Many victims of sexual misconduct in the military and their supporters feel exhausted and disheartened by the lack of meaningful systemic change, a House of Commons committee said today.
Christine Wood, who represented the It’s Just 700 group – which led the class action lawsuit against the federal government for sexual violence in the military – spoke forcefully and eloquently before the Commons Committee on the Status of Women.
Wood said victims of sexual misconduct were frustrated because many of their key recommendations to improve care for those brave enough to move forward were ignored.
It’s disheartening and dangerous, Wood said.
“The burnout and the pain are palpable,” she says. “And it shouldn’t be for us to keep sending the same message year after year. We have engaged in many meaningful consultations.”
‘They are on the edge’
Wood spoke of a close friend who she says needs to write notes to herself reminding her of all the reasons she didn’t commit suicide.
“The people I know who fought for this the most, for so many years, are getting burned out and they’re on the edge,” she said.
Wood highlighted the continued lack of an independent agency to report sexual violence, the lack of a national online peer support program for victims, and the continued need for separate psychiatric care when needed.
“To be clear, we are asking for the same supports we asked for four years ago,” said Wood, adding that more and more victims are coming forward each year without a safety net to catch them.
“These people are not showing up to point out a simple discrepancy they see in the paperwork. They are sharing their experiences of terror, debilitating anxiety and shattered self-confidence.”
A “ national embarrassment ”
The committee is examining the impact of the ongoing sexual misconduct scandal on women serving in the military and those who have returned to civilian life.
The hearings and a concurrent separate Commons Defense Committee investigation were sparked by allegations of inappropriate behavior by the country’s top military commander, Admiral Art McDonald, and his predecessor, General Jonathan Vance.
“At this point, I believe sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces is a national embarrassment,” said Wood. “Our collective Canadian conscience has been hit hard by recent and high profile allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by our most senior leaders.”
Wood said that while these two cases, which are under investigation by the Army’s National Investigation Service, are important, they have distracted public attention from the larger tragedy.
“It is scandalous that two defense chiefs [staff] have faced allegations within weeks of each other, but it is even more scandalous to accept that 1,600 people report sexual assault on average each year in the CAF, ”said Wood.
Speaking to the committee, former Master Corporal Stephanie Raymond – whose 2011 assault by a senior non-commissioned officer made national headlines – reiterated her call for the creation of an independent reporting agency to deal with cases of sexual violence in the military.
She explained how, after reporting her attacker – former Warrant Officer André Gagnon – she received no privacy shield and suffered reprisals within her unit.
Julie S. Lalonde, women’s rights advocate and public educator, made a thoughtful but forceful appeal to committee members for cultural change in the military.
She said she was heckled and harassed in 2014 when she delivered anti-harassment training to cadets at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in Kingston, Ont.
“I have been and remain deeply troubled by the cadets’ comments regarding sexual violence,” she said. “Blame for victims was rampant and cadets insisted that women who drink too much ask to be raped.”
The only exception, Lalonde said, was a sea cadet who stood up to the rest of his classmates and berated them for their attitude and remarks.
“Are CAF members uncomfortable with terms like rape culture, toxic masculinity, survivor-centered? Absolutely, ”said Lalonde. “But you can’t change something that you won’t even name.”
She said since she came forward to describe what happened that day six and a half years ago at RMC, she has received “thousands of threatening emails, social media posts. and phone calls “- and she can no longer speak in public. without security.
“I paid dearly for my courage. So it is disheartening to see those of you who have immense power shy away from the hard work that is required to effect change.”