OTTAWA — Canada’s military says it is making progress in its battle against sexual misconduct in the ranks, citing a new report that documents a steady decline in the number of complaints lodged with commanders over the past three years.
The war, however, appears far from over: despite the decline, Forces members continue to report hundreds of incidents of inappropriate or even criminal behaviour to their chain of command each year.
Commanders received a total of 302 complaints of sexual misconduct during the last fiscal year between April 2018 and March 2019, according to the military’s sexual-misconduct incident tracking report released Tuesday — a decline of 25 per cent from 2017-18 and 33 per cent fewer than 2016-17.
“Our collective efforts are beginning to yield results,” said Commodore Rebecca Patterson, the head of the military’s sexual-misconduct response team, although she acknowledged that more information would be needed to ensure the trends are real.
The tracking report only includes incidents reported by service members to their superiors, who are required to enter it into a database specifically designed for the purpose. Officials say many other incidents are never reported, including when victims do not want to raise it publicly.
Earlier this year, Statistics Canada released the results of a survey of 36,000 service members that found 70 per cent had seen or experienced sexualized behaviour over the previous 12 months — 10 per cent fewer than when a similar poll was conducted two years earlier.
The Statistics Canada survey indicated “members are witnessing and experiencing less sexualized and discriminatory behaviour,” Patterson said, “and the decline in overall reported incidents in this report backs up those findings.”
Patterson nonetheless acknowledged the military has more work to do, noting: “It takes time to build trust and achieve lasting results.”
Much of the decline in reported sexual misconduct over the past three years could be traced to a sharp decrease in what the military describes as “inappropriate sexual behaviour,” which includes the use of sexual language, displaying sexual materials and indecent acts.
Yet Marie-Claude Gagnon, a former naval reservist who founded a group for survivors of military sexual trauma called It’s Just 700, worried the numbers didn’t reflect progress but a growing loss of trust by victims that complaints would be properly handled.
“Since 2015, the Canadian Armed Forces has been enticing victims to report sexual misconduct yet not provide them with adequate support and not consulting with them when they made very important changes that impact victims,” she said.
She specifically pointed to the large number of service members who reported seeing or witnessing sexual misconduct — especially sexual assaults — in the Statistics Canada survey and the comparatively small number of incidents reported to commanders.
According to the Statistics Canada survey conducted in November 2018, 1.6 per cent of regular-force members — which works out to about 900 full-time military personnel — reported having been the victims of sexual assaults over the previous 12 months.
The rate among reservists was even higher, with 2.2 per cent — about 600 part-time military personnel — reporting they had been victims of a sexual attack, unwanted sexual touching or sexual activity without consent in the previous year.
Eighty-four sexual assaults were reported to the chain of command last year, according to the tracking report, compared to 114 in 2017-18 and 63 in 2016-17.
“In my opinion, if we do a comparison between the results shared today with the findings from the Statistics Canada survey, we can see a loss of trust,” said Gagnon, who nonetheless hoped several new initiatives providing victims with more rights and support will help.
Commanders have grappled with the issue of sexual misconduct in the ranks since media reports in April 2014 that a large number of military sexual assaults were being ignored or played down.
An independent investigation by retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps in April 2015 found an “underlying sexual culture” in the military that was hostile to women and left victims to fend for themselves.
—Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
151st Cowichan Exhibition includes new category: best home-grown pot
VICTORIA — One of Canada’s oldest fall fairs is putting a new twist on its annual showcase of local livestock, produce and fruit by adding a new category for best home-grown marijuana.
The Cowichan Exhibition in Duncan, B.C., which dates back to 1868, has created a best cannabis category to embrace legalization and celebrate local pot growers, said exhibition vice-president Bud James.
The fair starts Friday and the cannabis entries will be on display in the main hall at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds along with the region’s top vegetables, fruits and baked goods. First prize is $5, second is $3 and third place gets a ribbon.
“We just decided this year, because it’s an agricultural product, and it’s been grown in the valley for years, and now that it’s finally legally grown, we would allow people to win a ribbon for the best,” said James.
