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The military's sexual misconduct scandal is like 1000x grosser than you probably thought

The military's sexual misconduct scandal is like 1000x grosser than you probably thought
Hey! Thanks for clicking on my article. I appreciate you. Before we get started, I just wanted to give you a quick content warning: this story will contain discussions of sexual misconduct and violence. If you’d rather not hear about that right now, it’s totally cool, I’ll catch you next time. If not, hang on, I’m starting for real now.

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What a fucking embarrassment our military is. How do you think it looks to our allies that in the space of about two months, we cycled through two Chiefs of the Defence Staff (Canada’s highest ranking military position), both of whom were accused of sexual misconduct, the guy in charge of human fucking resources was also accused, and one of our most prominent women soldiers just ditched the Forces altogether in disgust? Actually, I know what our allies think, they’re probably sweating buckets waiting for their own misconduct to surface, but that’s neither here nor there.

If you’d like a refresher on the shitstorm that’s been tearing through the top defence brass since the start of this year, then go read the National Post pussy, I don’t have time to slow down for you. Nah, I’m kidding, I just wanted to make that joke because the Post actually has a pretty good explainer on the whole issue and I fucking hate the Post so I was looking for comfort in humour — my go to coping mechanism.

Anyway, here’s what’s going on, please don’t tab out to that garbage paper: In January, Gen. Jonathan Vance, who had been Chief of the Defence Staff since 2015, retired. Soon after, Global News reported allegations from two women subordinates who told the outlet that Vance had engaged in separate instances of inappropriate sexual behaviour with them. The first woman, who would later come forward as Maj. Kellie Brennan, alleged that she and Vance had carried on a 20-year long secret sexual relationship, from which Brennan testified she felt there was no escape.

Brennan and Vance met in New Brunswick in 2001, where they were both stationed and briefly began dating openly, but the relationship quickly devolved. Vance maintains that this is when their sexual relationship ended, and denies all other allegations against him, including that the affair continued into his marriage (to another former subordinate) and that, as Brennan testified to the Status of Women committee in April, he had fathered two of her children. Brennan also testified that after she went public with her allegations, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service interrogated her for 12 hours over two days, and Global posted screenshots of Military Police literally cyberbullying her on Facebook. “As (Vance) told me, he was untouchable,” Brennan told the committee. “He owned the CFNIS.”

The most gut-wrenching part of Brennan’s testimony however, came when she explained that she felt unable to reject Vance’s sexual advances while he was her boss. She said, “I didn’t have the ability to say no. They were orders.” So much for the “just say no” brigade — pack it up, National Post opinion columnists. Vance also previously faced allegations of misconduct while stationed in Naples, where he met his wife, then a U.S. soldier. The CFNIS opened a 2015 probe into the complaints but came back with nothing, big shocker.

Maj. Kellie Brennan
The second woman from the original Global News report made an allegation that Vance, in an email, asked her to vacation at a nudist retreat with him, which honestly even makes me feel violated and I’ve never even met this dude, let alone worked a full 15 military ranks below him, as is the case with this woman. The email was sent in 2012, when she was a corporal, and Vance a major general, but it was only turned over to military ombudsman Gary Walbourne in 2018.

Walbourne testified in March that when he informed defense minister Harjit Sajjan of the allegation and attempted to show him the evidence (email), Sajjan physically avoided looking at it, the equivalent of plugging both index fingers into one’s ears and going “lalalalalalalalalalalala.” For the minister’s part, he has refused multiple times to say whether or not he understood that the nature of the allegation against Gen. Vance was sexual, even though Walbourne says he told him so.

The Prime Minister’s Office has not escaped the gravitational pull of this scandal either, as it was revealed in committee that Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, also knew of the allegation against Vance. Trudeau has personally maintained that he wasn’t aware until Global reported it, and the PMO said it shipped the issue straight off to Privy Council as soon as humanly possible, which I don’t find hard to believe at all.

About a month and a half after Vance retired, the disgraced general’s replacement as Chief of the Defence Staff, Adm. Art Mcdonald, “temporarily” stepped down from his position pending an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct which occurred while he was a Navy Captain. Global News reported that a female subordinate approached Lt.-Cmdr. Raymond Trotter with this allegation and that Trotter was turned away from both the military’s Sexual Misconduct Response Centre and the Defence Minister’s office when he tried to raise the allegation, eventually handing it off to the CFNIS. The Global report alleges that one week later, Trotter began receiving anonymous phone calls threatening his career if he testified at the defence committee.

