News / Canada

Canada's new top soldier calls summit on sexual misconduct

OTTAWA - A summit for military brass will be held next month to determine the path forward to eradicate sexual assault and harassment in the Canadian Forces, Canada's newly-minted top general said Thursday.

In a memo to all members of the Canadian Forces, Gen. Jonathan Vance said there will be other announcements in the near future to lay out how the military will reform the way it handles sexual misconduct.

In the meantime, Vance is urging victims to call 911 or go through existing channels.

"This is a serious matter," he said. "Whether you are a leader, a subordinate or a peer, any form of harmful sexual behaviour undermines who we are, is a threat to morale, is a threat to operational readiness and is a threat to this institution. It stops now."

Vance said he knows individual commanders are taking action but their efforts need to be co-ordinated.

He likened the approach to a formal military operation and named it Operation Honour as result.

"The CAF (Canadian Armed Forces) have never failed on operations in the past, and we shall not fail now," Vance said.

Vance also made a commitment to support victims.

"We must ensure it does not happen again, and we will all respond to the need for change to ensure that respect and honour, cornerstones of our culture, are consistently upheld," he said. "I will lead you through this change.

"Predators and bullies who act contrary to the betterment and well-being of any in our ranks are neither useful in operations nor in garrison and are not welcome."

Academic researcher Ashley Bickerton, who penned her doctoral thesis on sex scandals and militarized masculinity and sexual violence, said targeting "bullies" is problematic because it does not address a systemic issue within the ranks.

"It is not possible to cull out the bad apples because, of course, the barrel is rotten," she said. "It is not a quick solution ... and the military has proven themselves not equipped for this operation."

Bickerton said the military should rely on external experts to help direct change.

In her damning report released this spring, former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps indicated sexual misconduct is "endemic" in the Canadian military and suggested leadership tolerated abuse.

Deschamps' report made 10 recommendations, which Vance has committed to implementing quickly.

Her findings also reinforced it is not enough for the military to "simply reiterate the mantra of zero tolerance."

"There is an underlying sexualized culture in the CAF that is hostile to women and LGTBQ members and conducive to more serious incidents of sexual harassment and assault," the report said.

Rather, Deschamps found there must be a "multi-faceted effort" to embrace cultural change.

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