By Michael Nickerson
As orders go, he couldn’t have been more clear. Stop! Stop it right now! It’s threatening our operational readiness, our integrity, our institution, and possibly our budget. Stop I say! This is your commander speaking, and you will do as I command! There will be repercussions! Do you hear me? Is there anyone out there? Is this mic on?
The “he” in this instance would be Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance. The “it” would be, in Vance’s words with his first official order as the newly minted CDS, “harmful sexual behaviour.” And he was quite emphatic at the time that “it” would stop “now.” The general had spoken.
Of course, that was back in the summer of 2015, and it’s downright amazing what can happen in 18 months. Team Justin™ replaced The Harper Government™, the world agreed on climate change, and then the most powerful member elected a president who doesn’t believe in it. There was Brexit, a flood of Syrian refugees, an Iranian nuclear agreement, more bombing in Syria, an Olympics in Rio, and more bombing in Syria. Some seriously talented people also died, and I’m pretty sure my body stopped working along the way (though it’s much better now, thank you). Did I mention more bombing in Syria?
But what didn’t change, or more to the point stop, was harmful sexual behaviour in the Canadian Armed Forces. It’s a head scratcher that one — an order from the top general in the land being disregarded and such. Bit embarrassing really when you think about it, especially if you’re the fellow who issued it. Yes, take that hill chaps. Do it now! Or in your own time as the case may be. Huzzah!
But in their own time it is, at least if a recent Statistics Canada survey is anything to go by. Contrary to what some would have the world believe (including former CDSs Rick ‘not in the forces I served’ Hillier or Tom ‘biologically wired’ Lawson), Canada’s armed forces are far from a bastion of equality and sexual propriety. Compared to the general civilian population, military personnel are twice as likely to face sexual abuse as your average Canuck, even three times as likely when they’re a reservist. All that discipline, chain of command, and ordering around goes only so far apparently.
How far? Well, let us dive a little further into the numbers. First off, if you’re a woman and in the military, then the joke’s on you! You’re not just twice as likely to be assaulted as your average female civilian counterpart, but three-and-a-half times! Over five times if you’re a reservist! And over a quarter of all women will be sexually assaulted during their military careers. Huzzah indeed.
Now there are those who will dismiss such findings (Ricky and Tommy, behave), what with the state of polling results these days and possible statistical error. Problem is, this was no minor survey of a thousand households, plus or minus three per cent. This was a survey that received 43,000 responses, over half of the military. It comes on the heels of a comprehensive and damning report by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps citing “endemic” sexual misconduct tolerated by leadership, along with multiple news reports and military court cases dating back decades pointing to the simple fact that Canada’s military hasn’t joined the twentieth century, much less the twenty-first.
Of course, maybe you’re one of those folks who think this is much to do about nothing. If so, the odds are the new CAF Soldier’s Card regarding inappropriate sexual behaviour won’t do much to help you, as apparently grade school and general decency fell short as well. Yet that, along with the odd demotion, monetary fine and wag of the finger is all it seems CDS Vance has been willing to employ to stop what just last year was something bordering on an existential crisis. Only recently, after three class-action lawsuits and some further bad press, has the good general upped the ante to dismissal.
Of the offenders, that is. Of their superiors who failed to make it stop after receiving a clear directive from the top soldier in the land? Nothing. And that really is embarrassing.