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

The Creston Valley Farmers’ Market will be opening for the outdoor season this weekend. (File Photo)
A new season at the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market begins

Opening day will be on Saturday, April 24

Nav Canada will not be closing the tower at West Kootenay Regional Airport. Photo: Betsy Kline
Nav Canada tower to remain open at West Kootenay Regional Airport

The organization was considering closing the tower

Frisky Whisky has closed its doors to the public under public health orders. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Cocktail lounge in Creston gets creative to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions

Frisky Whisky is now offering a lunch takeout menu and take-home cocktail kits

(Pixabay)
Earth Day: Creston Climate Action asks residents to join the conversation on climate change

In celebration of Earth Day, local Creston Climate Action group is inviting… Continue reading

Dresses hang outside Nelson city hall as part of the REDress Project by Métis artist Jaime Black. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Nelson’s REDress Project exhibit vandalized

The REDress Project brings attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. sees 1,006 more COVID-19 cases Thursday, ‘alarming’ 502 in hospital

Vaccine bookings for people aged 60 and older set to start

Shannon Zirnhelt, from left, her son Lockie, 3, Julia Zirnhelt, 13, and Ella Krus, 13, co-founders of Third Planet Crusade are featured in a music video set to air on Earth Day, April 22, 2021. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
VIDEO: B.C.-made music video launched in time for Earth Day 2021

Singer songwriter Shannon Zirnhelt worked with Third Planet Crusade on the project in the Cariboo

Ambulance crews have been busy with a record number of emergency overdose calls this Wednesday, April 21. (BC Emergency Health Services)
B.C. paramedics responded to a record 138 overdose calls in a single day

Wednesday’s calls included 48 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and 51 in Fraser Health

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. COVID-19 hotspots targeted as AstraZeneca vaccine runs low

17,000 appointments booked the first day for people aged 40 and up

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A nurse loads a syringe with a vaccine for injection at the Victoria Clipper Terminal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout not enough to bring back normal life by fall: report

Only 51% of the population will be protected under B.C.’s current rollout, SFU professors say more vaccinations are needed to achieve herd immunity

Letisha Reimer, 13, was killed Nov. 1, 2016 in a stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
UPDATED: Second-degree murder conviction stands for Abbotsford school killer

Judge finds that Gabriel Klein is criminally responsible for death of Letisha Reimer

FILE – RCMP officers wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 stand by as protesters opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion block rail lines, in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday, November 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Very scary’: B.C. travel rules too vague, shouldn’t involve police, civil liberties group says

BCCLA said that speaking with communities could have avoided top-down approach

Most Read