Harassment in the Canadian Forces: Finally a Priority?

 Photo curtesy of the US Army Europe Flickr account http://bit.ly/1SytToK

Photo curtesy of the US Army Europe Flickr account http://bit.ly/1SytToK

Harassment In The Canadian Forces: Finally A Priority?

Canada’s military has a new boss, and he has a clear message for bullies and abusers in its ranks.

“Our jobs are dangerous enough, and there are plenty of adversaries and situations that would do us harm; we shouldn’t ever be doing harm in any form to each other.”

This is in stark contrast to his predecessor, Thomas Lawson, who pathetically excused away rampant sexual abuse, deeming it “biologically wired.”

A damning report released in late April detailed just how acute the problem is. Despite being fully aware of the quantity and gravity of harassment complaints, compounded with a systemic under-reporting problem, the only signal sent by top brass was one of denial.

Both in public comments and in actions of protecting what they liked to think of as a few “bad apples”, every move from military leadership appeared calculated simply to shield the reputation of the Forces.

New Chief of Staff Jonathan Vance is to be commended for his stance on harassment.

But how can he translate words into action?

Firstly, he should immediately accept and implement all 10 recommendations from April’s report. This will give victims more avenues for reporting their harassment, and create clear, accountable response mechanisms.

A New Culture in the Military

But one recommendation in particular caught my eye: “Establish a strategy to effect cultural change.”

This single point is a project all on its own, perhaps even more important than improvements to formal protocol.

My advice on fixing workplace culture always starts with personal leadership. Leaders are role models, and it’s proven that others in the organization model their own actions on what they see at the top. In this regard, General Vance’s comments already bode well for the Forces.

Secondly, the military must not be afraid to look externally: a rich array of ideas can be provided by examining the best practices of organizations with positive cultures, studying the academic literature, and seeking out external experts.

Finally, the Forces must take a zero-tolerance approach to abusers; and that means instead of being sheltered from the media as before, abusers should be publically kicked out of their jobs. The criminal prosecution of the decorated, high profile Lt. Col. Mason Stalker is a good start, but it’s not just abuse of young cadets that needs to be cracked-down on.

Between the CBC, the Senate, and the Forces, the stink of workplace harassment in Canada’s elite institutions is finally reaching the public. We should seize this generational opportunity to press for a national discussion on the endemic problem of bullying.