Governor General David Johnston presents then Major Eleanor Taylor, from Antigonish, N.S., with the Meritorious Service Medal during a ceremony in Ottawa, Ont. Friday June 22, 2012. A female officer of the Canadian Armed Forces is quitting the military, saying she is “sickened” by ongoing investigations of sexual misconduct against senior military leaders. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Governor General David Johnston presents then Major Eleanor Taylor, from Antigonish, N.S., with the Meritorious Service Medal during a ceremony in Ottawa, Ont. Friday June 22, 2012. A female officer of the Canadian Armed Forces is quitting the military, saying she is “sickened” by ongoing investigations of sexual misconduct against senior military leaders. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Military sexual misconduct centre head sees assaults reported as progress, not failure

Denise Preston says information is critical for understanding the scope and scale of the problem

The head of the response centre set up to help victims of sexual misconduct in the military says recent complaints against senior leaders of the Canadian Armed Forces are a sign of progress, not failure.

Still, Denise Preston, executive director of the civilian-run Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, said the fact those allegations are being raised in the media, rather than directly to the military, shows there is a lack of trust in the reporting process among the ranks.

It also shows more must be done to eliminate inappropriate sexual behaviour from the military, Preston said, starting with the Defence Department and the Canadian Armed Forces finally acting on her past calls for better data.

The military has previously promised to provide better information, which Preston said is critical for understanding the scope and scale of the problem as well as who is being victimized, who the perpetrators are and what happens to them.

But Preston told The Canadian Press in an interview this week that the military has made only minimal progress over the past few years as past promises have been derailed by shifting priorities that have taken attention away from responding to sexual misconduct.

“The couple of times in the past that these efforts have started, they’ve ended up getting overtaken by other events,” said Preston, who has served as the inaugural executive director of the centre since 2017.

“It just hasn’t happened, but it’s absolutely a priority that needs to be addressed.”

Preston’s comments come amid emerging allegations of misconduct involving senior members of the Armed Forces, including the two most recent chiefs of the defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance and Admiral Art McDonald.

It also coincides with mounting questions about the military’s ongoing inability to tackle an issue that has come to the surface several times over more than two decades, including in 2014, which is when the sexual misconduct response centre was created.

Recently, a senior female officer, Lt.-Col. Eleanor Taylor, said she is quitting the Armed Forces, saying in her resignation letter that she was “sickened” by investigations into top military commanders — and “disgusted” they took so long.

Taylor added that she was “encouraged” when Operation Honour — the all-out effort to eliminate sexual misconduct in the military — was launched in July 2015, but: “Sadly, the failure of senior leadership to set the example on the operation has poisoned it.”

Her departure comes after 25 years in uniform, including leading an infantry company in Afghanistan. It prompted a promise from Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and his department Wednesday to to redouble efforts to root sexual misconduct from the ranks.

Vance is alleged to have had an ongoing relationship with a subordinate that began more than a decade ago and continued after he became chief of the defence staff. He is also accused of having sent a lewd email to a junior soldier in 2012.

The allegations were reported in early February by Global News, which says Vance has denied any wrongdoing. The Canadian Press has not independently verified the allegations, and Vance has declined to respond to requests for comment.

McDonald, who became defence chief in January, has temporarily stepped aside while military police investigate an allegation of misconduct that has not been detailed publicly.

While Taylor isn’t the only one to have criticized the military’s progress on the issue, Preston suggested the recent reports should be seen as a step in the right direction.

“On the strength of a couple of people coming forward, it’s provided opportunity for more people to come forward,” Preston said in an interview done before news of Taylor’s resignation emerged late Tuesday.

“Would that have happened five years ago? Ten years ago? I’m not sure. So it makes me think that perhaps this is a result of more dialogue in the organization and a result of Operation Honour being in place.”

Preston has previously underscored the need for data, as the military currently has a hodgepodge of reports from military police, individual commanders and others.

She said the best information the military has right now is from two Statistics Canada surveys of serving military personnel released in 2016 and 2018.

The 2018 report had 1.6 per cent of members of the regular Forces — about 900 people — report they had been victims of sexual assault, either in the military workplace or otherwise involving military members in the year before the survey. For the primary reserves, that number was 2.2 per cent, or about 600 people.

“That’s the sum total of what we know,” said Preston, adding it is unknown how many perpetrators were involved.

That lack of information hampers her centre’s ability to monitor the military’s fight against sexual misconduct, Preston said, and also undermines that fight.

Preston also joined other experts and survivors of military sexual misconduct in calling for the Armed Forces to introduce ways for service members to report sexual assaults and other incidents without triggering a formal investigation, as in other countries.

The Liberal government has faced calls to establish more independent oversight and accountability over the military, particularly when it comes to inappropriate sexual behaviour.

That is also what retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps recommended when she issued a scathing report on sexual misconduct in the military in 2015.

The response centre was established in response to Deschamps’s report, but Preston acknowledged it is not independent. It relies on the Defence Department for funding and while it can identify issues and make recommendations, it is not responsible for holding the military to account.

“We need to re-look at our own mandate and our own independence and look at whether or not we’ve got it right,” she said. “I don’t think we have it right yet.”

Military

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

North Cowichan councillor Kate Marsh. (File photo)
North Cowichan postpones decision on cell tower placement

But cell tower policy may be developed soon

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks at a press conference Monday, April 18. (B.C. Government image)
New COVID-19 cases tick down on the central Island

New cases held to single digits three days in a row

CVRD offices on Ingram Street will remain closed for another 14 weeks after flooding last month. (File photo)
CVRD headquarters closed for another three and a half months

Building significantly damaged during water leak

Victoria police are asking for help locating high-risk missing man Derek Whittaker, last seen in Victoria April 12. (Courtesy of VicPD)
MISSING: Police searching for Derek Whittaker, last seen in Victoria

Whittaker believed to be driving 1994 red Volkswagen Golf

The IIO is investigating after a police dog bit a man during a traffic stop near Ladysmith on April 17, 2021. (Black Press Media stock photo)
IIO investigating after police dog bites man near Ladysmith

RCMP dog bit man during traffic stop on Friday, April 17

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. to table budget that’s expected to deal with COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

Robinson released a fiscal update last December that said the impact of the pandemic on B.C.’s economy was uncertain

Paramedic Matthew Schlatter of Victoria is living a fuller life today due to the double lung transplant he received in 2019. He encourages B.C. residents to register as an organ donor and let their families know their wishes. (Instagram/Matthew Schlatter)
B.C. man living a full, active life after double-lung transplant

Matt Schlatter encourages people to register as an organ donor to help others live

(Photo by Mojpe/Pixabay)
Canadian kids extracting record amounts from Tooth Fairy

Our neighbours in the U.S. receive slightly less from Tooth Fairy visits

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Wickaninnish (Clifford Atleo) plays the drum while singing the Nuu-chah-nulth song on the court steps in Vancouver In a picture from April 2018. Photo credit, Melody Charlie.
Five western Vancouver Island First Nations celebrate legal fishing victory

Court ruling confirms Nuu-chah-nulth fishing rights in case dating back to 2003

Most Read