He said fair officials believe the Cowichan cannabis category is the first of its kind in Canada.
An official at the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, a non-profit organization representing rural and urban fairs, said she had not heard of any other cannabis judging contests prior to the Cowichan Exhibition, but couldn’t confirm it was the first.
A fall fair in Grand Forks, B.C., is also judging local cannabis, but the event starts Saturday, one day after Cowichan’s fair. Those who enter the competition in Grand Forks can compete for best indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis.
James said fair organizers contacted the local council and RCMP prior to adding the cannabis category. The mayor and council did not oppose the contest and the RCMP referred organizers to B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, the agency monitoring retail sales of non-medical cannabis, he said.
Organizers decided to go ahead with the event after its plans were not rejected, James said.
“Our interpretation of the rules are you can’t make it attractive to people under 19 years and we are not making it attractive,” he said.
James said the cannabis entries will be placed in a glass display case and the individual entries will be sealed in clear zip lock plastic bags.
“It’s being judged to the same standard of judging garden and field produce,” he said. “It’s done by uniformity. You want all three buds to be the same size, same shape, same colour. It’s also the dryness, texture and smell. It’s exactly the same way you would judge apples or carrots or hay bales. It’s all done the same way.”
James said the contest doesn’t involve sampling the product.
Bree Tweet, the manager of a medical cannabis dispensary in nearby Ladysmith, will judge the marijuana entries, said James.
The exhibition received 18 cannabis entries and James said the contest created a buzz at the fair.
“The enthusiasm of the entrants, the people bringing their entry forms, they are so enthusiastic it’s unbelievable,” he said. “They are so thrilled that it’s happening, that we’re doing it because they’ve been waiting for years for legalization and now, they finally got it and now they have a chance to show what they can do.”
James, who has entered his prized Dahlia flowers at past fairs, said the addition of the cannabis category has exceeded expectations with the 18 entries.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
School board defends book pictured on principal’s desk after online uproar
A Toronto-area Catholic school board says an online firestorm that erupted after a book on how to teach black students was photographed on a principal’s desk stems from a misunderstanding over the book’s contents.
The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board says the book, titled “The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys,” has a provocative title but is actually a helpful resource on tackling racial and cultural oppression in education.
Michelle Coutinho, the board’s principal of equity and inclusive education, says such materials are a particularly useful reference given how diverse the student population is in the district and at that specific school.
The controversy emerged this week after a Brampton, Ont., high school, Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, posted a photo of its new principal on Twitter.
The photo, which shows the book on her desk, set off heated debate, with some suggesting it was a sign of racism or incompetence, or a prop meant to bolster the school’s image.
The image was also shared on instagram by 6ixBuzzTV, a popular account with roughly 1.2 million followers.
“LOOOOL. No principal should make it this far while subsequently needing a book like this,” one person wrote on Twitter. “She a bad principal,” wrote another.
Some defended the book, however, and the principal’s efforts to educate herself. “She’s making an effort to connect with her students, it’s more than most principals do,” another tweet read.
The board said it was surprised by the uproar and hoped people would look up the book before jumping to conclusions based on its title.
The principal intends to address the photo in a public announcement and invite any students with lingering questions to see her, said Bruce Campbell, the board’s spokesman.
The book, written by three researchers and published in 2017, aims to improve outcomes for black students by helping teachers create learning environments in which they feel nurtured and engaged. The title references the fact that white women make up the bulk of the teaching force in the U.S.
Coutinho said the book asks educators to challenge the biases they may bring into the classroom.
“We know that we’re steeped in a colonized kind of world view and how do we break out of that in our everyday practices?” she said, noting it has been used in the board’s anti-oppression training in the past.
Cardinal Ambrozic’s new principal was involved in a book study at several schools that delved deeply into the text last year, Coutinho said.
“If we’re going to make any changes to the education system, we have to start talking about these things and talking about them openly and honestly without shame or blame.”
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press
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