Canadian Military Harassment: 4 things you may have missed

Image from Jamie McCaffrey on the Flickr Creative Commons

Toxic culture in military slammed in report from retired supreme court justice

A new report has sent shockwaves through Canadian culture this week as yet another one of it’s storied institutions has found itself dealing with a sexual harassment and unsafe workplace scandal.

This time, however, it wasn’t at the treasured CBC or one of it’s most storied universities or even its political parties. No, this institution is much more integral to Canadian history and identity: the Canadian military.

In a report released on April 30, Retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps called for sweeping changes to the military’s sexualized culture and abuse-reporting mechanisms.

In her report, Deschamps outlined a misogynistic organization that put a chill on widespread reports of sexual abuse and assault within its ranks.

The Report's Findings

The report also outlined a toxic and psychologically unsafe workplace that was hostile to women, lesbians, transgendered and gay members of the Canadian armed forces.

Furthermore, the report made ten recommendations. They ranged from common-sense practices like developing a simple and broad definition for sexual assault and the creation of a new training curriculum, to potential game-changing reforms, like allowing victims of sexual assault to request a transfer of their complaint to civilian authorities and the creation of an independent centre of accountability for sexual assault and harassment.

Predictably, however, the military are dragging their heels as they decide how many of the 10 recommendations they will actually implement.

Still, the Canadian public should be angry and expect change form their armed forces. But before we can see change we need to understand the different factors at play in this scandal.

With that in mind, here are four things you may have missed about the military's sexualized-culture scandal:

1. This is not a problem limited to Canada's army

Sexual assault in the U.S military is also a major problem. A new study by the Pentagon has found shocking levels of assault within the U.S military, as well. In fact, the Pentagon estimated 20,300 service members were assaulted last year. 

The study found that women in the military who came forward with complaints against other members were also often subject to retaliation. According to the study, a shocking 62 per cent of women believed that they were the victims of retaliation after they filed sexual assault complaints. 

An article by Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times examined just how widespread the problem really is. Rosenberg also puts the scandal into context, as this study comes after years of top brass in the U.S military promised they would fix their broken culture when it comes to assault within their own ranks. 

The findings were not much better for men in uniform, either. The study found that male members were more likely to be subjected to multiple assaults and were are more likely to be attacked in the workplace.

2. Cultural forces Inside and outside the military are at work

An overly sexualized culture–and even sexual harassment and assault–are prevalent not just in the military but in much of Canadian culture writ large. This is a much larger problem that has merely been epitomized by Canada’s overly macho and overly secretive military, but is by no means limited to it.

According to Canadian Labour Relations, over 90 per cent of Canadian women have admitted that they had experienced workplace sexual harassment at some point during their working lives.

But this sexual, psychological and physical bullying in the military wasn’t just limited to women; a large amount of bullying in the military is male-on-male bullying.

We should be working to improve the culture of the entire Canadian military amongst women and by addressing the toxic culture that exists between many of the men.

3. The military was in denial

It's important to never forget that the military was in denial for decades about the workplace issues within their organization.  While they may be talking tough about cultural change within the ranks now, they have certainly taken their time even admitting there was a problem.

Just last year, when faced with over 200 complaints of sexual harassment and a systemic under reporting problem, Gen. Tom Lawson, the chief of defence staff for the Canadian Armed Forces said “I do not accept the notion that sexual violence and harassment are part of military culture.” 

He couldn't have been more wrong.

Lawson then went on to support the practice of forcing victims of sexual assault in his ranks to have to report to their superior officers and not to an external body.

This denial is so typical of an organization caught in a scandal that they’re too afraid to fix. But it’s because of this cover-up mentality within the military, that guards information and protect the institution’s reputation at all costs, that we have found ourselves here in the first place.

Step one is always admitting that you have a problem.

4. Issues like this cannot be solved internally

Just because sexual assault or harassment policies are in place, doesn’t mean an issue will be solved–just look at the CBC.

Much like the military, the CBC believes–or perhaps believed–that their reputation must be protected against a few bad apples within their ranks. So, instead of exposing bad behavior and demonstrating to the public that they do not tolerate bullying or sexual harassment, they covered-up for the bad apples and protected them from scrutiny for the sake of their reputation.

This, frankly, is despicable.

It also highlights the importance of having external audits, reports and organizations to deal with workplace culture issues. Because if the report isn’t done externally it loses credibility with the public and with your own workers.

I would note to my readers that the CBC has no right to be reporting on this issue until they sort out their own problems.