OTTAWA – The new commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force used his swearing in ceremony to deliver a sharp, pinpoint message – sexual harassment will not be tolerated on my watch.
Lt.-Gen. Michael Hood’s abrupt declaration stood out among the pomp and circumstance of Thursday’s change of command ceremony at the Canadian Aviation Museum, which included a 100-person honour guard and a fly past involving two CF-18 jet fighters that the military insisted were on the way to another assignment.
The reference was a clear sign of how deeply the Canadian military is seized with the fallout of last spring’s report by retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, which called sexual misconduct is “endemic” within the ranks.
The air force with its high-flying, fighter jock mentality might well be considered as the poster boys for the “macho culture” referenced in the judge’s searing report, which blamed leadership for tolerating an atmosphere where women were afraid to report harassment.
Hood said there was no better platform than his first speech in which to make a point.
“If anyone was going to be listening to anything I’m about to say in the next few weeks, it was going to be today,” Hood told reporters after the ceremony.
“It was important for me to set the tone for the Royal Canadian Air Force moving forward; that we have got to stamp out those kinds of behaviours. And my first step, the first I’ve said as commander is solidly that.”
Public skepticism that Deschamps’ report is being taken seriously was only heightened last month when the country’s outgoing military commander, Gen. Tom Lawson, said in a CBC television interview that male soldiers are “biologically wired in a certain way” that makes inappropriate behaviour seem acceptable to them.
Following a torrent of public anger, Lawson apologized, but the damage was done.
It was left to Hood on Thursday to lay down a clear marker by saying he’ll convene a meeting of the air force senior leadership in the near future and the harassment issue will be a principal focus.
“I’ll be sending a very clear message to my subordinate commanders that harassment of any sort, be it sexual or otherwise, has no place in the RCAF or that matter throughout the entire Canadian Armed Forces,” he said.
Frustrations other than the harassment issue were also on display.
Hood succeeded Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin, a former CF-18 fighter pilot who is retired Thursday after 35 years in the military and almost three years as the air force’s top commander.
During his tenure, the Harper government hit the pause button on the controversial F-35 purchase.
And Blondin stirred up a tempest last fall by suggesting on Twitter that Canada’s bombing campaign in Iraq was revenge for the murders of Canadian soldiers by Islamic-inspired extremists.
In his farewell speech, Blondin tossed away his notes and spoke off-the-cuff about his frustration dealing with the Ottawa culture and bureaucracy, but noted serving in conflict zones around the world has given him an appreciation of the need for checks and balances.
He spoke using a wireless microphone, pacing back and forth in front of high-profile audience that included not only Canadian military brass but members of the diplomatic corps.
His retirement project will be refurbishing “a house that’s far enough from Ottawa that I’m not going to hear the noise.”
Hood started his military career in the infantry as a guardsman with the Canadian Grenadier Guards before enrolling in the Regular Force and receiving his wings in 1988.
His flying career was spent on C-130 Hercules transports, and as an electronic warfare officer aboard C-144 Challengers.