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

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,516 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

Central zone has 1,849 active cases

A damaged unicorn statue is shown in a field outside of Delia, Alta. in this undated handout photo. It’s not often police can report that a unicorn has been found, but it was the truth Saturday when RCMP said a stolen, stainless-steel statue of the mythical beast had been located in a field not far from where he’d been taken. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Mounties get their unicorn; stolen statue of mythical beast found in Alberta field

Police are still looking for suspects, and have called in their forensics experts to help

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
Dr. Wayne John Edwards, 66, died Tuesday at Chinook Regional Hospital. (Cornerstone Funeral Home)
Lethbridge doctor becomes 7th Alberta health-care worker to die from COVID-19

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, who was 66, died Tuesday at the Chinook Regional Hospital in the southern Alberta city

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

Erin O’Toole said he supports a woman’s right to choose and will personally vote against the private member’s bill

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

Most Read