Gen. Jonathan Vance, centre, presided over the Royal Canadian Navy’s change of command. Vance has retired as chief of the defence staff but faces allegations of sexual misconduct, which he denies. McDonald, Vance’s successor at the apex of the Canadian Forces, has stood aside while unspecified allegations against him are investigated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Gen. Jonathan Vance, centre, presided over the Royal Canadian Navy’s change of command. Vance has retired as chief of the defence staff but faces allegations of sexual misconduct, which he denies. McDonald, Vance’s successor at the apex of the Canadian Forces, has stood aside while unspecified allegations against him are investigated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Misconduct allegations put spotlight on military leaders’ rise in sexualized culture

CAF’s senior leadership began their careers when sexual harassment was not taken seriously, says reservist

Emerging allegations of sexual misconduct against senior members of the Armed Forces are raising concerns about the extent to which the top brass is tainted by such behaviour — and prompting sharp discussions about how to fix the problem.

The ideas include everything from restorative justice or even a truth-and-reconciliation commission to a marked change in how the military chooses its leaders and a shuffle in the top ranks.

Today’s leaders came up through what retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps described in 2015 as an “underlying sexual culture” that was hostile to women and left victims of sexual assault and harassment to fend for themselves.

“It’s quite clear that most of the CAF’s senior leadership began their careers around the same time, when sexual harassment and sexual assault were not taken seriously,” says former air force reservist Christine Wood, co-chair of the military sexual-trauma survivors’ group It’s Just 700.

Royal Military College of Canada professor Alan Okros, whose work focuses on leadership, gender equality and diversity in the military, says the issue first emerged in 1998, which is when the first harassment- and racism-prevention training was introduced.

Deschamps herself found that while the so-called SHARP training was seen by some as effective, “others, by contrast, viewed it as a caricature.” Deschamps specifically noted that after a few years, the military stopped hiring outside experts to conduct the training.

The past few weeks have seen a number of allegations emerge against senior leaders. That has led to ongoing speculation within defence circles as to which top commander will be accused next.

It is impossible to tell just how widespread the problem is within the military’s top brass, but Queen’s University professor Stéfanie von Hlatky, who studies gender in the military, says recent Statistics Canada surveys offer some clues.

The first of those surveys of military personnel in 2016 found 80 per cent had seen or been targeted by such behaviour. Nearly half of women who reported having been sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months said the perpetrator outranked them.

“It’s actually pretty astounding to just look at those numbers,” von Hlatky said. “If you’ve got this prevalence at all levels, then it’s not just a question of generational change, but it’s really something that has been left unaddressed for too long.”

Okros and von Hlatky believe one way to start addressing the problem is to change the way the military selects its leaders, a process that places a heavy emphasis on what is called “operational effectiveness,” or accomplishing missions.

“They went, they got the job done,” Okros says. “But some drove the team, drove their people, pushed them and got the job done, but left people in their wake that were broken.”

While operational effectiveness is the core of how the military measures success in nearly every domain, Okros and von Hlatky say more emphasis should be put on how commanders have treated their troops.

But what to do about the problem right now?

“Does the (chief of the defence staff) reset the standard?” Okros asks.

“Go out as a personal challenge to every general and flag officer, every chief warrant officer, and say: ‘I want you to stop … take a hard look in the mirror, think about your past, think about what you’ve done and think about your ability to lead the required culture change. And if now is the time for you to graciously retire, I’d be happy to take your letter.’”

The past week saw Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen appointed as Canada’s first female vice-chief of the defence staff, the military’s second-in-command. Lost amid the applause was an unusually long list of generals and senior naval officers announcing their retirements.

While defence analyst David Perry says part of that because of a steady growth in the top brass over the past five years, which leads eventually to more generals and admirals on retirement lists, he says some of the retirements were unexpected.

Canadian Forces College professor Andrea Lane, who studies gender in security, believes there must be ways for victims of military sexual misconduct to come forward and tell their stories.

“There is no mechanism right now for women or other victims to be able to say: ‘You did something to harm me in the past and I would like you to acknowledge it and apologize for it,’” she said.

“The only way for anybody to have any redress is this very punishment-focused military discipline system.”

The federal government reached a settlement agreement in 2019 with survivors of military sexual misconduct who had filed a class-action lawsuit, which provided financial compensation as well as the promise of a yet-to-be-delivered apology and “restorative engagement.”

The details of that restorative engagement have not been spelled out, but they are expected to differ from typical restorative-justice initiatives in that victims will not directly address those who did them harm. They will instead relate their experiences to a senior military leader.

It’s also unclear how that will feed into the broader fight against sexual misconduct in the Armed Forces.

Lane suggested what may be needed is something along the lines of a truth-and-reconciliation commission, which would help air the many grievances that exist within the military and start moving toward healing without senior officers across the board facing charges.

“It could be solved by instituting a parallel restorative justice system for people to be able to come forward and say: ‘Look, you did something bad and you’re now in a position of power. And I don’t think that you should be in a position of power if you can’t accept responsibility for what you did. But at the same time, I don’t think you should be demoted or fired.’”

Military

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

CVRD offices on Ingram Street will remain closed for another 14 weeks after flooding last month. (File photo)
CVRD headquarters closed for another three and a half months

Building significantly damaged during water leak

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks at a press conference Monday, April 18. (B.C. Government image)
New COVID-19 cases tick down on the central Island

New cases held to single digits three days in a row

Victoria police are asking for help locating high-risk missing man Derek Whittaker, last seen in Victoria April 12. (Courtesy of VicPD)
MISSING: Police searching for Derek Whittaker, last seen in Victoria

Whittaker believed to be driving 1994 red Volkswagen Golf

The IIO is investigating after a police dog bit a man during a traffic stop near Ladysmith on April 17, 2021. (Black Press Media stock photo)
IIO investigating after police dog bites man near Ladysmith

RCMP dog bit man during traffic stop on Friday, April 17

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Wickaninnish (Clifford Atleo) plays the drum while singing the Nuu-chah-nulth song on the court steps in Vancouver In a picture from April 2018. Photo credit, Melody Charlie.
Five western Vancouver Island First Nations celebrate legal fishing victory

Court ruling confirms Nuu-chah-nulth fishing rights in case dating back to 2003

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
Island Health seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

VIHA says Ladysmith-area Chakalaka Bar and Grill also violating water and sewer regulations

Most Read