Military brass underestimated targets for ending sexual assault, and its effort to seek victims’ consent may have been inadequate, says Pentagon report
The Canadian military underestimated its progress in eliminating sexual assault and harassment in the ranks, and its efforts to seek victims’ consent may have been inadequate, according to an assessment by the Pentagon’s inspector general released on Wednesday.
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The findings suggest that the Canadian armed forces’ handling of sexual assaults may be less advanced than their American counterparts.
The Canadian services’ progress in 2015 – the latest year for which an independent assessment of the armed forces’ progress on eliminating sexual harassment and sexual assault is being compiled – appears to contradict the Canadian military’s own claims that they had made “significant progress”.
In Canada, sexual misconduct has long been a sensitive subject in the armed forces. Last year the former Canadian president, Saint-Jacques – a Canadian Christian – was charged with one count of sexual assault after he was accused of performing sexual acts in front of two women.
The findings from the inspector general’s assessment include similar criticism of Canada’s progress in rectifying years of sexual misconduct among Canadian military personnel, finding that in 2015 its services only managed to meet half of the Pentagon’s recommendations.
The Pentagon has recently come under criticism for its handling of sexual assault cases. Last year 22 women in the Pentagon, including a four-star general, filed a lawsuit against the military, alleging the army attempted to minimize the amount of sexual assault they reported to authorities.
Last year, in February, the Navy said its inspector general found that the service had operated on unattainable sexual assault reporting targets dating back several years. A July report confirmed the inspector general’s finding that the military’s efforts to purge unwanted sexual contact from its ranks had not been adequate.
Within the Canadian armed forces the recently retired general Andrew Leslie, who formerly headed the Canadian army, suggested last year that the Ottawa had embarked on “the most perverse military social experiment in modern military history”.
In 2014, Leslie wrote an open letter addressed to the “allys” in Canada’s armed forces explaining why he had been forced to resign and highlighting various levels of military culture in Canada.
The Pentagon assessment comes two days after Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the vice chief of the defence staff at Canada’s armed forces, made Canada the second country to send to New Zealand its sexual harassment complaints officer – something the Pentagon credited in its report.
The suggestion that the New Zealand service has committed far less to the Prevention of Harassment and Sexual Misconduct programme comes after the Canadian armed forces’ selection of legal counsel for the initiative.
The defence department chose Ian Vernon, a culture professor at the University of Ottawa, for legal counsel in 2015; officials chose Commodore Alissa Bruce, Canada’s women’s rights minister, for her relevant experience in December.