The Canadian Armed Forces neither treats nor values men and women in the same way — and that needs to change, experts told the parliamentary committee probing sexual misconduct in the military.
Witnesses, including the new head of the military’s efforts to address sexual misconduct within its ranks, told the House of Commons status of women committee on Tuesday that a big part of the work to solve the problem needs to start by making sure the rules apply to everyone.
“We have to make sure that the same rules apply to everybody and this is part of the work we will be doing,” Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan told the committee.
Carignan was named on April 29 as the new chief of professional conduct and culture, tasked with heading up a new internal organization that will implement the changes soon to be recommended by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour in an external review into the military’s culture.
Carignan told the committee she learned she was being tapped for the role at the end of March.
That’s nearly two months after Global News first reported on allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian military on Feb. 2.
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Since that reporting, multiple current and former female members have spoken out to share their stories of trying to get justice for sexual misconduct. As part of that, they’ve highlighted what they say amounts to a double standard in how allegations against senior leaders and lower-ranked members are handled.
That also extends to different standards for behaviour by men and women, one witness said.
“My experience is an extreme example of the double standard women in uniform face every day,” said Leah West, who formerly served as an armoured officer in the Canadian Forces and is now an assistant professor focusing on national security law at Carleton University.
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West has previously spoken of her experience being sexually assaulted by someone she has described as her superior officer while serving and said that like so many others, she did not pursue an investigation out of concerns about the effect doing so could have on her military career.
She told the committee that while her assault was not pursued for investigation, she was later punished for having a consensual sexual relationship while deployed — which is against the rules — and denied further opportunities to advance in the military.
West said in addition to the urgent need for an independent reporting mechanism for sexual misconduct, any efforts to solve the problem also need to target how the military trains future leaders, describing the Royal Military College of Canada as a “breeding ground” for toxic behaviour.
Data from Statistics Canada clearly backs that up and has documented extensively that Canadian military colleges — both the Royal Military College of Canada and the Royal Military College Saint-Jean — have a sexual misconduct problem.
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Carignan said it’s clear military training so far is not working.
“That training is not actually achieving the aim of reducing misconduct in any type of way,” she said, adding that the first step of rolling out new guidelines for behaviour from leaders will come within weeks.
West said the responses from those in the military to the recent allegations have been markedly different compared to how the military responded to the 2015 landmark report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, which documented sexual misconduct as “endemic” throughout the military.
“I powerfully believe in the CAF’s capacity to change because I know so many of the strong leaders that are still there that take this issue extremely seriously,” she said.
“The response to these allegations, to testimony like my own, has gotten far different responses from men and women in uniform than the Deschamps report in 2015.
“The senior leadership has now accepted the issue as a legitimate issue and are putting forward real steps to change in a way that was not even possible three months ago.”
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