International Women’s Day 2019
Women have been serving in the Canadian Armed Forces since 1885. The largest number of Women served in World War II, with many performing non-traditional roles. In the early 50’s Women were again allowed to join the CAF however they were restricted to traditional roles such as medical, logistical, administrative and communication trades. Gradually the number of Women increased as did the number of trades available to them.
After Canadian Parliament passed the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1986 all trades were officially open to Women in 1989, however they were excluded from submarine service. In 1992 a Human Rights Tribunal claim was made against the CAF and this was the beginning of various implementations to combat sexual abuse and harassment within the organization. SHARP (Standard for Harassment and Racism Prevention Program) training was started and while some praised it, some saw it as a licence to continue doing what they always had.
In 1998 after a persistent battle trying to publicly state my truth as I knew in my heart I could not be alone I connected with a friend who had the same tale as myself and we embarked on a quest which included the goals of:
1) To stop this from happening to anyone else.
2) To expose the unwritten handbook on dealing with abuse in the CAF
3) Punish perpetrators of abuse and make the CAF harassment free
My friend Ann called MacLeans magazine and told them her story as well as mine and they called me that day. I gave them all the information I could to prove my story as the Globe and Mail had already deemed it “too controversial.” I had kept all my paperwork and I had a trail to prove my allegations despite no charges being laid. My friend was not so fortunate, all she had was her word and that is not enough to back a claim like ours, so they decided to cut my friend loose, go with my story and continue investigating other leads.
On May 25, 1998 MacLeans magazine released the first of what turned out to be a four-part series on abuse in the Canadian Armed Forces with the words Rape in The Military beside a headshot of my face. In this article 12 other brave, courageous Women stepped forward and told their tales of harassment in the CAF. One Woman’s brother stood tall and proud and told his horror over what had happened to his Sister. There was an outcry to the government over how this could be happening as they had been dealing with other scandals such as the Somalia affair and the CAF Ombudsmen’s office was created in late June 1998. There were many fake promises, reinvestigations that led nowhere, a follow-up article in MacLeans 6 months later and then the issue of sexual harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces went radio silent.
For 16 years there was not any mention of sexual abuse or harassment in the CAF. In 2014 a brave Woman from Quebec named Stephanie Raymond blew the gates wide open yet again. She came forward in the French sister version of MacLeans called L’Actualite in May of 2014 and MacLeans ran an issue called “Our Military’s Disgrace” on May 16, 2014. The government could no longer sweep this issue under the rug, nor could they say this was the first time they had heard of this issue as the #MeToo movement that began in the CAF in 1998 and gave many who had had this happened before validation for their abuse and that had been IGNORED. Since this was again an issue something needed to be done and an Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces was handed to Madam Justice Marie Deschamps. In a 100-page report released in 2015 she found the culture of the Military to be very sexualized and hostile towards Women and the LGTBQ community. She released 10 recommendations which while may be visibly present are still very limited in their scope of practice. For example, one limitation that has been imposed is that if your assault happened before 1996, you have no recourse of action at all.
A list of her 10 recommendations as taken from
state as follows:
1. Acknowledge that inappropriate sexual conduct is a serious problem that exists in the CAF and undertake to address it.
2. Establish a strategy to effect cultural change to eliminate the sexualized environment and to better integrate women, including by conducting a gender-based analysis of CAF policies.
3. Create an independent centre for accountability for sexual assault and harassment outside of the CAF with the responsibility for receiving reports of inappropriate sexual conduct, as well as prevention, coordination and monitoring of training, victim support, monitoring of accountability, and research, and to act as a central authority for the collection of data.
4. Allow members to report incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault to the centre for accountability for sexual assault and harassment, or simply to request support services without the obligation to trigger a formal complaint process.
5. With the participation of the centre for accountability for sexual assault and harassment:
Develop a simple, broad definition of sexual harassment that effectively captures all dimensions of the member’s relationship with the CAF.
Develop a definition of adverse personal relationship that specifically addresses relationships between members of different rank, and creates a presumption of an adverse personal relationship where the individuals involved are of different rank, unless the relationship is properly disclosed.
Define sexual assault in the policy as intentional, non-consensual touching of a sexual nature.
Give guidance on the requirement for consent, including by addressing the impact on genuine consent of a number of factors, including intoxication, differences in rank, and the chain of command.
6. With the participation of the centre for accountability for sexual assault and harassment, develop a unified policy approach to address inappropriate sexual conduct and include as many aspects as possible of inappropriate sexual conduct in a single policy using plain language.
7. Simplify the harassment process by:
- Directing formal complaints to COs acting as adjudicators in a grievance
- Reducing emphasis on ADR.
8. Allow victims of sexual assault to request, with the support of the centre for accountability sexual assault and harassment, transfer of the complaint to civilian authorities; provide information explaining the reasons when transfer is not effected.
9. Assign responsibility for providing, coordinating and monitoring victim support to the centre for accountability for sexual assault and harassment, including the responsibility for advocating on behalf of victims in the complaint and investigation processes.
10. Assign to the centre for accountability for sexual assault and harassment, in coordination with other CAF subject matter experts, responsibility for the development of the training curriculum, and the primary responsibility for monitoring training on matters related to inappropriate sexual conduct.
In 2015, in the wake of the Deschamps report and with the Military in it’s full blown #MeToo movement here in Canada an advocacy group called “It’s Just 700” was formed to attempt to support men and women who were Survivours of Military Sexual Trauma (MST). The website is very informative with many initiatives started by the Woman who runs the group, and she also attempts to advocate before parliament. With the knowledge of MST becoming more prominent and a subject more people were willing to address people wanted accountability. Five separate class-action lawsuits were formed to address gender discrimination and systemic abuse in the Canadian Armed Forces and were eventually all conjoined and it is still before the courts.
While the Government and Department of National Defense will tell you that the Canadian Armed Forces is a safe harassment free environment to work in with such advances like Operation Honour they are not learning from their mistakes. They keep repeating them by not listening to the voices of the past. They boast of their accomplishments and defeats and greatness, but they fail to speak about or learn from their failures. They have a duty to protect the very ones that work beneath them, yet they choose to make things worse rather than make things better on a regular basis. Instead of deny, deny, deny and hurry up and wait the Military should step up to the times of the days and evolve so they can be the honourable institution they once were in the eyes of many so they attract the many young Women that want to Serve the Country they live in.
On this International Women’s Day of 2019 reclaim your life and your future and be the Woman you were meant to be. If you were abused in the Military, you are not alone. Find a group, reach out, seek assistance and support. Those of us that have been there will guide you on your way back to reclaiming who you were always meant to be.