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

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Black Crow Cannabis is just one of Vernon's many pot shops now open in town. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Kelowna has highest cannabis fees in Okanagan

Vernon’s 14 stores pay second highest business licence fees

Serving alcohol has been altered in the Central Okanagan Public Schools policy regarding rental of school facilities for after-school hours events. (Contributed)
Alcohol option opened up at Central Okanagan school facilities rented for events

Central Okanagan Board of Education retains final approval for after-hours event approvals

Voting day for the upcoming Central Okanagan Board of Education by-election is June 26. (Contributed)
Central Okanagan school board election set for June 26

Kelowna voters will go the polls to fill vacant Kelowna trustee seat

Two bikes that were stolen after a West Kelowna parking garage was looted on April 3. Photo: Crime Stoppers Central Okanagan
Parking garage looted in West Kelowna

A car was broken into and six storage lockers were ransacked

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here’s a quick roundup of the stories that made headlines across the Okanagan, from April 11 to 16

Old English design elements can be seen in the sign of the Summerland Farm and Garden Centre in 1993. The guidelines are no longer in place, but some downtown businesses still show aspects of the days when Summerland had a theme in place. This photo was taken by Summerland photographer Dan Dorotich. (Photo courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
Summerland’s Old English theme has been abandoned

From the 1980s until the early 2000s, Summerland had design guidelines in its downtown

Penticton bylaw officers tore down a “pretty significantly sized” homeless camp underneath the bridge near Riverside Drive Friday, April 16 morning. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton bylaw tears down ‘significantly sized’ homeless camp under bridge

Many residents had made complaints about the camp before it was torn down

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

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

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

Ford F-350s have been targeted in the North Okanagan by auto thieves since February 2021, Vernon North Okanagan RCMP data shows. (Gene J. Puskar - The Canadian Press/AP file)
Auto thieves target older Ford F-350s in Vernon: RCMP

Vernon Mounties remind all motorists no vehicle is immune to auto crime

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Most Read