Herizons Commentary

Disarming Military Misogyny  by Penni Mitchell
Disarming Military Misogyny

Military misogyny is having a moment.

In January, General Jonathan Vance retired as defence chief of the Canadian Armed Forces just as allegations of sexual misconduct against him became public, and his replacement, Admiral Art McDonald, stepped down the following month after it was reported that he was under investigation for sexual misconduct.

Vance and McDonald were Trudeau appointees, which meant that the issue was not just an internal problem, or a women’s problem, but a political minefield.

Feminists hoped Trudeau would step up and address toxic masculinity in the military. But when defence committee hearings looked at who knew what when, Trudeau seemed more preoccupied with protecting himself than the country’s roughly 19,000 female service members.

He also claimed he didn’t know about the allegations until Vance vacated the post in January. Yet Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan knew back in 2018, and the Privy Council Office did, too.

Vastly more crucial than who knew what when is the fact that toxic masculinity within the military predates General Vance, and the millennium for that matter.

More than a decade before the MeToo movement, women were calling out sexual harassment in the military as well as the RCMP, but back then, no one in government seemed to believe that men in uniform could

be anything but heroes. And so a white- and male-dominated culture that fuelled sexual harassment and impeded the careers of women also drove discrimination against people of colour seeking career advancement. No one called it “unconscious” bias back then: men in positions of power felt entitled to enforce an imagined supremacy, and as long as the military policed itself, nothing would change.

Three years after a class action lawsuit was filed by former service women in 2016, Ottawa set up a $900 million-dollar fund to compensate women in the military who experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault and discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. And though the Armed Forces set up an internal process to deal with sexual harassment—more than 1,000 claims were made between 2016 and 2019— the process was criticized as weak.

A few dozen military personnel have been fined, demoted or dismissed over the last three years. A small step, but when the revelations came that two of the very men to whom the head of the investigations would report had been accused of sexual impropriety, any notion that the military was capable of policing its own was blown to smithereens.

Late in the day on International Women’s Day, Ottawa announced that investigations into sexual and other forms of harassment in the military will now be conducted by an independent body—something that former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps recommended in her 2015 external review of military sexual misconduct. Racist, gender-based and homophobic discrimination will all be investigated, Ottawa announced, and Lieutenant-General Frances J. Allen—the first woman in the role—has been hired as vice chief of the defence staff.

For too long, the military and the RCMP have operated as vestiges of a colonialist and patriarchal past in which women, Indigenous people, LGBTQ+ people and people of colour have been treated as second-class citizens.

Which is why, when George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were killed in the U.S. by police nearly a year ago, Black, Indigenous and people of colour in Canada erupted in solidarity to call out the deadly racism that plagues Canada’s RCMP and its police forces. We must keep the pressure on.

Last year in Canada there were 55 police shootings and 34 fatalities. Of the 21 fatally shot victims whose race could be determined by the Canadian Press, 15 were Black, Indigenous or people of colour. To disarm racism, misogyny and other forms of discrimination, a radically new vision of public safety, informed by the experiences of marginalized and racialized people, is needed. Next up: an end to police forces

investigating their own wrongdoings.  ▼


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This article appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Herizons. Order the entire issue here. http://www.herizons.ca/pastissues