduct allegations at the time of Anand's appointed as the country's new Defence Minister in October.

The Canadian Armed Forces are trying to turn over a new leaf and win back the trust of current and former members who suffered sexual assault, sexual harassment or discrimination based on sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation, the Georgia Straight newspaper reported.

The long-awaited and history-making apology to the women and men whose lives were scarred by sexual assault, misconduct and discrimination in the military was delivered by Defence Minister Anand, Chief of Staff General Wayne Eyre and deputy defence minister Jody Thomas on the government's behalf, CBC News reported.

The official apology was live streamed within the Department of National Defence and on Facebook.

Defence Minister Anand, at the beginning of her speech, said: "The members of our Canadian Armed Forces have always put service before self by stepping up to serve Canada".

She also said that the military has "always had Canadians' backs and we should always have yours".

The "very institution charged with protecting and defending our country has not always protected and defended its own members.

"As minister of national defence, I am apologising to you on behalf of the government of Canada," Anand said as she also expressed this apology on behalf of elected officials who, in the past, failed to take action in response to sexual assault, sexual harassment and discrimination.

"I apologise to the thousands of Canadians who were harmed because your government did not protect you, nor did we ensure the right systems were in place to ensure justice and accountability," she said, adding that for far too long, the government failed to dedicate enough time, money, personnel and resources to addressing these problems.

"Countless lives have been harmed because of inaction and systemic failure. This is a failure that our Canadian Armed Forces, our department and the government of Canada will always carry with us. These institutions failed you and for that we are sorry. I am sorry.

Successive governments have not done nearly enough to stamp out this scourge. Things can change. They must change. And I say it to you they will change. This is our most basic responsibility, our most important task, and my top and absolute priority," defence minister Anand said.

The apologies from the defence minister and the Chief of Staff came as 11 senior military leaders are facing allegations or were investigated for sexual misconduct, including former chief of staff and retired general Jonathan Vance, former chief of staff Admiral Art McDonald, and Major-General Dany Fortin, who previously oversaw the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, the Georgia Straight reported.

As of Friday, 18,943 serving and retired members of the military, along with civilian defence workers, have submitted settlement claims as part of a class-action lawsuit against the federal government over sexual misconduct, according to CBC News.

Roughly 60 per cent of the survivors are women. Claims have been approved in 5,355 cases and some initial payments have been made, it added.

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