Some members of the Canadian military face greater harm from their comrades than from the enemy, according to a new report on sexual violence in the Canadian armed forces (CAF).
Called the Arbor report after its author, the former supreme court justice Louise Arbour, the 404-page document pinpoints the many failures of the CAF over the years to address misogyny, discrimination, sexual violence and trauma experienced predominantly by female members of the military.
“When thinking about culture change in response to the sexual misconduct crisis, the CAF leadership seems to have been incapable of examining which aspects of its culture have been the most deficient,” Arbor wrote in her report.
“One of the dangers of the model under which the CAF continues to operate is the high likelihood that some of its members are more at risk of harm, on a day-to-day basis, from their comrades than from the enemy,” she wrote.
The Arbor report is the third large study commissioned to examine the sexual violence that has dogged the Canadian military for decades, including allegations of misconduct leveled against a string of senior officers.
Navy veteran Dawn McIlmoyle was 19 when she was raped by a fellow sailor in 1992 while a second man looked on, laughing.
“When I came forward, they charged me under the National Defense Act for being on the male floor, which I was taken to,” she told the Guardian. The infraction remains on her record.
McIlmoyle left the navy a year later, and despite her PTSD from the rape, she has worked as an advocate for victims of sexual violence in the military since then.
McIlmoyle welcomed the Arbor report recommendations – which include abolishing the term “sexual misconduct” because it neutralises violence and abuse, as well as turning sexual assault cases over to civilian courts – but said that the CAF has already had many opportunities to change, without any results to show for it.
She also questioned whether civilian police forces and courts would truly do a better job of prosecuting allegations of rape and other sexual violence.
“There are a lot of Ontario police chiefs that have turned around and said, ‘We don’t want this responsibility downloaded onto us,’” she said. Given the low one-in-10 rate of success at successfully prosecuting rape charges, and considering the problem of sexual violence within police ranks, she warned that the civilian system might not yield more equitable results.
Major Donna Van Leusden Riguidel said she was “guardedly optimistic” about the potential impact of the Arbor report, but echoed some of McIlmoyle’s concerns about the CAF’s ability to change.
When Van Leusden Riguidel retired from the Canadian military in March, she received a public commendation for developing a course to change the culture of sexual violence and trauma in the military.
But a few days before receiving her commendation, she received a letter telling her the CAF was canceling the course, after she’d trained only 1,900 CAF members of the 100,000 or so across the military.
Van Leusden Riguidel told the Guardian that the military may not have created the problem of sexual violence in its ranks, but that it did have to take responsibility for recruiting sexual predators, who exist across society. “There isn’t an integrated military in the world that doesn’t struggle with this exact issue,” she said.
Still, the onus has long failed on female CAF members to prevent violence through attempts to make themselves “less rapable”, she said.
Van Leusden Riguidel said the CAF still needs a sweeping overhaul, and expressed hopes that the Arbor report marks a shift to actually implementing measures to change the culture. “This isn’t a women’s problem. This is a human problem,” she said. “We all have a part to play.”