Also facing allegations of misconduct is Vice-Adm. Haydn Edmundson, the military’s head of personnel — basically, military human resources, which is just even more embarrassing. Former navy steward Stéphanie Viau told the CBC she was 19 years old when Edmundson sexually assaulted and raped her aboard the HMCS Provider in 1991 at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Viau says she was afraid to speak up about the incident for fear of reprisal, as Edmundson was a senior officer on the ship. Edmundson denies the allegations.

Finally, in March, Lt.-Col. Eleanor Taylor, widely regarded as one of the most prominent Canadian female officers and a decorated Afghanistan veteran resigned, leaving behind a scathing letter condemning the military’s culture of systemic sexual abuse. She wrote, “"I am sickened by ongoing investigations of sexual misconduct among our key leaders. Unfortunately, I am not surprised. I am also certain that the scope of the problem has yet to be exposed. Throughout my career, I have observed insidious and inappropriate use of power for sexual exploitation.” Lamenting the fact that sexual violence has been accepted by so many as an unchanging aspect of military life, she went on, “I have been both a victim of, and participant in, this damaging cycle of silence, and I am proud of neither.”
Lt.-Col. Eleanor Taylor
Yeah, Jesus Christ right? You could be forgiven, having read through all that, for thinking that there is literally no system in place for addressing sexual misconduct in the military at all, or that this is the first time this clearly systemic problem has been revealed to the public, or that lecherous aliens with no concept of consent have replaced all of Canada’s top military leadership, but no. Men are much worse on their own than any extraterrestrial threat, this is certainly not the first time we’ve heard of this problem, and believe it or not, there was supposed to be this fantastic new system of accountability in place to properly deal with shit like this. It was called Operation Honour.

Operation Honour spawned from the 2015 Deschamps review, which described a “sexualized culture” within the Canadian Forces that was hostile to women and LGBTQ members, a system that encouraged nothing but silence from the victims of sexual misconduct, and a system that was not equipped to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct in a meaningful and not re-traumatizing way. Operation Honour was the CF’s answer to these findings.

It was also gen. Vance’s file. Fox, meet henhouse. Vance was sworn in just weeks after the Deschamps report released its findings, and here is a quote from his first speech as Chief of the Defence Staff: “I do not like the idea that anybody — even a single person — would have to come to work anywhere in the Armed Forces (with) that sick feeling in their stomach that they’re going to be attacked, degraded, or have their dignity stripped from them.” Maj. Brennan told Global that during the course of Operation Honour, she came to Vance with her own experiences with sexual violence in the military, and Vance ignored her: “He couldn’t defend me — then people would know about us.”

Now, I know what I’m about to tell you might be a little hard to believe, but trust me, it’s true. Operation Honour was useless. Hold for mass social unrest, pandemonium, fainting, babies crying, adults shitting their pants… I know, I told you it would be shocking. But according to like two StatsCan reports and the DND’s own figures, the program did fuck all. The DND stats show 581 reports of sexual assault in the military over a five year period, and the military’s internal tracking system provided for by Operation Honour shows another 221 instances of sexual harrassment. These numbers are at odds with the some 4,600 current and former military members who have signed on to be compensated by a federal class-action lawsuit for survivors of sexual assault in the military. Conservative Defence critic James Bezan also pointed out that 216 cases of sexual assault were prosecuted and only resulted in administrative penalties.

So given that Operation Honour effectively served only to gaslight the ever-loving fuck out of survivors of sexual abuse in the military — of which there are a great many — and given that the government had the stats to back that fact up, it makes sense that they’re getting rid of it. But they’d better do a much better job at replacing it than they did last time, when they used Honour to replace whatever the fuck they had before. Because, so help me god, if the Libs just get to do the classic ‘apologize a bunch and commission another stupid report that says basically everything I’ve said here just over the course of 100 more pages’ move, I’m gonna be pissed. Especially since that’s what they did last time.

And then, when Trudeau came to power and pledged to revive the good ol’ days of peacekeeping, you know, because we only have good stories about peacekeeping, experts seemed to forget the fact that our military is incredibly rapey because they all came crawling to Canada to ask for money to deal with the UN’s own rapey military problem — which by the way is massive. Like, pedophilia and human trafficking massive, and I’m not exaggerating.

In early 2016, Stephen Lewis, then co-chair of Code Blue, the UN’s initiative to end sexual misconduct by peacekeepers, appealed to Canada to lead that initiative on the world stage. Also in 2016, the Standing Senate Committee on Security and National Defence published a report about what Canada can and should contribute to the U.N. Here’s a quote from that report, in the section marked “Secxual Abuse and Misconduct:” “Major-General (Ret’d) [Lewis] MacKenzie told the committee that Canada can take a leadership role in addressing this issue, as Canada has “the expertise and a national record and reputation for dealing with it.”
Stephen Lewis
Sorry, but are we living in different countries, major general? Are you living in a parallel Canada, where our national reputation doesn’t include thousands of claims of sexual assault from within the ranks of our own military, where our leaders aren’t cowards who physically recoil from evidence that our other leaders are evil exploitative fucks, and where we don’t send police officers to sexually assault Haitians and then bring them back home to face exactly zero consequences? Oh yeah, it’s not just the failed states that send bad people to peacekeep, you’d best believe we up in that business as well.

