Survivors of sexual assault and former soldiers say the Canadian military needs to explain why it has assigned a major general who once wrote a positive reference letter for a sex offender to a role examining sexual misconduct within the armed forces.

Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe has been tasked with reviewing recommendations from an ongoing investigation into military sexual misconduct by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour.

In 2017, Dawe submitted positive character references to a judge ahead of the sentencing of Maj. Jonathan Hamilton, who earlier that year was found guilty of sexually assaulting a retired military officer and physically assaulting her husband.

“The main feeling behind it is just one of confusion and surprise and shock,” said Annalise Schamuhn who was sexually assaulted by Hamilton.

“The people who are genuinely hurting, who have lost a lot of faith in the system, they can look at this and just see how potentially tone-deaf it comes across.”

News of Dawe’s position reviewing the recommendations was first reported by the Ottawa Citizen.

Retired Major Kevin Schamuhn and retired Captain Annalise Schamuhn say that Dawe’s appointment could be a setback to the military’s efforts to stamp out sexual misconduct. (Brian Morris/CBC)

“I don’t even know if I have the right words to express how disgusted and disappointed I am,” said Megan MacKenzie, a professor at Simon Fraser University who studies military culture.

Dawe’s appointment has sowed fresh doubt over the forces’ ability to clean up misconduct within its ranks, she said.

“I have very low expectations at this point, quite frankly — but even for my low expectations, it’s so disappointing,” MacKenzie said.

The federal government announced in April that Arbour would lead an external review into sexual assault and misconduct within the military. It is one of three ongoing external reviews into the military.

One of the objectives of the Arbour review is to make it easier for victims to report violence and misconduct without fear of reprisal, according to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

‘Reviewing, compiling and collating’ recommendations

The Department of National Defence (DND) did not issue a media release or make any announcement about Dawe’s appointment, but has since confirmed to CBC News that Dawe has returned to work.

He had been on paid leave since May, after CBC News reported on complaints by the Schamuhns.

“[Maj.-Gen.] Dawe has returned to work and has been tasked with reviewing, compiling and collating recommendations from each of [the] Canadian Armed Forces external reviews,” a DND spokesperson said in a statement.

“This work will enable decision-making and help ensure these recommendations are implemented in a timely, deliberate manner.”

A spokesperson for Sajjan also did not explain why Dawe was selected for the role.

“Our government remains committed to a complete institutional culture change in the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces,” wrote Daniel Minden in an email.

Dawe himself has not responded to a request for comment from CBC News.

Kevin Schamuhn, the husband of Annalise Schamuhn and a retired major, said the military needs to offer a fulsome explanation about why Dawe was selected for the role.

“I think that absent an explanation, the military’s at risk of losing even more credibility on this issue,” he said.

Kevin Schamuhn said he has been encouraged by some recent efforts to address sexual misconduct in the forces, which Dawe’s appointment could undermine.

“This decision that we found out about today, it risks causing a lot of damage and corroding a lot of the work that has been done in recent months,” he said.

Leah West, who served for 10 years in the Canadian military, said Dawe should explain why he’s overcome former ‘blind spots’ around sexual misconduct. (Submitted by Leah West)

Leah West, who was also a victim of sexual assault during her 10-year military career, said she too was surprised by his new role.

“I think to just put him in this position without any kind of explanation or any kind of statement from him, without why he feels that he’s overcome those blind spots or is now the right person for this job, is somewhat tone-deaf,” said West, who is now an assistant professor of international affairs at Carleton University.


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