A review ordered into an internal probe of alleged sexual misconduct by senior officers found what the military described as a “sexualized culture” that the Royal Canadian Navy “must continue to confront”, but decided nothing about the incident warranted disciplining those involved.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan ordered the review in March after Global News reported that the military shut down the internal probe without talking to all of those involved, citing sources.
Sources had said the investigation into alleged inappropriate comments — where the senior officers allegedly joked that a female member wanted to show off her “red room” while on a Zoom call — also did not look into alleged comments that followed, which sources said involved BDSM and “kinky sex.”
Now, military leaders have concluded no discipline is needed.
“We can confirm that the review of the investigation was completed, and found no conduct that required discipline,” the Department of National Defence said in a statement.
Topshee holds command of Maritime Forces Pacific and Joint Task Force Pacific.
Sajjan had asked Gen. Wayne Eyre, the acting chief of the defence staff, to look into how the original probe was handled and Eyre said out of the 132 people who were on the Zoom video call where the alleged misconduct occurred, only 52 responded when contacted by the original investigators.
The defence minister had added the review would look at what went wrong, and did not rule out the possibility the investigation could be reopened if new information was found.
“If more information is found, obviously it needs to be looked into more deeply,” Sajjan said.
Internal emails obtained by Global News showed at least one woman naval officer took issue with the limited nature of the original investigation, saying its conclusion “only serves to reduce faith in the system even further, and at a time when faith is already at an all-time low.”
The original investigation also didn’t address whether senior officers on the call should have intervened. Instead, it concluded with military leadership suggesting subordinate women officers should confront their superiors directly over such issues, according to the emails.
But the review into the original probe determined that the system in place didn’t require changes, with the military statement emphasizing officials remain committed to the system “as the primary mechanism of identifying and addressing personnel issues, including poor leadership and unacceptable conduct.”
That sends the signal to women and men in the military who comes forward that officials are brushing off sexualized comments without recognizing them as a key part of the spectrum of sexual misconduct, said Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute specializing in defence.
“We need to understand that sexual misconduct obviously operates on a spectrum. It goes from like, banter to actual assault and harassment, which are crimes. Here, we’re dealing with significant banter but what the military doesn’t seem to realize is that it doesn’t matter whether it’s just banter,” she said.
“It allows for other problems to escalate.”
The Canadian military is in the grips of a reckoning over sexual misconduct in its ranks, and high-level allegations against multiple senior leaders have sparked an institutional crisis, experts say.
Former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour is currently conducting a review into how to implement an independent reporting system for military sexual misconduct but the government has provided no timeline for when it will act to begin creating one.
Her final report is not due until next spring.