Blair names Canada military college review board amid misconduct crisis

Click to play video: 'Blair announces creation of Canadian Military Colleges review board amid misconduct crisis'
Blair announces creation of Canadian Military Colleges review board amid misconduct crisis
Defence Minister Bill Blair announced on Thursday the creation of a seven-person Canadian Military Colleges review board in order to make recommendations on the quality of university and military education. It will also examine cultural concerns, including misogyny and sexual harassment – Dec 6, 2023

Defence Minister Bill Blair on Wednesday named the board that will lead the review into Canada’s military colleges amid the ongoing sexual misconduct crisis.

The seven-member board will review the benefits, advantages and disadvantages of the way in which the two military colleges — RMC Kingston and RMC Saint-Jean — operate. The board will have one year before a report on its work is due.

“They will assess the different possible models for delivering university-level education and military leadership training to naval and officer cadets. The review board will be responsible for reviewing the quality of education, socialization and military training in the environment of the military colleges,” he said.

“It will also consider and assess the different models for delivering university level and military leadership training to naval officer cadets and to determine what changes need to be made to RMC Kingston and RMC Saint-Jean.”

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Click to play video: '‘Significant’ spike in military sexual assaults: StatCan'
‘Significant’ spike in military sexual assaults: StatCan

The board will be chaired by Kathy Hogarth, associate vice president of global strategy at Wilfrid Laurier University, Blair said. Hogarth will be responsible for providing regular progress updates to high-ranking defence staff, including the minister.

“The education experience that naval officer cadets receive must reflect the values of the Canadian Armed Forces and the 21st-century Canada in which we live,” Blair said.

“I believe that these military colleges can and must evolve to meet today’s needs.”

Click to play video: 'Blair addresses ‘significant’ spike in sexual assault rates in military'
Blair addresses ‘significant’ spike in sexual assault rates in military

Blair’s announcement comes on the heels of a Statistics Canada survey that found sexual assault rates within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) saw a “significant increase” in 2022.

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That revelation from the national statistics agency on Tuesday comes despite promises of reform within the military following years of intense scrutiny.

CAF was described as a “broken system” that is a “liability” to the country by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour, in her blistering report into sexual misconduct in May 2022.

Arbour also said Canada’s military colleges were called “institutions from a different era” that need overhauling.

Arbour’s review was formally launched in May 2021 in response to exclusive reporting by Global News into allegations of sexual misconduct among the highest ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Global News first brought to light in February 2021 allegations of sexual misconduct against senior leaders — the first of dozens of exclusive reports into such allegations and the military’s handling of them over the 18 months after that initial report.

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“There are legitimate reasons to question the wisdom of maintaining the existence of these military colleges, as they currently exist,” Arbour said in her 403-page report.

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“There is a real risk that the perpetuation of a discriminatory culture at the colleges will slow the momentum for culture change the CAF has embarked upon. There is enough evidence that military colleges are not delivering on their mandate that I believe alternatives must be explored with an open mind.”

Click to play video: 'Sexual Misconduct Support and Resource Center mandate expanded and improved: Blair'
Sexual Misconduct Support and Resource Center mandate expanded and improved: Blair

The external monitor overseeing culture change within CAF said last month that review was about to begin.

Megan MacKenzie, director, professor and Simons chair in international law and human security at Simon Fraser University, told Global News the language around culture change within CAF “hasn’t impacted service members.”

“We have service members who don’t trust the institution when they are assaulted. They don’t come forward because they’re not feeling like it’s going to be handled well,” MacKenzie said in reaction to Statistics Canada’s findings.

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“We’ve had a lot of attention to this issue, a lot of commitments made, but ultimately, I think there’s still a failure to hold perpetrators accountable, and so we still have high rates.”

Click to play video: 'Incoming commandant lays out plans for Royal Military College'
Incoming commandant lays out plans for Royal Military College

Statistics Canada’s study found roughly 1,960 regular force members, roughly 3.5 per cent, reported they were sexually assaulted either inside or outside the workplace involving a CAF or another military member.

“This rate of sexual assault — which includes sexual attacks, unwanted sexual touching, and sexual activity where the victim was unable to consent — represents a significant increase from rates reported in 2018 (1.6 per cent) and 2016 (1.7 per cent) when previous iterations of the survey were conducted,” it said.

Statistics Canada also found that the most common reason stated for not reporting sexual assault was the belief that it would not make a difference, cited by 41 per cent of regular force members who had been sexually assaulted. That was followed by fear of negative consequences (36 per cent) and resolving the incident informally on their own (34 per cent).

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Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of the defence staff, was among high-ranking military and defence leaders who said in a joint statement Tuesday they were “profoundly disappointed to see the persistence of sexual misconduct within” the CAF.

“We acknowledge the frustration and concern these results may evoke. For many of us, it is particularly disheartening to see that despite the implementation of numerous initiatives and recommendations, the issue of sexual misconduct persists in our ranks,” they said in a memo shared with all military staff.

“We are in the midst of an unprecedented effort to evolve our organizational culture. This work is essential to our success, but it is also complex, takes time, and there is no single solution that will yield immediate results.”

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The memo was also signed by Bill Matthews, deputy minister of the Department of National Defence, and Canadian Forces Chief Warrant Officer Bob McCann.

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MacKenzie said she believes the message that this is a complex issue that will take time to fix “is a rhetorical tool to avoid accountability.”

“It is not a complex problem. The problem is that we’ve had perpetrators of sexual misconduct and sexual assault that have not been held accountable. That’s the problem,” she said.

“I actually disagree with the message that it’s justified in taking time. It should not take time because every year that it takes that time, we have victims of sexual misconduct who aren’t getting justice.”

— with files from Global News’ Marc-Andre Cossette

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