The Canadian Armed Forces are dealing with a sharp increase in complaints of inappropriate sexual behaviour as they implement a new system that aims to eradicate misconduct and harassment in the military.
Senior military officials said the 22-per-cent increase in “founded” complaints of sexual misconduct this year confirms that they have made it easier for victims to come forward to military or civilian authorities. At the same time, they acknowledged that they still have much work to do to root out problems with the “military culture” that were identified in a scathing report released last year.
“I expect to see the number of reports [of sexual misconduct] rise before they fall,” said Lieutenant-General Michael Hood, head of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
General Jonathan Vance, the Chief of the Defence Staff, added at a news conference on Tuesday alongside his top officers: “At this juncture, it is appropriate to remain skeptical. We have to earn the trust, earn the respect, from those who are victims now or who feel that they could be victimized.”
The Canadian Forces launched a major overhaul of their procedures to deal with misconduct after a report found that the military was marred by a “sexualized culture” that disproportionately affected lower-ranking female members. Written by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Marie Deschamps, the report noted that a majority of the victims of sexual misconduct failed to report the wrongdoing.
Ms. Deschamps found that women routinely suffered from degrading expressions, sexual jokes and unwelcome touching – a situation that led to abuses in a number of circumstances, including date rape and inappropriate relationships between males and females of differing ranks.
The report, as well as the military’s efforts to address the problems under the name of “Operation Honour,” seems to have prompted more victims to come forward.
In 2015, the Canadian Forces identified 174 founded complaints of sexual offences. In the first six months of this year, that number hit 106 complaints that were investigated and found to be true – an increase of 22 per cent on an annualized basis.
Gen. Vance said that since January, six members of the Canadian Forces have been convicted of sexual misconduct offences, and 24 have been subject to “severe” administrative discipline.
“We have put people on strict and formal probation, we’ve removed people from command positions and we’ve dismissed people from the Canadian Armed Forces,” Gen. Vance said. “An environment that encourages reporting improves the likelihood that action will be taken and ultimately contributes to the cultural change that we want and need.”
The military has called on Statistics Canada to survey 40,000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces on their personal experiences with sexual misconduct. Gen. Vance predicted that when the results are published later this year, they will be “sobering.”
Training across the military has been ongoing for more than a year, with a particular effort at this point on making sure that witnesses to sexual misconduct now know how to react.
The Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, which operates outside the military chain of command, is now up and running, with longer office hours to deal confidentially with victims of misconduct. The SMRC dealt with calls and e-mails from 204 military personnel over the first six months of this year, leading to the launch of 18 criminal investigations.
“If there is one thing that has been difficult in our work in the last little while, it’s definitely [enacting] that culture change and [impressing] upon people the importance of understanding the impact of their actions ... to people that are around them,” said Lieutenant-General Chris Whitecross, commander of the military personnel command.Report Typo/Error