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

Traffic was tied up at the intersection of Scott and Old Yale Roads in North Surrey on Tuesday afternoon, after a semi truck hauling a load of pipes flipped while making a turn. (Shane MacKichan photos)
VIDEO: Semi hauling load of pipes flips in North Surrey intersection

Traffic near Scott and Old Yale Roads tied up by Tuesday afternoon incident

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Tens of thousands of farmers descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Delta council stands in solidarity with protesting Indian farmers

Farmers have been protesting for months new laws they say leave them open to corporate exploitation

Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions (Screen shot)
Minister of mental health tells Surrey audience COVID-19 ‘has made everything worse’

More than 23,000 people in B.C. are receiving medication to treat opioid addiction

Alex Sangha, Vinay Giridhar, Jaspal Sangha and Kayden Bhangu (clockwise from top) are involved in making “Emergence: Out of the Shadows,” a documentary movie about being gay or lesbian in the South Asian community of Metro Vancouver. (Submitted photo)
Sher Vancouver, Delta School District receiving $10,000 in anti-racism funding

Provincial grants for 192 projects addressing anti-Indigenous, anti-Asian and anti-Black racism

Surrey city council chambers. (File photo)
Surrey drugstores seeking relaxation of spacing rules ‘a challenge,’ councillor says

‘Obviously we need pharmacies but it seems to me that we are getting an awful lot of applications,’ Brenda Locke says

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

In a 2019 photograph, Yin Yin Din held a picture of her brother Kyaw Naing Din, 54, and her late father Hla Din who passed away in 2014, during a trip to Victoria. (The News files)
Family of B.C. man killed by cop appeals to Attorney General for help

The Din family want B.C. Attorney General David Eby to forward their case to Crown

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Of 46 arrests made between March 16 and 19 at Metrotown mall in Burnaby, 27 suspected shoplifters are now facing charges. (Twitter/Burnaby RCMP)
RCMP arrest 46 people in 4 days during Metrotown shoplifting crackdown

$4,800 in stolen merchandise was recovered and returned to businesses inside of the mall

Maple Ridge's Doug Ubell caught some photographs recently that he was anxious to share, one taken while on the Trans-Canada Trail looking southwest towards the Pitt River Bridge, and another from on Golden Ears Bridge. (Special to The News)
Traffic on Golden Ears Bridge returning to pre-pandemic levels

Commuters from Greater Vancouver still driving more, taking transit less

Kao Macaulay has been charged in relation to a home break-in on March 30 in Abbotsford in which five kittens were stolen. (Facebook photo)
‘Prolific offender’ charged with theft of 5 newborn kittens in Abbotsford

Kao Macaulay, 23, is accused of breaking into home on March 30

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Most Read