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Out of touch

Gender discrimination is not acceptable, in any way, shape or form


I have been writing this column for Legion Magazine for more than 15 years and I have written columns for other magazines and newspapers for even longer. Until now, I have never written a personal column. Why now? Because I want to express my view about gender discrimination and sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.


In several ways, I was involved in the aftermath of the Somalia Affair of the early 1990s. That disgraceful series of events emerged after Somali civilians were killed by Canadian soldiers on a United Nations Chapter VII peace enforcement operation in Somalia. The killings were covered up and, as the scandal emerged, it was apparent that there were some deep problems in the Canadian Army.

I wrote a book about the Somalia Affair, titled Significant Incident: Canada’s Army, the Airborne, and the Murder in Somalia. As a result of that, and I suppose other writing of mine on Canadian military history, I was asked by Doug Young, the minister of national defence in 1997, to write a report to him suggesting what might be done by the military to reform itself after he had closed down the Somalia Inquiry. 

Young also asked Jack Granatstein, then and now one of Canada’s most prolific historians and a graduate of Royal Military College of Canada; Desmond Morton, another accomplished Canadian military historian and RMC grad; and Albert Legault, a political scientist specializing in Canadian defence and foreign policy. 

It was also clear that the failure was a failure of leadership.

Young’s successor, Art Eggleton, later appointed me to the Minister of National Defence’s Monitoring Committee on Change in the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence, from 1997 to 2003.


As I wrote my book and took part in advising three defence ministers it became clear to me that those murders, racist acts and other bad behaviour among the military occurred in part because some Canadian soldiers were behind the times and did not reflect the Canadian values of the 1990s. 

By that time, Canada had become a diverse, rights-based society and racist behaviour was unacceptable to the vast majority of Canadians. It was also clear that the failure was a failure of leadership in not understanding the phenomenon or the basic truth that Canadians wanted their military to reflect what Canadian society had become.

Not all leaders were culpable, but enough were that rot was able to eat away at the core of Canada’s military ethos. 

We all made many recommendations on how to get out of the mess and many of those were implemented by the government over the next few years. But gender issues were largely—not completely, but largely—ignored by the government, by the armed forces, and by us. 


Gender issues are front and centre today because our society as a whole believes women have an inherent right to respect and to choose their own career path and that our society is poorer—economically, socially and morally—when impediments are placed in their path.

This wasn’t true at the end of the Second World War. It wasn’t true 50 or even 25 years ago. It should have been, but largely it wasn’t. And for too many men in the Canadian military, it is still not accepted today.

The military exists because we need one and because citizens—taxpayers—support it. As long as Canadians conclude that the military is out of touch with Canadian values, they will be frustrated by what goes on in the military and will demand change.

Gender discrimination may still exist in other militaries around the world, but such behaviour is not acceptable, in any way, shape or form.

Impose a zero-tolerance policy when the rules are broken.


What to do about it? I return to suggestions from more than two decades ago. 

Appoint a military inspector general with authority to intervene in the chain of command and directly solve problems. 

Impose a zero-tolerance policy when the rules are broken and impose strict punishment. Lay down the law and bring the armed forces into line with the values of Canadian society. Such behaviour is intolerable anywhere in the civilized world. Our military is no exception. 


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