Women who have tried to report sexual misconduct allegations in the Canadian military say the contrast between their experiences and the stated goals of Operation Honour left them with a “sour taste.”
The House of Commons Status of Women committee probing military sexual misconduct heard on Tuesday from current and former serving members of the military who shared their experiences of trying to report allegations of sexual misconduct and recounted the barriers they faced in coming forward.
“The victims wear it a lot more than the perpetrators. Quite often the perpetrators are allowed to continue their careers unhindered, whereas victims just can’t,” said navy Lt. Heather Macdonald, a combat systems engineer who has served 16 years in the Royal Canadian Navy.
She is also the woman at the heart of the allegation against Adm. Art McDonald.
“So it’s led to many victims just not coming forward,” she added.
Emily Tulloch, an aviation technician who testified about her recent experience reporting sexual violence, said the values espoused by the military are “falling through the cracks” and are not practiced by leaders.
She said that creates a culture where efforts to root out sexual misconduct — the stated purpose of Operation Honour, which is now wrapping up — do not succeed.
“That is how we get this toxic culture that we’ve been dealing with for so long … if the leadership can’t follow these core values and set a good example, how can we expect recruits?” she said.
“For many of us, Operation Honour has aged like rotten milk, leaving a sour taste in our mouths.”
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Global News first reported on allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian military on Feb. 2 and since then, military police have opened twin probes into Gen. Jonathan Vance and Adm. McDonald.
But the federal government has provided no details on a promised independent review into the issue of misconduct in the military that was pledged in early February, and has yet to provide any details of a promise to create an independent watchdog to handle military misconduct complaints.
The budget released on Monday also promised $75 million over five years for a number of initiatives that the government said will target sexual misconduct in the military — but similarly, lacked details.
It all comes as the military reckons with what experts have called an institutional crisis over the sexual misconduct allegations against multiple senior leaders, and as the government continues to face significant criticism for not fully investigating a 2018 allegation against Vance.
The focus has increasingly also landed on the sexualized culture within the military, which former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps described as “hostile” and “endemic” in her landmark 2015 report on sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces.
That report highlighted a culture where sexual misconduct is routinely swept under the rug and where complaints within the military chain of command are minimized, and victims face retaliation.
M.J. Batek, a retired officer cadet and one of the founders of a Survivor Perspectives Consulting Group, said that culture provides “a safe place” for perpetrators of sexual misconduct, and must change.
“It also inadvertently teaches the victims to tolerate the intolerable,” she said. “The social cost of allowing this toxic culture to survive extends to the Canadian public.”
Tulloch added that part of the reason that culture persists is that “nobody’s corrected them otherwise.”
Macdonald said now is the time for real change.
“This issue is too important to get wrong,” she told the committee. “I worry that if nothing comes from this issue … that we will lose hope.”