Acknowledging there “may be cases of (sexual misconduct) at CFB Comox,” 19 Wing Commander Col. Tom Dunne welcomed Canada’s highest-ranking woman and leader of a response team on a report on sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces to the base Thursday.
Maj.Gen. Christine Whitecross and her team were appointed to respond and study the report, which was created by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps, who found sexual misconduct is “endemic” in the Canadian military.
Whitecross conducted two town hall-style meetings Thursday morning to members, and acknowledged afterwards in an interview there is inconsistency to how people are processing the report.
“A number of people are surprised by the report; a number of people find it difficult to understand how we got to that position, and on the other extreme there are a number of people who think the report is bang-on and are happy that it is being addressed.”
In the report, Deschamps made 10 recommendations, which Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson accepted two outright and eight in principal.
One of the recommendations is that the Canadian Armed Forces create an independent centre where victims can seek support and advice.
Last Wednesday, a CBC report noted Canada’s top general issued orders for the military to plan to ignore key recommendations, including the creation of the independent centre.
In response to the story, Lawson noted he has accepted the recommendation of a ‘Centre of Accountability ‘ – separate from the chain of command – in principal.
He added before the final report was received, he took a proactive measure to stand-up a dedicated team to examine the report and to develop an action plan to respond to it.
“These planning assumptions should in no way be viewed as restrictions or orders for (Whitecross) to ignore the recommendations of the final report. Any such suggestion is quite simply false,” he explained in a media release.
Whitecross said Thursday she has never received mixed messages and hopes they will not restrict a member’s ability to speak out about any sexual misconduct.
“I want to make it very clear that I’ve never had a mixed message. The direction I got from the leadership at the Canadian Armed Forces – chief of the defence staff – has been constant since he appointed me,” she explained.
“We’ve always been very open to the mandate which has been to address all 10 recommendations from Madame Deschamps and to bring them forward. That’s never changed.”
Whitecross said through town halls, discussions and conversations, behaviour change in the short term will lead to long-term cultural change in the Canadian Forces.
Socially, she noted, there’s an imperative to treat everybody with dignity and respect, but as military members, it’s important to instil the cohesion amongst members that will yield operational success and excellence.
“We can only do that when people feel comfortable being at work and actually working with their colleagues.”
Dunne explained when creating her report, Deschamps did have the opportunity to visit the base and speak to members, as her mandate was to speak anonymously to several air force, army and navy bases.
While he acknowledged it’s not quantified or aggregated in any way, her report shows there were problems identified.
“As the local commander of the base, I am not aware of specific incidents that are not being looked after but all I can do is accept the fact that Madame Deschamps did speak to people who had concerns across the country, and I would extrapolate from that there may be cases of it here.”
He added he will take every case seriously and will help victims in any way through the chain of command.
With the first report due in the fall, Whitecross hopes to have tangible action plans and even measurements in all of the action items.
“I can’t really say how long it will take us. Culture change takes months and years; behaviour change as well. As we’re moving forward, we’re hoping that by the fall we’ll actually be able to give an indication of where we are and where we’re going.”