Ex-judge who advised Forces on sex assaults says reforms slow

OTTAWA — The Canadian military has been slow to change its highly sexualized culture, says former Supreme Court judge Marie Deschamps, who wrote a major report on the problem four years ago.

Testifying to the House of Commons defence committee, she said victims of sexual aggression in the ranks aren't served well by the military's complaints process.

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Deschamps's review, which concluded in March 2015, found an underlying culture "hostile to women and LGTBQ members and conducive to more serious incidents of sexual harassment and assault."

Following its release, defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance launched a wide-ranging effort known as Operation Honour to eliminate abuse, harassment and assault in the Forces.

Deschamps isn't satisfied with it.

"So they, I think, tried to do too much internally," she told the committee this week. "They need to rely more on people who are not as much imbued with the military culture."

Deschamps said when she initially presented her findings, she stressed the need for a broad strategy to change that culture, which stretched from the enlisted ranks through to senior officers.

"Unfortunately, they've already taken four years and we don't see the colour of the strategy yet," she said.

Deschamps was also critical of the "duty to report," which compels service members to report any criminal behaviour and trigger a formal investigation. The idea is to require anyone who learns of sexual misconduct to tell authorities about it so cases don't get hidden. The effect can be to drag them into the open against victims' wishes, and make victims reluctant to seek support.

A fall report from the auditor general was similarly critical, saying the policy increased cases reported by third parties regardless of the victim's readiness to come forward. This discouraged disclosure by some victims, it noted.

Deschamps stressed the need for the military to take a more victim-focused approach, providing more support to them before pursuing sanctions against perpetrators.

"There has to be a balance and the first person you have to look to is the victim," she said.

Vance last month said there were no plans to remove the duty to report — members of the military have a duty to report wrongdoing, he said in an interview with The Canadian Press — but that officials were looking at ways to empower and support victims.

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