BY MICHAEL NICKERSON
So there you are, pants around your ankles with a horrified subordinate cowering in front of you. Or maybe you have shower photos you are just itching to post online but aren’t sure how your assistant will react. Getting drunk with a bunch of teenagers half your age, putting your arm around one of them and wondering what to do next. That rape joke you just have to share. Or simply a quick squeeze by the water cooler. The list goes on and on, but luckily if you are a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, there’s no need to worry, because now you have the CAF Inappropriate Behaviours™ card! No more confusion, no more anxiety, quick and easy directives to help you out of any awkward sexual situation. Don’t leave home without it!
And rest assured they won’t. As part of Operation HONOUR, CDS General Jonathan Vance’s response to last year’s damning report of sexual harassment in Canada’s military, all members of the Canadian Armed Forces must now carry this new, wallet-sized card on their person at all times while on the job, abroad or at home.
Sure to be more a source of humour than the informative, culture-changing tool it was intended to be, the card outlines what is considered inappropriate behaviour in the military. The list includes sexual assault and voyeurism, both considered more than just “inappropriate” in any jurisdiction in Canada you care to name. “Criminal” I believe is the term we’re looking for here. No word yet if there will be a companion card issued outlining other criminal behaviours frowned upon, like murder or armed robbery, but stay tuned.
For it’s a curious thing that the officialdom at the Department of National Defence think so highly of their personnel, their training and their ethics, that they feel the need to issue 120,000 reminder cards to every employee — military or civilian — outlining questionable behaviours you’d think would have been addressed in grade school, or at the very least during recruitment. But no, let’s just carpet bomb the whole lot of them with one giant insult.
It’s rather ironic, as so far Operation HONOUR seems more an exercise in damage control and public relations than a real effort to fix the problem, assuming sexual harassment and assault is the problem we’re referring to here. And it’s failing miserably.
The CAF is an institution that flinches at any public criticism or oversight of its members, seemingly terrified the outside world will think bad thoughts about it, much less questions its motives or actions. Like many a thin-skinned paranoid, any criticism is considered an attack on the whole, to be defended vigorously. Or at the very least quelled until the watchful eye of the media moves on to another car wreck. Yet in one broad, sweeping stroke, it simply tried and convicted each and every one of its members, with one tiny card. You’re all idiots, it reads, here are some simple instructions to keep us out of trouble. No outside assistance necessary.
In the meantime, there is still some very inappropriate behaviour going on at National Defence, and not just with the real instances of sexual abuse that continue to occur both in the armed forces and cadet corps. It involves senior leadership that continues to confuse damage control with problem solving, and orders and edicts with leadership and responsibility. They seem to miss the point that the whole issue of sexual misconduct is not so much about sex, as about the abuse of power and influence. And in no other instance is that as problematic as a military that depends on the chain of command. It’s easily abused.
And it means that the problem starts at the top, not with the majority of the 120,000 new Inappropriate Behaviours™ cardholders beneath it. Trust in leadership needs to be restored, with leaders who actually take public responsibility, and with more than a few officer resignations given what has been going on under their command. But don’t bet on it, for that would just be inappropriate.