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editorial

Chief of Defence Staff General Tom Lawson listens as former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps speaks during a news conference upon the release of a report on sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces on Thursday.Chris Wattie/Reuters

It's not a surprise to learn there is sexism in the Canadian Armed Forces. No one ever expected the military to be a shining light in the battle for gender equality. But it should have at least tried.

A new report into sexual harassment and misconduct in the CAF says the worst sorts of degrading behaviours are tolerated up to the highest levels of command. Women and LGTBQ members are subjected to a "hostile" environment that is conducive to serious abuse such as date rape, inappropriate relationships with higher-ranking members and enforced silence.

The report said that senior command is "responsible for imposing a culture where no one speaks up and which functions to deter victims from reporting sexual misconduct." Some senior officers are so clueless that they "are genuinely unaware of the extent of the inappropriate sexual conduct that is occurring…, the harm to individual members, and the damage to the CAF as a whole."

The CAF is basically a Petri dish that takes the standard-issue sexism of men placed together in the camaraderie of military life and breeds it into a toxic culture that contaminates the entire service.

This is a failure of leadership. General Tom Lawson, the Chief of the Defence Staff, has acknowledged as much. "Exemplary conduct is part of the Canadian Armed Forces members' obligation to serve," he said. "We cannot accept anything less, and I will not accept anything less."

If that's true, then Gen. Lawson should discipline or demote those in command who have allowed this to happen. It's doubtful he or his successor will take drastic action, though.

The bigger, unspoken question is whether the CAF is truly committed to being integrated. Women have only been allowed to serve in all military roles since 1989. Under quotas set by federal law, they are supposed to make up 25.1 per cent of full-time military personnel and reservists. They are still below 15 per cent, partly because the military brass has always felt the quota was unrealistic, and partly because the government considers filling the quota a "long-term" goal.

What does "long-term" mean? At this rate, and in these conditions, it means "never." Given the facts laid out in this report, it is fair to ask whether the CAF ever actually had the intention of becoming a properly integrated force.