The harsh reality of rampant sexual misconduct escaped the military mind for the past two decades

The recently released 2016 survey conducted by Statistics Canada on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces reveals, inter alia, that 27% of military women have been sexually assaulted at least once during their careers. The most surprising and disturbing aspect about this survey is that the top brass at National Defence Headquarters was, it seems, surprised, shocked and allegedly unaware by these impermissibly dreadful statistics which reveals a pervasive, systemic culture of sexual misconduct. A most disturbing reality!


General Jonathan Vance launch OPERATION HONOUR (?) in 2015

Yet, for decades, the military received plenty of advance warnings about the scandalous situation of rampant sexual misconduct in its ranks. (See resumé below of various prior studies alerting the brass to the pervasiveness of the sexual misconduct in the military and civil society.)  Therefore, the latest Statistics Canada Survey did not really bring anything new to the table. What the survey brought forward was ‘certainty‘ about the scope and severity of the matter.

Over the past decades the media has also alerted the military (and Parliamentarians) to this sub-surface toxic matter affecting women, youth and men serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. Meanwhile, NOTHING really changed and the military leadership remained unconvinced that a real problem did not exist. Save and except for the occasional comment in the House of Commons, parliamentarians were quite happy to let the military “deal” with the problem!

A manifest example of this “leave it to the military” attitude by Parliamentarians  was created on April 23, 2015 when  Parliament enacted the Canadians Victims Bills of Crimes which at sub-section 18(3) excludes victims whose offenders are investigated and prosecuted by the military. This means that victims of sexual assaults whose offenders are prosecuted before a military tribunals are denied the benefits and protection of this Act. They are alone in Canada having to fend for themselves. They are therefore ‘second class citizens.’


macleans2-rape-111In 1998, MacLean’s Magazine published four (4) cover stories under the titles “Rape in the Military“; “Of Rape and Justice; Has anything Really Change in the Military“; “Speaking Out: A Pioneering fighter pilot adds her story to the growing disclosures of rape in the military” . In 2010, the high-profile sexual assaults trial of Colonel Russell Williams also brought attention to this issue. In 2011, US Newsweek reported that 25% of US military women were sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier. Finally, in April 2014, MacLean’s published yet again another major cover story titled “Our Military’s Disgrace“.  This was followed by a strings of reports of sexual assaults in 2015 at the Royal Military College (RMC) .


fairlureTo respond to this deep-seated crisis affecting both the safety and integrity of its members as well as  the reputation of the institution, in 2015, the Chief of the Defence Staff launched with much fanfare, bells and whistles,  OPERATION HONOUR He also opened up an in-house report centre under the watchful eye of its Chief of Military Personnel. This was, in essence, the military plan of action. Obviously, ‘Honour‘ is a word laden with much meaning and gravitas for both the civil and military societies.  ‘Honour‘ is first and foremost a ‘quality’ that combines respect, being proud, high and noble rank, and honesty. However, has the French novelist Marchel Pagnol once said:

 “Honour is like a match, you can only use it one!

Disturbingly, the survey revealed that since the launch of Operation Honour, one out of 43 military members have been found to have disobeyed the crystal-clear orders of General Jonathan Vance. Besides these being clear failures to the Code of Service Discipline, they are  also a direct unmitigated affront to the honour of the institution.

It now begs the question: Given that ‘honour’ means: “doing what you believe to be right and being confident that you have done what is right“, should Operation Honour now be retitled as a more sombre and humble “OPERATION RECOVERY“.


According to recent media reports an ‘angry Chief of the Defence Staff‘ has now put the military on notice by issuing a Directive to the effect that anyone found to have sexually harassed or harmed another member of the military will be released or dismissed from the Canadian Forces. We will have to await to see the wording of the Directive before offering comments on that issue. In the meanwhile see the post written by retired Justice Gilles Létounreau on the Yale University Global Military Justice Reform blog.  However, this administrative procedure might well be too little too late” to deal with the issue of sexual misconduct.

We remain convinced, however, that a more immediate and workable solution is at hand; the Minister of National Defence should urgently return to civil society the jurisdiction for the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults. This can be done by advising the Minister of Justice that the military will no longer assume jurisdiction for sexual assault and asking that section 70 of the National Defence Act be amended accordingly


In 2015, the Honorable Marie Deschamps in her External Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces found that  a large percentage of incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault were not reported.

“Many of those victims who did report an offence said that their experiences were “atrocious”. To rebuild trust in the system, complainants need to be reassured that the CAF is committed to ensuring that their complaints are appropriately investigated. This can be achieved, in part, by allowing the victim to request to have her case transferred to civilian authorities.”

A 2014, a survey conducted by Statistics Canada – General Social Survey on Victimization reported that sexual assault and harassment were persistent forms of violence against women. It revealed that across Canada the percentage of offenses that were reported to police dropped from about 12% in 2009 to 5% in 2014.  It also noted that less than 1% of sexual assaults experienced by women lead to an offender being convicted; hence the majority of offenders walk free!

In 1999 General Social Survey on Victimization also conducted by Statistics Canada found that 78% of sexual assault were NOT reported to police.


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