Toronto Star's View: New defence chief should set...
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Jul 21, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: New defence chief should set independent office to fight sexual misconduct

Gen. Jonathan Vance has promised to stamp out misogyny in the Canadian Armed Forces. The proof of his commitment will whether he implements recommendations in a report by former Justice Marie Deschamps


The first order from Canada’s new Chief of the Defence Staff should be heartening to the 10,000 female members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

At his swearing-in ceremony, Gen. Jonathan Vance made it clear he will not tolerate sexual misconduct in the military. “As my first order to the Canadian Armed Forces, everybody must continue to work together to eliminate this harmful behaviour,” he said. “It must stop now.”

The general’s clear, forceful remarks are most welcome. But the proof of his commitment will be not in his words, but in his actions.

Most important will be whether he implements the 10 recommendations made by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps last April in a report on how to stamp out the widespread misogyny and sexism that permeate the armed forces.

Key among them was her call to set up an independent office outside of the forces to take complaints of sexual misconduct, as well as lead prevention efforts.

Concerns were first raised last May on whether the military would implement that recommendation. A directive from Vance’s predecessor, Gen. Tom Lawson, came to light in which he said “the current sexual misconduct investigation and justice system authorities will remain unchanged.”

At the time, Lawson said his remarks were misunderstood. He said they were in reference to a newly established strategic task force led by Maj.-Gen. Christine Whitecross, which was set up to figure out how to implement the 10 recommendations.

Uncertainty about the military’s commitment to change was heightened again in June when Lawson appeared to excuse sexual misconduct, saying in a TV interview that some male soldiers are “biologically wired in a certain way” that makes inappropriate behaviour acceptable to them.

Now, finally, a new tone is being set at the top, and Vance is not alone in promising change. Earlier this month the new commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Lt.-Gen. Michael Hood, also used his swearing-in ceremony to say sexual harassment would not be tolerated on his watch.

That said, there have been widespread complaints of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military for decades — and many broken promises that it would not be tolerated. That could be because, as Deschamps pointed out, there is a broadly held perception that “those in the chain of command either condone inappropriate sexual conduct or are willing to turn a blind eye to such incidents.”

That’s why Gen. Vance’s best, if not only, hope of stamping out the pervasive misogyny in the armed forces is through an independent office. If his first order was to eliminate sexual misconduct, his first act should be to establish an independent complaints office.

Toronto Star

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