Survivors of military sexual misconduct have until Nov. 24 to make a claim under the $900-million Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence sexual misconduct class-action settlement.
The settlement was approved by the Federal Court in 2019 in response to class actions filed by seven former CAF members for current and former members and civilian employees of CAF and DND.
Settlements are available to members and employees who experienced sexual misconduct up to Nov. 25, 2019. That misconduct includes sexual harassment, sexual assault and discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.
“We encourage anyone who thinks they may be eligible to visit the settlement website,” said Tim Kerr, director of DND’s litigation implementation team. If in doubt, survivors can speak to a lawyer free of charge.
Settlements will range from $5,000 to $55,000, depending on the severity of the misconduct. Those who experienced exceptional harm and were denied Veterans Affairs Canada benefits could be eligible for up to $155,000.
The settlement not only provides financial compensation, but an opportunity for survivors to participate in a restorative engagement program to share their experiences with senior CAF or DND representatives.
“It is completely voluntary,” said Kerr. “It gives survivors an opportunity to tell their stories…and know they’ve been heard.” But it’s also important for those senior representatives to hear these stories so they know what to change to make the military environment more welcoming and to prevent such behaviour in future. “Cultural change is one of the goals of restorative engagement,” he said.
VAC has already changed some policies. Sexual trauma claims may now be established without need for corroborating evidence and a claim will not be rejected solely because the misconduct occurred off CAF property or at an event the survivor was not required to attend.
Veterans and CAF members whose claims were rejected by VAC before April 3, 2017, may ask for reconsideration.
The requirement for corroborative documentation has been eased, although proof of employment is required, either by CAF service number or DND employment identification number.
“We know many instances of sexual misconduct were not reported,” said Kerr, and that some people may have been told such a report would harm their career. “In a lot of cases there may not be a record, so the settlement does not require documentation for all categories of claims.”
Category A covers people who were harmed by sexual jokes, inappropriate comments, repeated unwanted sexual attention and pressure from one person for dates or sexual relations. It requires no corroboration.
Category B provides compensation for more severe misconduct, with amount based on low, medium or high level of harm. Claimants will be asked to provide details of where, when and what happened, and how often, but are not required to provide names of perpetrators or witnesses, though they may if they want.
They will also be asked to describe the harm they suffered, including feeling degraded, loss of trust, avoidance of social situations, emotional or psychological harm, significant emotional disturbance leading to risky behaviour, suicidal thinking, homelessness, inability to hold down a job, need for psychiatric care, or financial impact.
Settlements will range from $5,000 to $55,000, depending on the severity of the misconduct.
Category C provides compensation ranging from $50,000 to $100,000, according to severity of injury, for those who suffer from PTSD or other mental or physical injuries arising from sexual assault or harassment and who have been denied VAC benefits.
Survivors may make claims under more than one category.
“There is a large number of potential claimants,” said Kerr. However, he added, sexual misconduct is a sensitive issue; some claimants may be too traumatized to want to file a claim and others may worry about the effect on their careers.
Information about the claim will be kept confidential and not shared with CAF or DND. Restorative engagement sessions will have trained civilian facilitators and be held in a safe space. Claims will be handled by an independent administrator or assessor who will determine eligibility and financial compensation.