Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Canadian Armed Forces Operation IMPACT members stand on parade for a Remembrance Day ceremony held at Camp Canada, Ali Al Salem Airbase, Kuwait on Nov. 11, 2019.

Corporal Ryan Moulton/Canadian Armed Forces

Steve Lukits teaches in the department of English, culture, and communication at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont.

As Canadians’ disgust grows with new and almost daily revelations of sexism in the Canadian Armed Forces, Kate Armstrong’s 2019 book, The Stone Frigate: The Royal Military College’s First Female Cadet Speaks Out, gives insight into the origins of the crisis – and offers some hope that it may be overcome.

That hope comes from the first-year officer cadets – the future leaders of the CAF – I teach in my English classes at RMC. Since its publication two years ago, I have been reading and talking with these students about Ms. Armstrong’s book. The 18-year-old women and men in my classes are shocked at the sexualized behaviour, harassment and abuse Ms. Armstrong suffered from the male cadets – men who are of the same generation as the former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance, who is now being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct.

Story continues below advertisement

The book’s events, which took place between 1980 to 1984, when Ms. Armstrong was at RMC, have for my students become reality as Mr. Vance, his replacement and other senior officers face allegations of sexual misconduct. The situation has been compounded by the abject failure of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to act when he first heard about Mr. Vance’s alleged misconduct.

The most telling incident from the book that we talk about is when Ms. Armstrong finds out that the senior fourth-year students have made a bet among themselves about who can have sex with the most first-year women. A fourth-year cadet warns Ms. Armstrong to be careful because she is an attractive woman.

While my students commend the senior cadet for this warning, they also confront an ethical problem that they realize is at the heart of the current crisis in the CAF. Why didn’t the cadet who warned Ms. Armstrong not protest and tell his cadet peers that what they were doing was wrong?

In a rigidly hierarchical military culture, where the rule is teamwork and a deep reluctance to question or contradict the group and those who outrank you, it is very difficult for the individual military member to stand up against such forces for what is right. Some of my students reject such open opposition: fix the system from the inside, they argue. Why risk being ostracized by the group or even risk your career by speaking out?

Other cadets say that remaining quiet in the face of unethical conduct just perpetuates what is clearly wrong. The quiet in the class that follows this argument suggests that this is a tough situation to be in, even for these young people who are brand new to the military culture of compliance.

We also talk about masculinity, a sensitive topic when 80 per cent of my first-year students are men. The Canadian military – even with women in the ranks, including in combat arms, the last male holdout – is a ready place to enforce traditional gender stereotypes, for young men especially.

Yet it is the young men in my classes, and past male graduates of RMC who also received their commissions as officers, who must change the sexualized culture of the CAF. It will be these men’s public individual acts of ethical leadership, perhaps quietly witnessed by all ranks, that will begin to overcome sexism and other discrimination in the CAF, and not the top-down, bureaucratic programs, like the failed Operation Honour, or another study by a female Supreme Court justice (who is certain to find the well-known problems), that will begin to heal the CAF.

Story continues below advertisement

As we talk about Ms. Armstrong’s book and its warnings about sexism, my students’ thinking is energized by a special guest to our class, RMC’s commandant, Brigadier-General Sébastien Bouchard. Reflecting on Ms. Armstrong’s book, Brig.-Gen. Bouchard asks the officer cadets how they will want to be remembered. He also asks how he will be remembered by cadets 40 years from now.

And it is not an idle question. Ms. Armstrong writes about a sexist and physically abusive senior cadet who wanted to meet with her at her class reunion in 2014. He admits to her: “I should have stood up for you at RMC, for all the women. I feel like I need to apologize for my entire class. We were weak… The bet sums up my class.”

My students tell me that sexualized contests still happen among officer cadets at RMC. I hope that reading and talking and thinking about Ms. Armstrong’s book will encourage some of the men to stop such despicable conduct, so that they will be remembered for doing what is right and changing the CAF for the better.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. 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 If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

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 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 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