Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Friday the military now wants to settle several class-action lawsuits filed by members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The number of plaintiffs hasn’t been released but they include both women and men from across the country and could number in the thousands.

They allege sexual assault, racism, harassment and discrimination within the military.

They, in turn, have now agreed to suspend their litigation as negotiations towards a settlement begin.

“It’s certainly a positive development and so we’re looking forward to some good faith negotiations,” said Natalie Foley, a Victoria-based lawyer who filed one of five class-action lawsuits.

Foley represents a former sailor in the Royal Canadian Navy.

“I was essentially trapped on the ship, I couldn’t leave,” said Nicole Peffers.

Peffers served in the Royal Canadian Navy for five years before she left in 2012. She was a sailor based at CFB Esquimalt.

In late 2016, she detailed to CHEK News some of the allegations of sexual harassment she faced while serving on HMCS Winnipeg.

“He was playing footsy with me under the table while he was naked and he implied if I didn’t please him he wouldn’t give me his watch, which is what you need to advance your career,” said Peffers.

She said the abuse she endured at the hands of her superiors and the lack of response to her complaints was symptomatic of a problem widespread in the Canadian Armed Forces.

“There was a lot of apathy on the ship about ever getting justice for any kind of inappropriate touching or anything like that,” she said.

The tone of arguments made by government lawyers seeking to end the five lawsuits across Canada became problematic even to the prime minister.

Now, both sides will work towards a settlement out of court.

“It is to remedy injustice that we’ve seen systemically in the Armed Forces and now is the time to make big changes and we’re hoping that by negotiating a fair result for our clients, we will be able to do that,” added Foley.

Dean Stoltz