Lt.-Col. Eleanor Taylor says her decision to quit the Canadian Forces in disgust over its handling of high-level sexual misconduct allegations was a last resort.
But it is one she says she is taking as a “seething undercurrent of rage” swells among women in the military over the sense that senior leadership is waiting for the problem to blow over.
“To find that senior leadership is not living the example that they expect of us, it cut the legs out from under everybody. It really undermined our credibility within the institution and it leaves us with the question of, ‘Where now?’” said Taylor.
In an exclusive interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Taylor shared her deep frustration with the extent to which she says the military has failed to act to root out sexual misconduct, and the cost that ambivalence will have on the future of the Canadian Forces.
She said that in the aftermath of twin military police probes being announced into both the current and former chiefs of the defence staff in the wake of Global News reporting, people that she talked to within the military seemed caught in a state of shock.
“What I heard from people was disbelief that this could happen, and also a suggestion that this is just a few people,” she said in the interview.
“At the same time that I was hearing that, I was hearing this undercurrent and feeling this undercurrent of seething rage from within the women and other victims in the organization around the shock and surprise.”
“For people who live in this organization, this type of behaviour is no surprise.”
Taylor is one of the most senior women in the Canadian Forces and has been a trailblazer over the course of her 25-year career, as the first woman to lead an infantry company in combat while serving in the Afghan War.
She was also the domestic operations officer for Joint Task Force 2 — the military’s elite special forces unit — as well as its acting operations officer.
“Without a doubt one of the most talented and capable officers I have ever known,” said retired Lt.-Gen. Mike Day, former Canadian special forces commander, in describing Taylor.
Taylor is resigning from her role amid what experts call an institutional “crisis” for the military and says she is speaking out now to put a spotlight on a “sickening” problem that she says senior leaders are still hoping will go away quietly.
“This sounds like a lot of people were saying: it’s not that bad, it’s a one-off — if we bunker down, maybe it will go away. Was that the impression tat you got?” asked Stephenson.
“It was. It absolutely was, and I don’t believe that it was unique in what I was hearing. I was getting feedback from a lot of women across the Forces that that was the conversation that was happening — and not just women, certainly men, too,” Taylor said.
“That for me was the indicator that we really don’t understand this problem.”
Taylor said there remains a “significant portion” of people in the military who still do not see why sexual misconduct and inappropriate sexual behaviour is so damaging, or grasp the effect it has on destroying institutional trust among members who are striving to serve.
And while there are plenty of people who do understand and are working to try to change the system, she said, she has lost faith the military can solve the problem.
“No, absolutely not. I do not think that the military can fix this on its own,” she said.
“We need to leverage experts from outside our organization. We have demonstrated quite resoundingly that we cannot fix this on our own.”
Global News first reported on Feb. 2 that Gen. Jonathan Vance is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour from two female subordinates. He denies all allegations.
Adm. Art McDonald stepped back from his role as chief of the defence staff on Feb. 24 after military police opened an investigation on unspecified allegations, which one witness told the House of Commons defence committee last week was related to alleged sexual misconduct.
Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre is now acting in his place.
Taylor formally requested her release from the Canadian Forces on International Women’s Day in an email later shared with Global News.
In it, Taylor details her disgust with the allegations and says the military is not capable of holding its top leaders to account over sexual misconduct allegations
“I am sickened by ongoing investigations of sexual misconduct among our key leaders. Unfortunately, I am not surprised,” wrote Taylor in the email, which was shared with Global News by multiple senior male leaders in the military — some of whom described reading it as a clarifying moment for them.
“I am also certain that the scope of the problem has yet to be exposed.”
Sources who worked with Taylor described her as calm and collected, and someone whose decision and clear frustration has left them stunned.
She was a rising star on track for senior leadership in the military, those sources said..
“Throughout my career, I have observed insidious and inappropriate use of power for sexual exploitation,” Taylor wrote in the email formally requesting her release.
“Some senior leaders are unwilling or (perhaps unable) to recognize that their behaviour is harmful both to the victim and to the team. Some recognize the harm but believe they can keep their behaviour secret.”
“Perhaps worst of all are those in authority, who should know better, but lack the courage and tools to confront the systemic issue.”
Taylor said in the email that she has been “both a victim of, and participant in” what she described as a “damaging cycle of silence,” and said she was not proud of that.
“I am not encouraged that we are ‘investigating our top officers.’ I am disgusted that it has taken us so long to do so,” she wrote.
In that email, Taylor said that the name of Operation Honour — the military’s formal effort to root out misconduct — has been irreparably tainted by the allegations against senior leaders.
Taylor said the failure of the military’s top leaders to set an example has “poisoned” Operation Honour.
She said the military should get rid of the name “Operation Honour,” noting, “it is now harmful.”
Operation Honour was launched in 2015 by Vance in the wake of the landmark report from former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps that documented the “endemic” nature of misconduct in the military.
Meanwhile, in statement issued Wednesday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said he’s committed to ensuring that anyone who experiences sexual misconduct while serving in the Canadian military feels safe when coming forward to report it.
“As Lt.-Col. Taylor has said, we must seize this opportunity,” Sajjan said. “We need to redouble our efforts to change the culture of toxic masculinity and eliminate sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. We owe it to our members and to Canadians to get this right.”
While the government has promised an independent examination of the issue of high-level misconduct allegations, no details have been announced in the month since the pledge.
It remains unclear if and when that might begin.