TORONTO – The Canadian Armed Forces perpetuates a sexualized military culture that is hostile to women and gay members, and harassment and assault are often tolerated by senior officers, according to a report released Thursday.
The external review, led by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, says soldiers are exposed to sexual innuendo, degrading language, rape jokes and discriminatory comments about women and LGTBQ members from the moment they join the military.
The report found that "a large percentage" of cases of sexual assault and harassment are not reported amid fears that complaints will hurt one's career or not be treated confidentially.
The military launched the review last year after media reports into what appeared to be a major discrepancy in official records of sexual harassment and assault cases and what was actually happening inside the Forces.
Deschamps' review, based on more than 700 interviews, found that the attitude of misogyny and sexual misconduct is so pervasive that members become desensitized to it as they move up the ranks, with officers tending to excuse incidents on the grounds that the military reflects civilian society.
"At the most serious extreme, these reports of sexual violence highlighted the use of sex to enforce power relationships and to punish and ostracize a member of a unit," the report says.
"Dismissive responses such as, 'This is just the way of the military' are no longer appropriate," the report says.
The report contains 10 recommendations, including that the military acknowledge that inappropriate sexual conduct is a problem and put a strategy in place to change the military's culture.
One key recommendation is to take the existing complaint and support process outside the military bureaucracy and create an independent agency.
The Canadian military called the report an "action plan on inappropriate sexual behavior," and it said it must do a better job of understanding the issue of sexual misconduct, responding to reports of it, supporting victims and preventing the behavior.
"Inappropriate sexual behavior is a complex problem, and quick Band-Aid fixes are unlikely to solve the many dimensions of the problem," said Major-General Chris Whitecross, Commander, Canadian Armed Forces Strategic Response Team on Sexual Misconduct.
Whitecross recalled that when she joined the military, she also encountered such attitudes. Things have improved over time, but there is a long way to go, she said.