Gen. Jonathan Vance says sexual harassment 'stops now'

Canada's top general has issued his first order in an all-staff memo to military brass today initiating "Operation Honour" in an effort to end a culture of sexual assault and harassment in the military.

Canadian military's new top commander initiates 'Operation Honour' to end sexual misconduct

New Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance has classified the military's problem with sexual harassment and assault as 'a threat to morale.' (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada's top general has issued his first order in an all-staff memo to military brass initiating "Operation Honour" in an effort to end sexual assault and harassment in the military.

"Whether you are a leader, a subordinate or a peer, any form of harmful sexual behaviour undermines who we are, is a threat to morale, is a threat to operational readiness and is a threat to this institution. It stops now," said Gen. Jonathan Vance, new chief of the defence staff, in a written memo.

"Consider this my first order to all members of the (Canadian Armed Forces)."

Vance, who took over the reins of the military last Friday, quickly made good on his promise to address the problem, which he classified as "a threat to this institution."

"Any form of harmful sexual behaviour has been and always will be absolutely contrary to good order and discipline," Vance said in his inaugural address. "It is a threat to operational readiness and a threat to this institution."

Vance also ordered his staff to attend a one-day seminar in Ottawa at the end of August.

"I have summoned all the General and Flag Officers and my commanders at the formation level, along with their [chief warrant officers] CWOs, to a one-day, single issue CDS Commanders' Seminar in August to lay out the way ahead."

Vance replaced Gen.Tom Lawson, who retired after nearly three years in the high-profile post, but not before feeding the perception of indifference in the military by attributing sexual harassment to the "biological wiring" of soldiers. Lawson apologized for what he called an "awkward characterization."

10 recommendations

The new chief of the defence staff goes on to say, in his memo: "I will not engage in any discussion or debate about the degree or severity of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. 

"It does not matter, for even a single incident is too many, and even unintentional harm or offence is unacceptable. This is a serious matter."

Vance goes the extra step vowing to implement all 10 recommendations flowing from a recent report into sexual misconduct in the Canadian military.

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

"​I intend to see all of the recommendations … implemented as rapidly and as effectively as possible."

While the military had already set up a response team led by Canada's highest-ranking woman, Lt.-Gen. Chris Whitecross, Vance's predecessor had only accepted two recommendations outright and eight in principle.

Whitecross has been looking into – one of the two recommendations – the creation of an independent centre where victims can seek support and advice.

In an exclusive one-on-one interview airing Thursday on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Whitecross told host Rosemary Barton she plans to update Vance on her findings when the senior ranks of the military meet in Ottawa at the end of August.

"The Americans and the Australians and the French, in fact, they all have independent centres. Mme. Deschamps asked us to go and look at all of them, which we have," said Whitecross.

"There's a common thread ... providing support to victims. Making sure that they're taken care of because until we do that we won't have increased reporting, we won't have the confidence in the chain of command — we need to do that. That's definitely one of the things we'll be talking about."

Finally, the new chief of the defence staff promised there would be "changes and announcements in the near future" and called on all members to work together "to eliminate sexual misconduct forever."