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The war inside the Canadian Armed Forces

In the wake of multiple exits by senior leaders after untested allegations of misconduct, fixing its badly broken justice system is now the most important mission facing the beleaguered military

It had been four months since the end of an investigation into a man she alleges was sexually harassing her. No charges had been laid.

It had been three months since she saw an email announcing the man’s departure from the unit, because “events have transpired” that made it impossible for him to stay.

It had been less than two months since the report of former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, which decried the military’s underlying sexualized culture and hostile work environment, was released.

Now, at the beginning of May 2015, she was being offered an apology by a senior leader of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).

The current military member, whose identity Maclean’s agreed to protect, was summoned to a meeting with Michael Rouleau, who was in charge of the Canadian Special Forces. She sat alone in a chair across from Rouleau and his second-in-command, she says, and Rouleau delivered an apology for the outcome of the investigation.

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After the apology, she says he asked her if she thought the harassment she experienced was part of a systemic problem. She said yes, and started to cry. Then, she says, he seemed to argue the point, and spoke of his high regard for his own officers. “It was the old, ‘Are you sure? It’s not our guys,’ ” she says. “By the time I was done, it was like, ‘Did you just try to convince me I was wrong? Because I’m not wrong.’ ”

Maclean’s has viewed documentation that corroborates the events leading up to the meeting, as well as its scheduling. Rouleau declined to respond to the member’s characterization of their conversation. He “has no comment on this matter,” according to a statement from National Defence spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier, because “it would be inappropriate to comment on case specifics as it pertains to individuals’ privacy.”

In response to the military member’s allegations, Le Bouthillier added: “It is clear that sexual misconduct has no place in the Canadian Armed Forces. We recognize that there is a gap between our desired culture and the reality for many Defence team members. To close this gap and root out the harmful attitudes that have enabled misconduct, we must pursue real cultural change.”

In June, Rouleau stepped down as vice chief of the defence staff after he played a round of golf with retired chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance. As of the time of writing, Vance is still under investigation by military police over an alleged inappropriate consensual relationship with a subordinate and, according to reporting by Global News, an email to another person that is claimed to be inappropriate. In a resignation letter, Rouleau, to whom the head of the military police reports, said: “I understand how such an activity could lead some to perceive a potential conflict of interest and controversy.”

August 2021 cover of Maclean’s

Though he is still with the Forces, Rouleau’s resignation followed a series of other exits by senior military leaders. Vance’s successor, Art McDonald, was in the job for a little over a month before coming under investigation for unspecified allegations in February. The head of the Special Forces, Peter Dawe, was put on leave after CBC News reported in May that he had given a sentencing judge a positive character reference about a soldier found guilty of sexual assault. The same month, Dany Fortin was shuffled out as the head of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout when the military announced he was under investigation for an undisclosed allegation of misconduct that was referred to civilian police; he has sued the government for a lack of “procedural fairness.”

Meanwhile, one of the most senior women in the Forces, Eleanor Taylor, resigned, saying publicly that she was “disgusted” by the allegations against the highest in command.

For the current military member who sat with Rouleau in 2015, it’s not a matter of whether his golf game with Vance, who has denied any wrongdoing, was right or wrong. It’s a matter of symbolism. It was an act that seemed to raise the spectre of interference, and seemed to put proof to her impression that Rouleau and other leaders weren’t taking the idea of systemic issues all that seriously.

“You’re my leader. And I’m expected to be a leader right now, and I’m trying to be the best leader and set the best examples for my guys,” the military member says. “But who’s setting my example?”

***

The Canadian Armed Forces, as an institution, has a necessarily coercive culture. Leaders must have a high degree of authority and control over their subordinates in order for the military to be effective when it is called into action. But the checks and balances meant to stifle the ugly side of that coercion—an instinct to demonstrate power with subjugation, humiliation and harm—are deficient.

More than a dozen current and former military members tell Maclean’s of a deep distrust in the institutions that are supposed to bolster them, and of a belief that bad actors within the system will protect perpetrators and ostracize or punish complainants. All believe in the potential of the Forces, and that good men and women serve in its ranks. But few are optimistic about senior leadership’s willingness to tackle the cultural and systemic problems that undermine their efforts.

A recent report from former Supreme Court justice Morris Fish found that even if a majority of actors that interact with the military justice system acquit themselves honourably—from military police to lawyers to prosecutors to judges—there are myriad actual and perceived gaps in their independence from the chain of command. Too many safeguards hinge on the personal integrity of the senior officers in charge, the report found. Too little power is afforded to oversight bodies that would either legitimize or countermand decisions. And a grievance system that would ostensibly provide redress to military members who are wronged is in disrepair.

“The justification for a separate system of military justice is the need of the Armed Forces to maintain discipline, efficiency and morale,” Fish told Maclean’s in an interview. “The lack, or the perceived lack, of the independence of its principal actors, judges, prosecutors, defence counsel and police actors has the opposite effect.”

(Photo illustration by Anna Minzhulina and Drew Maynard)

(Photo illustration by Anna Minzhulina and Drew Maynard)

The judge advocate general, Geneviève Bernatchez, “welcomes Justice Fish’s important, timely and comprehensive report that provides practical approaches towards implementing his wide-ranging recommendations,” a statement from the military says. “Many of those recommendations are specifically aimed at ensuring the military justice system and its main actors are not only fair and impartial, but also that they are perceived to be fair and impartial. Both considerations are important to enhancing confidence in the military justice system, which is why we are working diligently on a plan to implement those recommendations.”

Nothing—except maybe a pending election—is stopping the federal Liberals and their much-maligned defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, from legislating major changes that could shore up confidence in the system. They even have a road map. Fish made 107 recommendations in total, from the creation of a permanent, independent military court, to the strengthening of oversight bodies, to the civilianization of military judges, to the reforming of the grievance system. Sajjan has accepted all of them in principle. He declined to be interviewed for this story, but says in a statement that he will accept, too, the findings of yet another report on misconduct from former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour. The CAF, too, has signalled its support for Arbour’s review, and says it will report to the parliamentary defence committee on the implementation of Fish’s recommendations twice annually, starting this fall.

With the Canadian military facing a worsening crisis of leadership, its legacy of sexual misconduct being litigated in the public and Sajjan’s own career hanging in the balance, the conditions seem ripe for change. But we’ve been through the same cycle over and over again. Horror stories are reported. Inquiries are held. Promises are made. And not a lot changes. What makes us think this time will be any different?

***

In 1979, a former military member who asked that Maclean’s not use his name says he was pulled into a bathroom and sodomized with the handle of a toilet plunger, some six months after he started basic training in British Columbia. He reported the attack, he says, but the army’s only response was to convince him to quit and go home. “I was apparently expected to just ‘get over it,’ and if I couldn’t, then the system had no use for me,” he says. His wife confirms it wasn’t until the mid-’90s, about a decade after they were married, that he started talking to her about what happened. He only began seeking serious help last year, he says. “It took me that long to finally rise above the toxic masculinity that says men aren’t victims of sexual assault or, if they are, it’s only because they were too weak to prevent it.”

Victoria Jonas joined the military reserves in 1982, at age 19, and says she experienced routine harassment. On an exercise one snowy weekend, a supervisor who had been sexually harassing her for weeks made her, among other things, march back and forth for sentry duty from midnight to 8 a.m. with no winter gear. It was the final straw. When she gave her notice, she told a supervisor what had been happening. She says she’s never forgotten what he said to her: “You think you are better than everyone here.” A friend to whom she recounted the events at the time remembers how demoralizing an experience the military had proven to be for Jonas. “On top of being sexually harassed by a lot of these guys, a lot of them were also in turn telling her that she wasn’t good enough, and this and that. She couldn’t take it anymore, and she just said, ‘I’m leaving.’ ”

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In July 1984, 17-year-old Christina Perry, who’d been a proud Air Cadet since age 12, joined the air reserves to train as a musician in Ottawa. An instructor began harassing her from day one, Perry says, and repeatedly sexually assaulted her over the course of the summer. “I felt completely isolated and vulnerable,” she says, adding that no one else seemed to disapprove of or notice what was going on. “I did not know who was safe to speak to, so I remained silent.” A boyfriend with whom Perry shared the details not long after, who has now known her for almost 40 years, says he remembers how distraught she was: “There’s no doubt in my mind that it was a major life-changing event for her.”

In response to these allegations, the military said in a statement: “In order to protect those who protect Canada, we must always ensure that we make every effort possible to maintain a truly welcoming and inclusive organization. Simply put, there is no room in the Canadian Armed Forces for any type of misconduct. While that was as true in our past as it is today, we recognize that efforts to date—while well-intentioned—have not delivered the results that the Canadian Armed Forces needs, and its people deserve. This is why we are taking concrete steps to refocus and intensify our efforts to eradicate all forms of improper conduct, discrimination, biases, harmful stereotypes and systemic barriers across National Defence. In short, culture change within the Canadian Armed Forces is required.”

People who served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the ’70s and ’80s say they were well aware of how prevalent and pernicious military sexual misconduct was. It caused many of them to abandon their dreams of military service. But it was a series of articles in Maclean’s that first brought widespread national attention to the issue.

That first cover story—“Rape in the military”—was released in May 1998 even as the military was reeling from a different scandal altogether. The Somalia commission had investigated abuses by the CAF’s Canadian Airborne Regiment during a UN mission in 1992 and 1993, including the torture and killing of a Somali teenager. In a report released in July 1997, it had found evidence of a major institutional cover-up.

In response to both scandals, the then-Liberal government legislated major changes to the military justice system, creating new actors including an ombudsman and the Military Police Complaints Commission. The 1998 bill remains the system’s most recent major overhaul.

Military lawyer Michel Drapeau points to two big problems in the bill that still reverberate today. First, it took sexual assault off the list of civilian criminal offences that are off-limits to military prosecutors (leaving only murder, manslaughter and child abduction). Looking at ongoing problems with sexual misconduct, Drapeau says: “The mistake was made then.”

The second error was in ignoring the Somalia commission’s advice to create a powerful inspector general role, which Drapeau says could have reported directly to Parliament. The commission recommended such a person “focus on systemic problems within the military justice system,” and investigate complaints from anyone about just about anything: abuses of authority, racial harassment, failures to investigate misconduct. It’s exactly the sort of thing that witnesses have been pleading for in parliamentary committee hearings more than 20 years later.

***

Like so many before her, Amy Graham had been warned early that reporting sexual assault would be a military career-ender. In 2010, six years into that career, a superior officer twice made unwanted advances on her, kissing her face and trying to grab her breasts at a hotel in Cyprus on their way back from a deployment to Afghanistan. She pushed him away, but he only stopped after she threatened to call military police. She quit the Forces not long after without immediately reporting the incident.

In 2014, a L’Actualité article detailed another woman’s story of sexual assault and laid out an estimate that some 1,780 sexual assaults were likely occurring every year in the Canadian military. That’s when then-chief of the defence staff Tom Lawson asked former justice Deschamps to review the issue of sexual misconduct. Inexplicably, she was given a mandate that explicitly barred her from looking at the military justice system or its court decisions.

It was in this atmosphere of reckoning, similar to that in ’98, that Graham worked up the courage to call military police in 2015. They charged the alleged assailant, Alan Chapman, with sexual assault. But she says investigators warned her he might not be punished for that crime—that “99 per cent of the time,” the defence and prosecution worked out plea bargains on lesser charges. At a court martial sentencing hearing in 2016, Chapman pleaded guilty to an offence of “behaved in a disgraceful manner” under the military-specific Code of Service Discipline; he was fined $2,500 and demoted in rank.

A few days after the trial, Graham says she saw Lawson’s successor, Jonathan Vance, on TV. He was talking about Operation Honour. The mission, reduced to a joke almost immediately by many military members—it sounded like “hop on her”—was an attempt to “ensure sexual misconduct is never minimized, ignored or excused.” A Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC) was stood up within the Department of National Defence to offer anonymous support to victims, which today Fish says needs strengthening. (The Liberals’ 2021 budget included, among other things, a promise to extend free legal advice to victims through the SMRC; the CAF says that will be implemented “in the coming year.”) A duty to report was spelled out that would require bystanders to report incidents, and along with it a requirement that reports be investigated—something the military has now promised to reverse.

Within the Canadian Forces National Investigative Service, a section of the military police that handles serious investigations, Sexual Offence Response Teams were established. Jesse Zillman, who now works for a municipal police force in Manitoba, was on one of those teams until his retirement from the Forces in 2019. The new teams did “very little” to affect how sex crimes were investigated, he says, and people already handling similar files were simply redistributed. “They could say, ‘We made this team,’ put out a press release and take a nice photo.”

Zillman says he felt independent as a military police officer and free to push back on commanding officers, well-intentioned or not, who were eager for information about investigations. But for further independence from a “hovering” chain of command, he thinks military police should be civilianized, and the investigation and prosecution of all Criminal Code offences should be taken away from military control. He doesn’t buy the idea that the military needs to police and judge itself. “The whole point of the justice system is that it’s impartial, and when you say we need a separate one because of cultural issues, that’s nonsense to me.”

Richard Draper was a proud military police officer for 28 years. He says he doesn’t recall serious incidents of interference from the chain of command, but remembers worrying about the possibility. “When you’re soldiers, this is the bottom line: we gave an oath of allegiance. It usually works fine, but when something happens at the highest levels where there could be some inadvertent interference, what do you do?”

In a 2015 master’s thesis, Draper suggested giving military police a better firewall by creating a military police services act. Others suggest wrapping the military police into the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

That recent problematic golf game highlighted another potential fix. In his report, Fish recommended that the provost marshal, the head of the military police, report up to the minister, rather than to the vice chief of the defence staff; and that the vice chief of the defence staff no longer have the power to provide written instructions on specific investigations—a power that, according to the current provost marshal, Simon Trudeau, has not been used anyway.

As to what would happen with an investigation at the “highest levels,” one of the golfers offers an interesting test case.

Fish says quite categorically that justice could not currently be carried out in an instance where the chief of defence staff were to be tried by court martial. Even if the judges themselves are taken out of the chain of command, which Fish recommends, there would be a problem with the court martial equivalent of a jury, which constitutes a five-person panel of military members. All of them would necessarily be subordinates of the accused, putting them into a conflict of interest.

To avoid all of this, of course, you could try a chief of defence staff in the civilian system. But as far as anyone knows, Vance isn’t accused of any Criminal Code offences.

Fish’s suggested solution to the problem is to allow retired generals and other high-ranking officials to sit on court martial panels, should the need arise. But of the 36 recommendations for which Sajjan announced implementation is “already under way,” that’s not one of them.

Asked for comment on the predicament, the military noted that Judge Advocate General Geneviève Bernatchez was one of the people who raised this issue with Fish, and characterized the report’s recommendations as “pragmatic solutions to this practical difficulty.”

***

That original sin in 1998—the decision to allow the military to prosecute sexual assaults committed by its members, against its members—is something Morris Fish would see undone, at least until the military implements some key legislation. Not new legislation, mind you. Legislation passed two years ago.

In 2019, Bill C-77 mandated a set of victims’ rights for military justice proceedings that would bring them into better line with the civilian system. But those haven’t been put into place yet. The military says in a statement that regulations are currently being drafted to put the new protections for victims into place. As of late June, the military justice system still has jurisdiction over sexual assault cases “as we work on the implementation plan” for Fish’s recommendations.

In her study of 14 sexual assault courts martial between 2015 and 2018, law professor Elaine Craig of Dalhousie University used Amy Graham’s case to make a point about the absence of such rights. A number of mitigating factors were considered by the judge in his sentencing. Among them was the fact that the accused had “allowed the victim to have a voice at the sentencing hearing, thereby demonstrating his consideration to what she has had to go through as the result of his actions.” Victims’ statements at sentencing are a matter of course in the civilian system. (The court also considered his guilty plea, his clear disciplinary record and his nearly 30 years of service with the CAF.)

Craig noted the frequency of plea deals for Code of Service Discipline offences and wrote it “sends the message that violating the sexual integrity of a fellow member of the CAF is not a serious infraction in the Canadian military.”

In 2018, Statistics Canada reported that about 900 regular force members—1.6 per cent of all members—had experienced sexual assault over the preceding year. One in four respondents said somebody in authority found out about the incident. A similar survey planned for 2020 was delayed due to the pandemic.

The military’s Operation Honour tracking system logged 671 sexual assault incidents and 1,220 other sexual misconduct incidents reported to the chain of command from April 2016 through the end of March this year. Of 1,376 incidents documented by military police over the same time period, 2.8 per cent were determined to be “unfounded,” which the military points out is well below the national average of 11 per cent reported by Statistics Canada in 2018. Military police laid or recommended charges in 276 of the cases.

In the 2019-20 financial year, specifically, the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre reported it had taken on 628 new cases. About two out of every five reports were concerning a sexual assault. During the same financial year, only four cases of sexual assault were prosecuted at courts martial. All four led to guilty charges.

(Photo illustration by Anna Minzhulina and Drew Maynard)

(Photo illustration by Anna Minzhulina and Drew Maynard)

The four military judges typically handle about 50 to 60 court martial trials a year. From April 2020 until the time of writing, there appear to have been only four decisions on sexual assault, including two guilty verdicts and two verdicts where the accused were found guilty of a lesser charge of “disgraceful” behaviour—one was imprisoned for 60 days and the other was fined $1,900 and given three weeks’ confinement to barracks.

Another three sexual assault trials saw a stay of proceedings due to a legal drama around the independence of military judges, but the stays were overturned in June by the Court Martial Appeal Court—which, by the way, found military judges to be adequately independent.

Courts martial have also increasingly handled cases of sexual misconduct falling short of sexual assault. In a February 2020 decision, a military member who was accused of unwanted touching and sending inappropriate text messages, and who had been charged with assault, was found guilty on one count of “conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline”—a military-only charge prosecuted at courts martial so frequently (44 times in 2019-20) that Justice Fish specifically recommends its use be minimized.

The member was fined $2,000 and given a severe reprimand, which the judge argued “reflects that even minor misconduct will have serious consequences.”

In the 1980s, Sam Samplonius says she was sexually assaulted three times by fellow military members, whom she did not then report. She tucked those events away in the back of her mind over an almost 40-year career in the Forces, thinking the ’80s were “a different time.”

But it all came flooding back in 2016, when she alleges a member of the British military who was posted to Canada sexually assaulted her after a mess dinner. Equipped with modern language around consent, she felt empowered to report the incident to city police, who investigated and charged the perpetrator with sexual assault.

The outcome of her case was the acquittal of the accused, with a judge ruling the prosecution didn’t establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Samplonius, who says the civilian system could benefit from a military liaison for cases such as hers, is now pursuing a separate civil suit against him.

Amy Graham found herself pursuing her case through the civil system, too. She is one of the named plaintiffs in the joint class-action lawsuit—alleging sexual harassment, sexual assault or discrimination based on sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation in connection with claimants’ military service or employment with the Canadian Forces—that resulted in a $900-million settlement agreement with the government in 2019. The claims period opened in 2020 and stays open until late November this year. As of the time of writing, 6,880 claims have been made, and 2,379 paid out.

***

About a decade ago, Colten Skibinsky was out on a training course with 50 or 60 soldiers. Their instructor had them sit in a circle and close their eyes, according to Skibinsky’s account. Then he told a story.

It was about a sniper cell in Afghanistan that hunted down al-Qaeda fighters with American troops. In 2002, one of the Canadians had broken an all-time combat record, killing a man from 2,430 metres away. But that glory was shattered by allegations that two snipers cut a finger off an enemy’s corpse. No charges were ultimately laid.

The instructor asked the troops to raise their hands if they thought the soldier who reported the alleged incident had done the right thing, Skibinsky says. When he opened his eyes, Skibinsky says he realized he was one of four or five people with their hands up. He alleges the instructor kicked him in the ribs from behind, then announced: “Take a good look around. These are the rats on your course, and they won’t be here after week five.”

When his fifth week in the course came, Skibinsky says he was charged with insubordination and marched into a summary trial hearing. He was kicked off the course, fined $500 and given a week of extra duties. The insubordination, he says, had been a refusal to cut his own hair with his bayonet.

Maclean’s corroborated Skibinsky’s presence on the training course at the time of his allegations. A CAF member who served alongside Skibinsky at the base did not witness the incidents he alleges first-hand, but describes an atmosphere where fellow members and superiors would openly deride, physically intimidate or socially exclude people they called “snitches.” Maclean’s agreed to protect the person’s identity because they are still serving in the Forces.

The military says in a statement that it was made aware of Skibinsky’s allegations on June 22—the date of a request for comment from Maclean’s. “We are deeply troubled by this matter and have referred the allegations to the appropriate authorities for examination and further action,” the statement says.

In the summary trial process, the accused’s commanding officer is the person who decides whether to lay charges, presides over the hearing and decides what the punishment will be. Reforms to that process in Bill C-77, including removing detention as a punishment, still haven’t been implemented. The military says Defence Minister Sajjan has directed his department to implement the remaining provisions of the bill “as soon as possible.”

Tim Dunne, a veteran after 37 years in the Forces who writes extensively on military justice, says personal biases can come into play. “You can get two people committing the same offence or infraction and they can work for different commanding officers, and one may just simply say, ‘Smarten up, kid.’ The other can be put in jail for 30 days.”

That’s even more so the case with administrative punishments, which are “increasingly” used and offer only a veneer of procedural fairness, says military lawyer and the CAF’s former administrative law director Rory Fowler. “Administrative measures are extremely broad. They’re really only constrained by the imagination of the person using them.” It can mean extra duties; withholding promotions; keeping people off training courses or away from postings.

A functioning grievance process could theoretically mitigate abuses of power in the summary or administrative processes. But Fish reserves his strongest language for its failings. “It’s a disgrace. It’s a broken system and members of the military who put themselves at risk to protect Canada and Canadians, who can’t unionize, can’t bargain collectively, the only form of redress they have is grievances. In the present situation, they will wait years, literally, for grievances to be decided.”

Even potential remedies for grievances are delayed. Bill C-15 mandated that members be given the option to be reinstated, should they successfully grieve their release from the military. That was seven years ago. The military says Parliament did not write in a “coming into force” date for the provision, giving it “flexibility to enact the clause once all policy and other considerations have been addressed,” and that it intends to request an extension under the Statute Repeals Act to prevent the clause from automatically expiring in 2023. The change will require regulatory and legislative amendments, the statement from National Defence says. “In the meantime, the department has other mechanisms in place which can fairly and effectively deal with the majority of cases where reinstatement is required.”

***

Skibinsky says he saw rampant sexual misconduct during his 10 years of service—something he thinks is a symptom of a broader culture of impunity among senior officers who allow or encourage bad behaviour.

Jennie Carignan, who was recently promoted to a new chief of professional conduct and culture role in the Forces, put it this way to a parliamentary committee: “Very quickly, bullying can be confused with leadership, arrogance with confidence, lying with loyalty, and so on. If there is no strict discipline in this regard, toxicity sets in and all this creates power dynamics within the hierarchy. That’s what makes things like sexual misconduct and other unprofessional behaviour happen.”

Megan MacKenzie, a professor at Simon Fraser University who studies military culture and gender integration, points out that the conversation around sexual misconduct has tended to focus on how to support victims. That’s not a bad thing, she says, but now that Operation Honour has dissolved and senior leadership is in a position to set a new course, there should be more emphasis on preventing misconduct in the first place.

Fowler, the former administrative law director, agrees. “You’re fixing a symptom of the same problem that allows people to act with impunity when it comes to sexualized behaviour, racist or hateful conduct, ostracization of any member of the Defence team,” he says.

It’s not a simple fix. Experts consulted by Maclean’s say there are myriad changes that would add independence to the military justice system and prevent bad actors from exploiting it. For one thing, there are restorative justice approaches that could add to training on misconduct that goes beyond what one member calls “death by PowerPoint.”

Former vice chief of the defence staff Mark Norman says more careful recruitment and a better process for promoting leaders could help, too. “We need a complete overhaul of the evaluation system,” he says. Officers rise through the ranks without feedback from their peers or subordinates, he says, and a change is “decades overdue.”

This fall, the CAF says new online assessments will be added to the process for promotions to the rank of brigadier-general or commodore and above. Those recommended for the highest ranks will also be subject to feedback from subordinates and colleagues. Changes to the promotion of lower ranks “could begin in 2022.”

Norman says he takes responsibility for being part of a leadership team that didn’t take the Deschamps report seriously enough. Today’s crisis has parallels to the impact of the Somalia inquiry in the ’90s, he says. “We lived through that, and we saw it, and many of us were significantly impacted by it,” he says. “This is even more problematic. You’re going to have issues around trust and confidence that will take years if not decades to rebuild.”

Major shifts are always reactionary, Hilary McCormack, who chairs the Military Police Complaints Commission, points out. Courts order changes. Or political firestorms force legislation. Though McCormack would like to see more prescience, she thinks today’s pressures might be enough. “Right now there is such a focus on these issues, on sexual misconduct in the military but also this whole issue of policing authorities in general and oversight in general. I really think this is a perfect confluence of influences to make this a priority. I have more confidence than in the past.”

Lori Buchart, who chairs a military sexual trauma support group called It’s Not Just 700, hopes a day will come when the military’s disgrace is no longer on the front page of the newspaper, or the cover of a magazine. “I think all of us who’ve served want to see the Canadian Forces successful.”

But Dawn McIlmoyle, who was pictured on the Maclean’sRape in the Military” cover in 1998, remains cautious about her optimism. She worries about the inertia and denialism that prevented change in the late ’90s and have continued to stymie efforts over the past five years. “If you’re in those top ranks, do you not know what’s going on?” she says. “If they say they want change and they’re sincerely apologetic for what happened to us, then why are they dragging their feet?”


This article appears in print in the August 2021 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “The war inside the military.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.