Canada's military, where sexual misconduct has peaked, seeks a new path

OTTAWA — Several of Canada’s top military officers have been charged with sexual harassment, and the former commander-in-chief pleaded g...

OTTAWA — Several of Canada’s top military officers have been charged with sexual harassment, and the former commander-in-chief pleaded guilty this year to criminal charges related to charges of sexual misconduct while leading the country’s armed forces .

About a quarter of women serving in the Canadian military said they had been sexually assaulted during their military career, according to a government census. And the government has set aside nearly $800 million to settle class actions by current and former service members involving sexual misconduct.

The cascade of sex abuse scandals has shaken faith in the military in Canada, where the government on Monday released an independent review by a former Supreme Court justice aimed at addressing what critics say is a pervasive and systemic problem that persists despite past promises of reform. .

This will be the fourth report to focus on sexual abuse in the Canadian military, where victims say abuse permeates all levels of the forces and they are frequently punished for speaking out.

The magnitude of the problem was set out in a 2015 scathing report, which revealed that the Canadian military had “an underlying sexualized culture” that was hostile to women and lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and queer members.

In the report to be released on Monday, Louise Arbour, a former Supreme Court of Canada justice who was also the United Nations high commissioner for human rights and who led the review, found that attempts at reform of the army following the previous report had failed.

The military, she wrote, “was not ready to fully embrace the paradigm shift needed to produce these changes.”

She added: “Now they have to adjust to a new reality – female warriors are here to stay. And they will stay on their terms, seeking the substantive equality to which they are entitled. Women should no longer feel like guests.

Besides its pervasive nature, perhaps the most striking aspect of sexual abuse in the Canadian military is how it reaches the highest levels.

Seven years ago, Jonathan Vance, shortly after taking office as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, unveiled a sweeping agenda to address chronic sexual assault and harassment and pledged to tackle to a problem he called a “threat to this institution”.

But shortly after his retirement, he himself was caught up in such a scandal. Kellie Brennan, a former army major, said in an interview with Global News, a Canadian broadcaster, that she had a sexual relationship with Mr Vance for several years, including while under his command.

Ms Brennan later testified before a parliamentary committee that Mr Vance fathered two of her children.

In April, Mr. Vance, who led troops in Canada’s last major combat mission in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty for obstruction of justice after being charged with trying to persuade Ms Brennan to lie to investigators.

It didn’t stop there.

Shortly after succeeding Mr. Vance as Supreme Commander of the Army, Adm. Art McDonald has been suspended last year after military police opened an investigation into unspecified charges. The army did not reveal the results of the investigation, but he was not reappointed as head of the army and he retired.

Several other senior officers also face charges or are under investigation, including Vice Admiral Haydn Edmundson, who as head of human resources was among those responsible for eliminating misconduct. sex in the military. He was charged last December with sexual assault and indecent acts. The case will be heard in civil criminal court and Mr Edmundson has denied any wrongdoing.

Phillip Millar, a former infantry officer and lawyer who has represented both victims and officers accused of sexual harassment and assault, said he has long been frustrated with the military’s tendency to deal with cases as isolated examples of wrongdoing.

Mr Millar has sued on behalf of seven victims who accused a former non-commissioned officer of using his position as a nurse to sexually assault women at recruitment centres. In three separate criminal trials, the man was found guilty of 12 counts of sexual assault and 25 counts of breach of trust.

“What I want to know is what happened to the person in charge and who received the first or second complaint?” said Mr. Millar. “Why was this person not fired? »

The lack of an institutional approach to the problem has sparked mistrust among many Canadians, said Stefanie von Hlatky, a political studies professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

“This crisis has really changed the way Canadians view the military,” said Professor von Hlatky. “There’s a sense of urgency that they need to rebuild trust, not just because they’re recovering from a crisis, but because they have huge recruiting and retention goals.”

Ms Arbor’s review, which spans more than 400 pages, sets out 48 recommendations, including hiring an external monitor to oversee their implementation and report regularly publicly on the Army’s progress .

Recommendations include turning sexual assaults to the civilian criminal justice system for investigation and prosecution, which the government has already decided to do, and to consider providing undergraduate training for officer recruits through the regular university system rather than the elite military colleges in Kingston, Ontario and Saint-Jean, Quebec.

“Military colleges appear like institutions from another era, with an outdated and problematic model of leadership,” Ms. Arbor wrote. “The benefits of Canada’s significant investment in military colleges are unclear.

Other proposals include systems to review and increase the number of non-white women and men who are promoted and outsource recruiting to civilians to “increase the skill level of recruiters.” It also suggests a number of options to ensure that misconduct is tracked and considered in staff evaluations.

According to Maya Eichler, associate professor of political and Canadian studies and women’s studies at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, one of the keys to successfully changing the military will be a transformation of the military concept of the ideal soldier.

“It’s always been straight male, white male, everything in the military is based on that idea,” she said. “We assumed that women can come into this system, that LGBTQ people can come in, as well as racialized members, and that they all have to fit into this standard of who a soldier is. It doesn’t work because the responsibility was put on all those individuals to change, but the institution didn’t change.

Although past reports of the military and sexual abuse have done little to change the situation, Professor von Hlatky said she was optimistic Monday’s review would lead to concrete changes.

Several recent changes may make it difficult to ignore the report, including new appointments to the army’s highest command and the selection of Anita Anand as defense minister late last year by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who gave him the mandate to promote a top-to-bottom review.

“I’m hopeful for change but, at the same time, is it possible to completely eradicate sexual misconduct in an organization?” said Professor von Hlatky. “The expectation of perfect conduct in an organization is probably unrealistic.”

Vjosa Isai contributed to the research.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Canada's military, where sexual misconduct has peaked, seeks a new path
Canada's military, where sexual misconduct has peaked, seeks a new path
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