Canada has offered a cash settlement for victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender-based discrimination in the country’s military in response to class action lawsuits filed by victims.
In the settlement, announced late on Thursday, the federal government budgeted C$800 million ($611.3 million) in compensation for members of the armed forces, and an additional C$100 million for Department of National Defense workers.
The agreement stems from class action lawsuits initiated by seven former members of the military, according to a statement, but claims can be filed by all current and former members.
“To all those who have had the courage to come forward as part of these class actions – and to those who will come forward – we offer our sincere regret that you experienced sexual misconduct in our workplace,” Deputy Defense Minister Jody Thomas and the military’s top commander, General Jonathan Vance, said in a joint statement.
“We hope that the settlement will help bring closure, healing, and acknowledgement to the victims and survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination,” they said, adding that the goal was “lasting, positive change.”
Most current and former members of the military will be eligible to receive between C$5,000 and C$55,000 in compensation, but those who experienced exceptional harm or have been previously denied benefits for exceptional harm may be eligible for as much as C$155,000.
Vance launched Operation Honor, a military program to address sexual offenses, in 2015 after an external investigation said the Canadian Armed Forces had an underlying sexualized culture hostile to women and gays.
Marie Claude Gagnon, who experienced abuse as a naval reservist, called the settlement a milestone and said “acknowledging the past wrong” was important.
But she also said cultural change in the military has been slow.
“There are … a lot of promises that are being unraveled right now with Operation Honor,” Gagnon said in an interview broadcast on CBC. “The deeper changes that are really needed haven’t happened yet but it is in the making.”