Canada is putting women generals into some of its most senior military posts, including one to run logistics for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, following a series of sexual misconduct allegations levied against top male officers over the last three months.
Global News first reported on allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces on Feb. 2 and since then, multiple victims and survivors have come forward to share their stories publicly. That reporting sparked two parliamentary committee probes that have heard repeated complaints that the military has not done enough to address sexual misconduct since a landmark 2015 report.
Adm. Art McDonald lasted barely six weeks in the job of chief of the defence staff, Canada’s top soldier, before stepping down in February for what was later revealed to be a sexual misconduct allegation.
He has declined to comment on the case due to the ongoing investigation.
His predecessor, Gen. Jonathan Vance, is being probed over complaints about inappropriate behavior with two female subordinates first reported on by Global News.
Vance denies any inappropriate behaviour.
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Late on Friday, the Department of National Defence announced Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who was running the vaccine rollout, had stepped aside pending a probe. Global News has confirmed the investigation relates to an allegation of sexual misconduct, which Fortin’s lawyer says he “vigorously” denies.
The probes have led to questions for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a self-avowed feminist, ahead of an election that aides told Reuters is likely to be called this year.
The opposition Conservative Party accuses Ottawa of acting too slowly and covering up allegations.
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On Monday, Fortin was replaced by Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, who health officials said had already played a pivotal role in the vaccine rollout.
In March, Gen. Mike Rouleau, vice-chief of the defence staff, was replaced by Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen, the first woman to hold the job.
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On Friday, the military also announced promotions for three female generals.
“Part of this is trying to demonstrate that the Canadian Armed Forces is a place where women can fully serve,” said David Perry, defence analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute think tank, “that no matter what your background is, you do have a chance to succeed.”
The office of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan did not respond to a request for comment.
Data shows that as of May 7, women made up just 10 per cent of the top military and naval ranks.
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Last month, Ottawa put newly promoted Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan in charge of a team addressing systemic misconduct inside the military. It also asked former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour to lead a probe into military harassment and sexual misconduct.
This came too late for a senior female officer who quit in March, sickened by the allegations.
“I am not encouraged that we are ‘investigating our top officers’. I am disgusted that it has taken us so long to do so,” Lt.-Col. Eleanor Taylor wrote in a resignation letter obtained by Global News.
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Former officer Leah West welcomed the Arbour probe but said the 2015 report had already revealed the size of the problem. West said she was assaulted in 2008 by a senior officer but found no support from her immediate superior and ended up staying silent.
“Despite years of clear evidence that sexual misconduct is rampant in our military’s culture, nothing has changed,” she wrote in The Globe and Mail this month.
Perry said the system had clearly failed, noting some allegations stretched back decades.
“What we’ve seen over these past months is that there is a … culture of unacceptable actions in the military that have gone on for far too long,” Trudeau said on Tuesday.
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