June 17, 2014

Canadian Forces needs to take a stand on sexual assault

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:05 pm by sacetalks

Written by Cynthia

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson says that he is “deeply angered” by the epidemic of sexual assault in the Canadian Forces and the Forces’ dismal responses. Nicholson’s three-sentence statement on the matter (scroll down to “UPDATE” to read it) sends the issue down the chain of command to Chief of the Defence Staff General Tom Lawson. Lawson himself released his own, slightly longer statement (after Nicholson’s in the link above). In places it is resolute and applause-inspiring: “Sexual assault is a crime. It is an abhorrent and corrosive act that goes against the entirety of our military ethos. I do not accept from any quarter that this is merely a part of military culture; it is not.” Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the prevailing view within the Forces, or else soldiers wouldn’t be assaulting one another with relative impunity.

Other countries have also confronted this problem, and the Canadian Forces may wish to borrow some pages from their playbooks. In 2013, Australia’s Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison responded by delivering this blistering denunciation, addressed not to the press, not to the public, but to the soldiers themselves. Morrison’s message to harassers and assailants is simple, strong, and clear: “There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters.”

The US Armed Forces also has something to offer here; Lee Berthiaume of the Ottawa Citizen points out in this excellent article that the US military (though it still has a long way to go in addressing this crime among its own ranks) must publicly report its sexual assault and prosecution rates. The Canadian Forces has no such provisions for transparency.

The Canadian Forces must do more than issue press statements and promise “internal reviews”. Canadian service members need to see that military secrecy does not extend to soldiers’ crimes against one another, and that sexual assault is always regarded as serious and wrong. Ian Bron, a veteran and survivor of sexual assault, put it best in this letter to Macleans (fourth letter down): “The internal review announced recently must be replaced by an independent external review, perhaps even a royal commission. Past and present victims must be helped and compensated. Perpetrators must know they will face justice as they stand on the threshold of a victim’s room, tent, or cabin. They must not be allowed to think they can count on their peers, or a deployment, or even resigning from the forces to escape the law. They must know they will be charged, imprisoned, dishonourably released from service, and that any future employer will know of what they have done.” That would reflect the Canada that military personnel sign up to defend.

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