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Canada’s military chief apologizes for ‘biological’ wiring remark on sexual misconduct

General Tom Lawson, chief of the defence staff speaks to reporters in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. .
General Tom Lawson, chief of the defence staff speaks to reporters in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

TORONTO – Canada’s military chief Tom Lawson has apologized for saying “biological” wiring is to blame for sexual harassment in the Canadian Forces.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson, who appeared Tuesday on CBC’s The National, said that men are “biologically wired” to force themselves on women, which has led to systemic sexual harassment and assaults throughout the military.

“It’s a terrible issue, it’s one that disturbs the great majority of everyone in uniform and yet, we’re still dealing with it,” Lawson said.

“It would be a trite answer, but it’s because we’re biologically wired in a certain way and there will be those who believe it is a reasonable thing to press themselves and their desires on others. It’s not the way it should be.”

READ MORE: External report on sexual misconduct in military now with top soldier

Lawson, who is stepping down as military chief in September, issued an apology Tuesday night to clarify his remarks, which he described as an “awkward characterization.”

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“I apologize for my awkward characterization, in today’s CBC interview, of the issue of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. Sexual misconduct in any form, in any situation is clearly unacceptable,” Lawson said in a statement. “My reference to biological attraction being a factor in sexual misconduct was by no means intended to excuse anyone from responsibility for their actions.”

CBC’s interview with the outgoing military chief comes as the military has been criticized for its treatment of women, amid a number of complaints of sexual harassment and assault.

A report released in April by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps concluded that a “culture of misogyny” in the Canadian Armed Forces had created a “hostile” work environment for women.

Lawson called her report an “important development” and thanked her for work, in an email obtained by Global News.

“Her perspective is invaluable in providing me with a clearer appreciation of the problem and what we, as an institution, must do to address it,” he wrote at the time.

READ MORE: Contract reveals limited scope of military’s million-dollar sexual harassment investigation

Lawson’s comments Tuesday on The National ignited a furor on social media with many taking to Twitter to express outrage.

“Men are not ‘biologically wired’ to not respect consent. What a misandrist thing to say,” tweeted Julie Lalonde, a sexual-assault prevention educator who said she was verbally abused while speaking to cadets at Kingston’s Royal Military College.

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Below is more reaction to Lawson’s comments.

*With a report from Vassy Kapelos

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