By the way, if you’re a UN peacekeeper, any romantic or sexual involvement with members of the population you’re there to protect is a violation of the UN’s rules of sexual misconduct, based on the ginormous real or perceived power imbalance. In 2016, the same year that Code Blue was lobbying Trudeau to help deal with the sexual misconduct of peacekeepers, Global reported that two Canadian police officers were accused of sexual abuse while on peacekeeping missions, but few details were made available other than that one of them had fathered a child.

In 2019, the CBC published a story detailing the 2013 sexual assault of a Haitian woman by a Sureté du Québec officer during the latter’s peacekeeping mission in the impoverished Caribbean country. According to a UN investigator charged with the case, the officer threatened the woman with his UN rifle. But when he got back to Canada, the UN told Canada, Canada told the RCMP, the RCMP told SQ, and SQ found out he retired. There were no consequences for that officer, even though what he did was a crime in Canada. That CBC report found that six Canadian cops who had been deployed to Haiti had been found by the UN to have engaged in sexual misconduct while abroad. The CBC report also confirmed that two of those incidents resulted in the cops fathering children.

In Haiti, the children of UN peacekeepers are called ‘petits minustahs’ after the name of the UN mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH. A 2019 study published in The Conversation interviewed a woman who says her child, who was fathered by a peacekeeper, is bullied at school because of his lighter complexion. That study cites women or people who know women who say they gave birth to 265 children of peacekeepers during MINUSTAH.

I’m gonna show you another quote from the Senate Committee report, and I want you to consider everything you’ve learned today while you read it, because I think it perfectly sums up the government’s attitude toward dealing with sexual misconduct in military organizations: “In the Canadian context, a government official [named Mark Gwozdecky, Assistant Deputy Minister at Global Affairs Canada] held that “[b]y and large I think it’s safe to say that Canadian law enforcement institutions have very robust systems in place to deal with sexual misconduct, and we rely on those protocols to ensure that the right thing is done, that we address every situation.”’

HMMMMMMMMM, IS THAT SO, MARK??? DO THEY REAAAAALLLLY? TELL ME MORE ABOUT HOW ROBUST THESE SYSTEMS ARE, MARK. TELL MEEE. TEEEELLLLL MEEEE. Shut the fuck up, Mark Gwozdecky, that comment aged like Charlie Chaplin’s moustache. Our law enforcement institutions’ systems for dealing with sexual misconduct cannot possibly be robust because they DON’T. FUCKING. EXIST. Unless you count playing political sex offender hot potato with the Military Police, the PMO, the Privy Council’s Office, and the Defence Minister’s office as robust which I fucking absolutely do not.

This story is about a lot of things, not least of which is a deeply systemic patriarchal and white supremacist society, but I think I’m going to focus on the insanely embarrassing way our leaders have handled this scandal from start to finish. You have Harjit Sajjan playing hide and go seek with Vance’s emails like the allegations will go away if he pretends not to notice them, you have Katie Telford hucking files down Wellington street to the Privy Council’s Office like she’s a fucking Olympic discus thrower, and you have Justin Trudeau riding side-saddle on his high horse hoping not to get any flying NDP/Conservative spittle on his shoes while they’re screaming at him from the floor of the house to take literally any responsibility — None of this is what leadership looks like.

I was struck by a quote from Québecoise journalist Emilie Nicolas when she spoke about this issue on a CANADALAND podcast last week. She said (in a French accent), “People feel like things are fine when they’re actually the worst because they’re past the point where people are actually comfortable speaking up against the problem. And then people think that there’s a crisis happening, when things are actually improving. Because things are improving when people get to the point where they start speaking.”

A real leader would have recognized that these allegations do not represent a purely political crisis to be ushered as swiftly as possible out of the news cycle with apologies and a shiny new fucking report. A real leader would have recognized that these allegations are the product of a broader societal movement toward safer and more accountable workplaces and used this opportunity to have a genuine national conversation about the role toxic masculinity and misogyny plays in the military, and in law enforcement institutions, and in the UN. A real leader would, at the absolute barest fucking minimum, not just freely abdicate responsibility at every available god damn juncture. Seriously, what the fuck are you guys afraid of? You’re not the ones getting raped.

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