Gen. Jonathan Vance says military 'blind to or tone-deaf to' sexual misconduct

In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Canada's new chief of the defence staff says he's assuming full responsibility for the institutional failure of the Canadian military to address sexual misconduct within its ranks.

New chief of the defence staff says he'll assume full responsibility for institutional failure

Gen. Vance: Military has been 'blind or tone-deaf' on harassment

7 years ago
Duration 0:50
In a one-on-one interview with CBC News, Gen. Jonathan Vance, the new chief of the defence staff, says fear of abuse or harassment 'degrades' the military.

Canada's new chief of the defence staff says he's assuming full responsibility for the institutional failure of the Canadian Armed Forces to address sexual misconduct within its ranks, conceding the military has been "blind to or tone-deaf to" the suffering of victims under its command.

Gen. Jonathan Vance initiated "Operation Honour" less than a week after taking over the Armed Forces, in an apparent move to set himself apart from his predecessors, who were grappling with a special investigation into sexual assault and harassment in the military following multiple complaints of misconduct over the years.

"In this case we have an important ... failing in our institution, that we have been blind to or tone-deaf to the pain and the suffering, and the damage it has caused inside our ranks," Vance said in an exclusive interview with CBC News on Friday.

Vance said the fact people have had to go "to work with that feeling in the pit of their stomach that they're going to be abused or disrespected" is tragic and "degrades the force."

"The buck does stop here. I am the leader of the Armed Forces and it's a leadership issue," Vance told CBC's James Cudmore.

The report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps found that sexual misconduct was "endemic" and tolerated by the highest ranks of the military.

"I have seen ... and I trust the results of the Deschamps report,"Vance said Friday.

Lt.-Gen. Chris Whitecross, the Canadian military's highest-ranking woman, was put in charge of looking into the report's recommendations.

'I can affect behaviour'

Vance said he intends to move quickly in implementing all 10 recommendations stemming from Deschamp's report, beginning with the creation of an independent centre where victims can seek support and advice.

"Cultural change will happen with a variety of support structures to it," Vance said on Friday. "An independent centre which I will direct, to be stood up as soon as we possibly can and as effectively as we can."

"I can affect behaviour and over time changed behaviour starts to be inculcated in cultural change."

Vance has ordered the senior ranks of the military to attend a one-day seminar in Ottawa at the end of August.

"All the leadership of the Armed Forces will be engaged in this. I'm going to bring in all commanders ... into Ottawa to make certain that people understand this is a leadership issue."

His predecessor, Gen. Tom Lawson, fed into the perception of indifference in the military by attributing sexual harassment to the "biological wiring" of soldiers — comments he quickly apologized for.

Vance downplayed the impact of Lawson's comments saying, "I think that what Gen. Lawson has given me through the excellent work that he did with [Lt.-Gen.] Whitecross was to establish a framework upon which I can move out from here."

"I'm all about the future."