Canada's top general says the Canadian Armed Forces's new sexual misconduct response centre has fielded more than 100 complaints of sexual assault or harassment since it opened in September, resulting in eight investigations.
Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of the defence staff, said the centre has heard from 247 people over the past five months — including 64 allegations of sexual assault and 44 reports of sexual harassment.
Of the 247, 189 were members of the Canadian Forces and the rest were civilians working at the Department of National Defence.
"The fact that people are calling the centre is a tremendous — great — step forward," said Lt.-Gen. Christine Whitecross, the commander of military personnel, calling the centre's creation the first part of the military's efforts to root out harmful and inappropriate sexual misconduct.
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The centre was created in the wake of last year's damning Deschamps report that documented just how "endemic" sexual harassment is in the military.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps found there was a highly "sexualized culture" in the armed forces, and that there was inadequate support for members of the armed forces facing harassment.
Vance could not say whether the number of people using the centre was a high figure because the military does not have "baseline data" to make that sort of comparison.
But Vance said he anticipated people would come forward to access the centre when he launched Operation Honour, the military's response to the Deschamps report, last fall.
The numbers released Monday are higher than previously reported figures for sexual misconduct in the military. For example, the Deschamps report referred to the findings of a parliamentary committee that documented 31 complaints of sexual harassment over a 10-year period ending in 2012.
Vance said the centre's creation was significant in that it offered those who have faced misconduct an additional option — beyond the existing chain of command — to report incidents and find support.
"I'm actually pleased that the numbers have come up because when numbers go up we can actually start to address the problem. We can address the issues that cause them to come forward in the first place. So, I'm happy," Vance said.
Sajjan: Military culture is inclusive
Harjit Sajjan, Canada's defence minister, said Monday he too was "encouraged" that more people were reporting incidents of misconduct.
Sajjan, a former CAF officer who served in Kandahar, also said he thought Vance was the right leader to "stomp out" harassment in the forces.
"Gen. Vance — I've known him for a long time — he does not take anything lightly. The most important thing to him is the welfare of the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces," the minister said.
Vance took over as chief of the defence staff last July, in the wake of the Deschamps report. He said at the time of his investiture that he would tackle the issue of misconduct in the military "very personally and very quickly."
"I have the utmost confidence in him," Sajjan said of the man who was once his superior. "I know how he has increased the morale of the troops on issues like this. I know for a fact he's going to deal with this in a zero tolerance manner."
Vance said Monday the Canadian Armed Forces has also contracted Statistics Canada to conduct a survey in April of all members of the military to better document the scope of the problem. He implored all members to participate in the survey.
"This will take time, but we are determined. My resolve in solving the problem of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour has not waned nor will it. The consequences of not succeeding are simply too dire," Vance said.
"I want it as badly as anybody — to start to see the outcomes of what is resulting from all of these actions."
Sajjan said harassment was not unique to the armed forces, but said those men and women who don the uniform should be held to the highest standard.
"Military culture is very inclusive and that's the message we want to send. Anybody who doesn't actually fit into that, anybody who actually passes that line, well, they will be dealt with."
Female recruitment still lags
Randall Garrison, the NDP's defence critic, said he was pleased by the progress but said the best way to change the military's "sexualized culture" was to recruit more women to its ranks.
"If we're going to change the culture of the military, it's necessary to recommit to the recruitment goal set by the human rights commission," Garrison said. "We know from the experience of [other] institutions in Canada that unless there's a critical mass of women present, we don't change the culture of that institution."
The recruitment goal is to have women represent 25 per cent of all military personnel. The military is well short of that goal as only 14.7% of CAF members are female.
"It has been a challenge," Whitecross conceded Monday when asked about female recruits. "Today, what we're doing, is addressing issues that are keeping people away from the Canadian Armed Forces. We need to create the environment where people feel at ease, they feel respected and they feel trusted."
"One in four is a big number," Whitecross said last July. "There isn't a nation in the world that does it. The NATO average right now is 10 per cent. So, we're over 10 per cent. Is that good enough? No it's not."
The military's top female commander said the CAF was crafting a new program to better recruit women, a program she said would be released later in the spring.
Canadian Forces Progress Report on Sexual Misconduct
Canadian Forces Progress Report on Sexual Misconduct (PDF KB)
Canadian Forces Progress Report on Sexual Misconduct (Text KB)