Nova Scotia

Combating 'endemic' sexual misconduct in the military no easy task

Targeting "endemic" sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces is no easy task but one the military is committed to snuffing it out, says commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic.

'There are certain things that are just simply out of bounds to how you carry on'

Military police are investigating an allegation of voyeurism on board HMCS Montréal while it was deployed this fall. (Department of National Defence/Canadian Armed Forces)

The Canadian Armed Forces is now five months into a program targeting inappropriate sexual behaviour in the military, after allegations of "endemic" sexual misconduct came to light last year. 

Former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps released a scathing report last spring that found in the military a "frequent use of swear words and highly degrading expressions that reference women's bodies, sexual jokes, innuendos, discriminatory comments with respect to the abilities of women, and unwelcome sexual touching."

'To make something funny, but at the expense of somebody else, to disrespect somebody, is just not the way we're going to behave and it's not what we're accepting,' said Rear Admiral John Newton, commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic. (CBC)

In August, the Canadian Armed Forces launched Operation Honour with the mission to "eliminate harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour."

However, the task doesn't have an easy solution. 

In the last month, stories have emerged of an alleged sexual assault on board HMCS Athabaskan, and a male crew member allegedly recording a female crewmate as she lay in her bed on HMCS Montréal.

Rear Admiral John Newton, commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic, said changing a long-established culture around sex in the military has begun with open discussions. 

"It's been a two-way dialogue talking about respect, it's been an engagement talking about listening to victims, and it's been an engagement telling our people that there's an open climate for telling their stories of ... alleged harassment, right up to sexual assault," he told CBC's Information Morning.

Encouraging more women to join

Increasing the number of women across all ranks in the military is another way to change what Deschamps called a pervasive macho culture in the armed forces. 

Newton said the Canadian Armed Forces is aiming to have 20 per cent women in its ranks. Right now there is an average of 10 per cent women in the military, with some trades having up to 50 per cent. 

"But they are coming and we're recruiting specifically to encourage women to join all the trades," said Newton.

But how does one go about changing this so-called "endemic" culture of sexual misconduct?

"Well it's the same way you go about changing a young person who joins out of university or joins from high school," said Newton. 

"You have to socialize people into a military culture and in our culture we have a code of conduct, we have ethical standards and we have a beautiful training system."  

Change requires strong leadership

He said developing leadership develops discipline. 

"Leadership demands that you have these discussions — not about how you behave yourself but about how you demand others to behave and how you hold them to standard, how you don't accept certain ways of conducting yourself on the decks of a ship … and you slowly turn the wheel of change by engaging your people," said Newton.

"I'd say it's about a five-year journey to socialize a young sailor … into the military code of conduct."

Newton said the military is not going to tolerate the type of behaviour outlined in Deschamps's report.
"There are certain things that are just simply out of bounds to how you carry on, to how you interact as people," he said. 


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