Sally Goddard lives in Charlottetown.
The report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps on sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces has caused me to remember a story told to me by my daughter, Nichola Goddard, who was killed nine years ago this month, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
She was the first female soldier killed in combat in Canadian history. She was also the first Canadian artillery officer to call in support fire against an enemy since the Korean war. Her life and her death have raised many questions about women in the military for both our family and the country at large.
In her second year at the Royal Military College, Nichola and I had a conversation about change. She felt that it was difficult for women to bring about change in a predominately male society. We talked about whether you had to be inside an organization to bring about change or whether you could do it from the outside looking in. Nichola realized where the change had to come from – and was willing to fight for it when necessary. She did not stand idly by when things were amiss.
At one point, she was training in Gagetown, New Brunswick, and faced an exercise where soldiers must walk a distance carrying either a heavy bag or a lighter 'girlie' bag, as the training sergeant called it. Nichola became concerned because everyone went for the heavier bag, even those whose physique, male or female, meant that they could hurt themselves. No one wanted to be caught carrying the 'girlie' bag. Nichola suggested to the sergeant that he rename the bag, explaining her reasons. He immediately complied with her request.
At the end of the course, the sergeant thanked Nichola. He said he had told his wife that he would probably be asked to leave the military because of the 'girlie' bag incident. He had presumed that Nichola would report it to his higher-ups, but Nichola had not continued up the chain because she felt that that the issue had been resolved.
I don't want to say that there are no issues of harassment or sexism in the military. The report shows that there are plenty. But it also shows that they can be resolved, that most people are sensible and willing to change, and that not everyone is silent or afraid.
Sometimes you do need to go all the way up the chain. On another occasion, two men under Nichola's command asked her to marry them. The language used for marriage services in the military handbook was decidedly heterosexual in nature. She took the matter up the chain of command to change the order of service to reflect the inclusive nature of Canadian society and the full scope of legal marriage. The military responded and the language was changed.
Nichola's biographer, Valerie Fortney, once said that "Nichola was a woman in a man's world. She didn't just transcend the gender divide, she also turned our stereotypes of soldiers on their ear." I don't believe that Nichola was the exception in the Canadian military. Over the years, her father and I have met many of her military colleagues, both male and female. To a person, they represent all that is good and fair and just. In all professions, there are bullies, sexists, and abusers as well as people who should know better but don't. Surely, one of life's skills is knowing how to deal with them.
I am concerned that people reading the report will get a lopsided view of women in the military. In 2003, Nichola came to my Grade 9 class to talk to the students about her life in the military. They wrote to her afterwards and asked her some questions. One of them was: "Are there a lot of women in the army?" Her reply is worth recalling.
"The short answer is no. The long answer is that there are some, and there are more and more every day. It is definitely not the right lifestyle for everyone, men or women, but I really don't believe that gender has anything to do with whether you can be a good soldier. I've worked with women who have been five-foot-three and 100 pounds, and carried far more for far longer than guys who were six feet and and 200 pounds… so much of what makes you a good soldier is your attitude and heart. And how good a shot you are with your rifle, I guess."
Let's remember that there's always more to the story.