Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Commodore Josee Kurtz acknowledged the college will need to play its part in changing the military’s culture, and said she will no doubt order some changes once she gets a better handle on the institution.

Mike Dembeck/The Canadian Press

Commodore Josée Kurtz may be bringing an outsider’s perspective as the first woman to command the Royal Military College of Canada, but she says she has no immediate plans for radical changes to the institution.

Cmdre. Kurtz was formally sworn into her new role last week, becoming both the first woman to lead the 145-year-old RMC and one of the few commandants who did not study at the college, which is responsible for producing the majority of the military’s officers.

Her arrival coincides with the Canadian Armed Forces’ latest reckoning with sexual misconduct in the ranks, notably its handling of allegations that some top officers engaged in inappropriate – and in some cases criminal – behaviour.

Story continues below advertisement

Many of those officers are RMC graduates, which has prompted fresh questions about the role the college has played in contributing to what numerous experts and reviews have described as a highly sexualized culture in which leaders protect each other.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Cmdre. Kurtz expressed her hope that her appointment would show others they can have a successful military career and rise through the ranks no matter their backgrounds.

From Joliette, Que., Cmdre. Kurtz was the first woman to command a major Canadian warship when she was named captain of HMCS Halifax in 2009. She later became the first woman to lead a NATO fleet in 2019.

As for what her appointment means for RMC, “my experience probably brings a different lens, a different way of looking at issues and problems that could be a positive asset to the college,” she said.

Cmdre. Kurtz acknowledged the college will need to play its part in changing the military’s culture, and said she will no doubt order some changes once she gets a better handle on the institution.

“We are engaging in a rescope or change of our culture that’s going to take time and sustained effort, and RMC is going to have to be part of that,” she said. “We’re going to have to implement some changes that are necessary.”

The new commandant will also be working with the military’s new officer responsible for leading culture change, Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan, and watching to see what recommendations come out of retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour’s continuing review.

Story continues below advertisement

But Cmdre. Kurtz also said the college has successfully produced generations of officers for Canada, many of whom have moved on to successful careers after the military, and that she has no plans to make sweeping changes right off the bat.

“RMC is doing a great job of delivering on its mission,” she said.

And for anyone who thought she would bring “sweeping changes” because she is a woman and not an RMC graduate, “I don’t think that’s the point. I was appointed to RMC because my chain of command trusted in my background, my experience and in my leadership.”

Military leaders have in the past played down the need for significant reforms to the military college, particularly when it comes to sexual misconduct. The most recent example was in 2016-17, when then-defence chief Jonathan Vance ordered a review of the institution.

Mr. Vance, who stepped down as chief of the defence staff in January and retired from the armed forces in April, is currently under military investigation for alleged sexual misconduct. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The review by a panel of retired senior officers was focused primarily on students’ mental health after a series of suicides at the college. The panel said it did not find evidence of rampant sexual misconduct.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Vance at the time told The Canadian Press the findings reflected his own assessment given a lack of police reports and other indicators, saying: “I would know if there was a trend. If there was a serious problem there, we would know.”

Those findings contradicted retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps’s report in 2015 that sexual harassment was considered a rite of passage at the institution and sexual assault was an “ever-present risk.”

A Statistics Canada survey released last year also undercut suggestions all was well at RMC and its French-language counterpart in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., with 68 per cent of students saying they had witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviour.

Fifteen per cent of female officer cadets reported having been sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months.

Carleton University professor Leah West described RMC as a “breeding ground” for such behaviour as she testified to a parliamentary committee in May about her own traumatic experiences as a military officer.

Some faculty have quietly wondered whether Cmdre. Kurtz, as an outsider, will be able to bring real change.

Story continues below advertisement

Asked about such concerns, Cmdre. Kurtz spoke about both her collaborative approach and ability to make tough decisions, adding: “Give me a chance to show you my experience, my background, how I look at things. And let’s have a conversation about that.”

As for what she would tell prospective students and their parents: “RMC is a strong institution that delivers strong leadership and children who have a desire to join would be welcome and be part of the culture, the new culture that we’re trying to implement.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies