A scathing report released on Monday by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour has returned attention to a military culture rampant with sexual misconduct, and recommends some next steps for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).
The report raises questions as to whether RMC is providing the high quality of education to future officers that would justify such a high price tag per student, significantly more than students who attend civilian universities, and if they should continue to grant degrees.
Arbour says some military leaders are committed to maintaining “old ways of doing business”, and in the report concludes that the CAF is a “broken system” that cannot be fixed on its own.
“The exposure of sexual misconduct in the CAF has shed light on a deeply deficient culture fostered by a rigid and outdated structure that did little to modernize it,” the report reads.
“For all the hardship it has caused over decades, the attention that this issue has recently attracted presents opportunities for change that might have been unimaginable without such a shock to the system. In my view, two things could derail the path to significant change. The first would be to assume that this is only attributable to a culture of misogyny, and that change will come naturally with time and more enlightened attitudes. The second would be for the CAF to think that it can fix its broken system alone.”
The report makes 48 recommendations pertaining to sexual misconduct, including moving the prosecution of sexual crimes to civilian court, directing any sexual harassment and discrimination complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, making an effort to promote more women, and conducting a thorough review to determine whether cadets in the Royal Officer Training Program should be required to attend undergraduate studies at a civilian university and not RMC.
Arbour details the structure of RMC in the report and how it is built on a foundation of the “four pillars” (academic, military training, fitness, and bilingualism).
Her report says the unifying principle between these pillars is the development of leadership, and that the leadership bestowed on many at such a young age has been likened to “children leading children”.
Arbour says the structure resembling peer-to-peer authority has assisted in preventing things like sexual misconduct from being reported.
“My interviews have revealed a system where cadets spend four years learning how to circumvent rules as a result of the immense pressure to succeed in all four pillars,” Arbour writes.
“This is starkly demonstrated in the area of sexual misconduct… Described by a stakeholder as a culture of ‘don’t blame your bud’, this fundamentally conflicts with the requirement to follow certain ethical guidelines and to step in when ‘your bud’ is behaving inappropriately.”
Arbour said that she is not in a position to evaluate the quality of the colleges’ Academic Wing, but said the remaining three pillars “show signs of stress”.
She says it’s unclear whether RMC is producing functionally bilingual officers, asserts that the Athletic Wing “celebrates the hyper-masculinity” culture that is a problem in the CAF, and as far as the military pillar says most of the CAF’s most “talented leadership role models and gifted educators” are generally valued and posted elsewhere.
The report says that often the career growth of those posted to RMC is stunted as a leadership role at RMC is not seen as equivalent to leadership roles in the Army.
Arbour writes that the CAF culture which has led to so many incidences of sexual misconduct is also seen as an issue at RMC.
A 2020 Statistics Canada survey revealed 79% of female cadets had witnessed or experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in the previous 12 months, and in general cadets who witnessed this type of behaviour only reported it 7% of the time, often unsure if it was “serious enough”.
Arbour’s findings point to life at RMC being particularly difficult and hostile for female cadets, and that the issues are well known and not being dealt with quickly enough.
“None of this is new, and the slow progress, assuming there has been some, indicates that the roots of the problems are deep and entrenched,” Arbour writes.
“While the CAF has taken steps to address these cultural and systemic failures, the current situation is still highly problematic.”
Arbour did add however that she commends RMC Kingston’s effort to identify and address long-standing “gaps” where the school needs to improve.
The report points out cadets receive sexual misconduct training and training promoting equity and diversity, but in general the efforts are “failing to substantially change still prevalent sexist attitudes, or eliminate sexual misconduct.”
A brief statement from National Defence says the recommendations will be analyzed so it can be determined what will be implemented, and touches on the issues brought to light at RMC.
“There has been progress towards meaningful cultural change made at RMC over the past few years, however, it is clear that, just as within the rest of the CAF, more work and change is needed,” the statement reads.
“Some items being recommended by Mme Arbour, such as expanding the focus of the Exit Interview to include cadets experiences with sexual misconduct or discrimination, will be quickly adopted.”
Justin Hudson, who says 10 years ago he was the victim of sexual misconduct by two fellow classmates at CFB Borden, has experienced the culture firsthand and dealt with the chain of command that he says are more interested in protecting perpetrators than victims.
One of the perpetrators was an RMC grad, Hudson says however he isn’t sure RMC as an institution is the root of the military’s problem.
“Before anybody jumps the gun on trying to jump the gun on any kind of program at RMC they should look into what it is that other military colleges in the western world do,” Hudson said.
He mentioned Sandhurst College in England and Westpoint in the United States as programs they could research as models.
Hudson said that he feels that the sexual misconduct culture in the Canadian ranks is somewhat unique to the CAF due to the relatively small numbers in the Canadian ranks and people throughout the ranks being much closer.
He says the recommendation of civilian oversight is much needed to hold the chain of command to account.
“I saw the chain of command being biased, I saw the chain of command ignoring all my complaints,” Hudson said.
The DND and CAF say they will engage with stakeholders, survivors, and current and former Defence Team members regarding the review and will inform parliament by the end of the year which recommendations that the government does not intend to implement.