Editorial: Public inquiry needed to fix dishonourable conduct in Canada's military

The mounting evidence that allegations of sexual impropriety reach through all ranks is profoundly dismaying.

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It was designed as a good-news press conference for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a chance to tout the just-approved AstraZeneca vaccine. And Friday’s media event was indeed going well – until Global News reporter Mercedes Stephenson turned the questioning away from COVID-19 and toward the “inbox full of emails” she has from “women who have experienced sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces under your government.”

That apparent flood of emails follows news this week that Canada’s new Chief of Defence Staff, Adm. Art McDonald, has stepped aside amid allegations of sexual impropriety. That act, in turn, follows allegations of misconduct with two female subordinates against former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, which he denies. Both men are being investigated by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.

For all who honour our military, the accusations sting deeply. After all, it was Vance, appointed in 2015, who launched “Operation Honour” to stamp out sexual misconduct in the Armed Forces. And McDonald, in his first address as CDS last month, pledged to help create  “a respectful environment.”


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Both men are entitled to proper investigation and due process – as are the people who allege mistreatment  – but the mounting evidence that these are not simply one-off accusations against particular people is profoundly dismaying. Six years ago, former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps published a damning report calling sexual misconduct in the military “endemic.” Has nothing changed? Apparently not. This week, a statement from the Conference of Defence Associations and the CDA Institute said, “It is more important than ever that victims have the confidence to come forward and have their complaints addressed with respect, fairness and the greatest of transparency.”

Ah yes, transparency. What did the prime minister say on Friday when asked to address the many women who believe they have been sexually victimized while serving their nation?

“Every single person in this country deserves a safe place to work in, free from harassment or intimidation,” he solemnly recited. “We will be there to listen (to victims), to hear them, to work with them and to move forward with processes that will get to the right answers.”

What those processes are, we don’t know, but women are sick of such platitudes. Intentions are not actions and this crisis is about more than two accused commanders. A full-scale public inquiry into sexual misconduct in the military is urgently needed. Canadians deserve as much transparency on this problem as they do on the rollout of new vaccines.

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