FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

Sexualized Culture In Canadian Military Is Responsible for Harassment, Assault, and Stifled Reporting, Retired Judge Says

A year-long review exposes ongoing hostility against women and LGBTQ members of the Canadian Forces.
May 1, 2015, 8:00pm
Photo by Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Stéphanie Raymond has some fond memories of her time in the Canadian military, but she definitely doesn't miss it.

The former corporal looks upon her last two years at the Canadian Armed Forces, in which she battled to have her complaint of sexual assault taken seriously, as a putrid chapter during which she was laughed at by her peers and refused help at every turn.

"For me, it rotted my life," said Raymond in an interview with VICE News. "To date, it's like the negative event of my life."

Last year, Raymond became one of the faces of an alleged epidemic of sexual assaults and harassment in the Canadian army, leading to an exhaustive investigation by a former Supreme Court of Canada judge, the results of which were made public on Thursday.

The findings are not pretty.

The 100-page report by retired Justice Marie Deschamps laid bare "an underlying sexualized culture in the [Canadian Armed Forces] that is hostile to women and LGBTQ members", resulting in pervasive low-level harassment and, in some cases, "more serious and traumatic incidents of sexual assault."

Exploitation of power imbalances, date rape, and violent sexual assault were all common stories told by current and former Canadian Forces personnel to Deschamps and her team.

Sitting beside military brass to unveil her findings in Ottawa and outline a blueprint for transformation, Deschamps said the military must start by acknowledging "that inappropriate sexual conduct is a serious problem that exists" in the forces.

Canadian Armed Forces brass said it supports the recommendations in principle and will work to implement them. Military leadership will be traveling to America and Australia, which have been identified as positive models in combatting sexual assault in the military, in the coming weeks to establish a set of best practices and to try and get input on how to move forward.

The extent of the problem was underlined in May 2014 when an investigation by Maclean's and L'actualité magazines identified dozens of survivors of sexual assault, and a military chain of command that did more to suppress complaints than to address them.

That's exactly what Deschamps found.

The report found a "broadly held perception in the lower ranks that those in the chain of command either condone inappropriate sexual conduct, or are willing to turn a blind-eye to such incidents."

The investigation drew from extensive focus groups and interviews with over 700 military members of various ranks.

While many members interviewed by Deschamps described a "significant improvement" to overt displays of sexism — for example, pictures of nude women are no longer posted in lockers and pornographic movies are no longer shown in messes — the report also found "many men continue to hold negative attitudes about the presence of women in the military. For example, a commonly held attitude is that, rather than be a soldier, a sailor or an aviator, a woman will be labeled an 'ice princess,' a 'bitch,' or a 'slut.' Another saying is that women enter the CAF 'to find a man, to leave a man, or to become a man'."

**Related: **US Army Will Investigate Allegations of Sexual Abuse By Soldiers and Contractors In Colombia 

Canada is one of the few countries — including Germany, France, and New Zealand — in the world that allow women to serve as full-combat troops in all branches of its military, and it has done so since 1987. Regulations allowing the military to investigate and expel LGBTQ members were repealed in 1992.

The 2,700-plus women in the Canadian military make up roughly 15 percent of the personnel. A study conducted by Statistics Canada found that, of those women, one-in-13 had been sexually assaulted while in theatre, or on base.

That is a blunt reality that Deschamps says the military woefully under-recognized.

In 2012, the military reported that, over a decade, just 31 complaints of sexual harassment were logged in the military's harassment tracking system. Only 11 were "founded, or partially founded" while just nine charges were brought before court martial in the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

Deschamps said women in the military were hesitant to file reports over fears that their career progression could be stunted, or that their confidentiality wouldn't be respected. In some cases, commanding officers asked them to "deal with the practical aspects of the harassment complaints" rather than to pass it further up the chain of command.

"It's a part of your life that's like, how can I explain... a bit destroyed," said Raymond, who claims she was sexually assaulted by a superior in the mess hall of a Quebec military building in 2011. After her complaint was quickly dismissed, she refused to let the matter drop until she was ultimately fired.

The accused was acquitted in a court martial last year. Raymond, who is appealing the decision, was later presented with a post-release promotion, a decoration, and a certificate of service. Canada's Chief of Defense Staff General Tom Lawson also apologized for the way in which she was treated during the complaint process.

Deschamps stopped short of criticizing the court martial system directly, noting that it was not part of her mandate. She did, however, suggest the army allow officers to take their complaints outside the military justice system.

The report also highlighted harassment directed against teenagers in the cadet program, which operates as a government program, sponsored by the Canadian Forces. A VICE investigation revealed endemic and long-running issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault in that program.

Phillip Millar, a former combat officer turned lawyer representing victims of sexual assault — including a group suing the military — said he wasn't surprised by the report, and called it proof of "a failure by the chain of command."

Millar gives army brass credit, though, for their response, even if he also wished they would promise to "root out" the "boils" that remain in the organization. "They know there are people in there who have had complaints against them", he said, and who are explained as "rough around the edges."

The report also found that male survivors of sexual assault in the military "suffer dramatically and are even less likely to report the offensive conduct." That under-reporting for male officers extended to one instance of alleged gang rape that came out during Deschamps' investigation.

While non-heterosexual members of the Armed Forces are nominally offered the same protections against sexual harassment and assault that every member receives, there is a general lack of considerations for LGBTQ service members.

In 2014 interviews with VICE News, a former officer revealed that the military does not afford specific counseling for LGBTQ personnel, which was confirmed by a spokesperson for the Armed Forces.

Deschamps' report called for an independent center — much liked ones in Australia or the United States — that can receive complaints, ensure they are appropriately investigated, and ultimately act as the responsible authority.

The leadership of the Canadian Forces would not confirm whether or not that independent center would be established, but seemed to indicate a preference to have it set up within the military structure.

Millar is hopeful the military can change, noting "politically there is no choice" and "in all honestly, female soldiers are too valuable."

But Raymond doesn't expect to see a difference in her lifetime. And she has mixed emotions about how her case has played out.

"I've often thought, I never should have filed a complaint because today I'd still be in the forces, I'd still have a career and a life," she said. "But for me the decision to go public was unequivocal. Without going public, none of this would be here today."

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling