Return to Normal? Not gonna happen.
CHRIS MACLEAN
© 2021 FrontLine Defence (Vol 18, No 1)

A year ago, COVID was all anyone could talk about, now immense culture changes are happening, and the world will never return to the old status quo (nor should it). 

We all say we want to return to normal, but we don’t really mean everything. What we want, is to be able to hug family members we haven’t been able to see in over a year. We want to socialize, travel without fear, and basically have fun again.

What we don’t want, is to hear is the excuse “that’s the way we’ve always done it” when we advocate for change. There are so many areas where disruptive change is long overdue. Politics, the environment, how industry gets work done... the “workplace” has been undergoing an extreme culture shift that is recognizing how work can still get done effectively – and often more efficiently – when people can meld their work schedules to better fit their lives, particularly saving long daily commutes.

DND’s own backyard is another area in need of sweeping change. After taking a beating on the subject of sexual misconduct, I have no doubt that many are feeling nervous after years of not doing the right thing. It’s not surprising that “Operation Honour” was considered an ineffective failure when you hear that it was jokingly referred to as “hOp on ’er.” Disgraceful, childish, ignored.

Military leaders don’t request, they order, and it gets done. Therefore, I’m not entirely convinced the “leadership” has done everything it can to demand respect for every minority member within its ranks. When “leaders” remain quiet, it conveys a resoundingly clear tacit approval. If you’re wondering why I keep putting “leadership” in quotation marks, you’re not paying attention.

An incident at RMC Kingston in 2015 saw cadets jeering a woman brought in to speak about sexual assault prevention. The school’s commandant made a feeble apology for “several incidents that could constitute harassment,” but it seemed that the entire organization was just waiting for the media uproar to subside. Where was leadership when an entire auditorium of cadets were behaving so badly? Tacit approval? This was a golden opportunity missed for setting young cadets on the right path. 

Earlier this year, during a GlobalNews interview, LCol Popov, who was in charge of officer cadet training at RMC in 2014 and 2015, admitted to Mercedes Stephenson that he feels “shame because a lot of things happened there that demonstrate the failures of leadership right now that are endemic in the Canadian Forces.” What he saw there “set the conditions for the problems we’re seeing now, specifically with sexual misconduct in the Forces.”

As I wrote on 15 June, after the VCDS seemingly disregarded the optics of his actions, many will legitimately question whether a friendly game of golf is enough to ruin a career over, and it shouldn’t but, at the end of the day, what we have here is a question of accountability. We hold our leaders to higher standards, and hypocrisy creates outrage. With so many of the top leadership now dealing with trust issues, you can be sure that CAF leadership courses will soon be dedicating a section on the importance of optics. Reflecting on how actions are perceived by the public (and all ranks within the Canadian Armed Forces) may not have been much of a concern for military leaders in the past, but it certainly is in the new normal.

There is Only One Solution

DND clearly has a lot of work ahead, but there is one solution that is guaranteed to create the right effect. A parliamentary committee is calling for military personnel to be screened for potential sexual misconduct allegations before being considered for promotion. At first I thought this was extreme, then I realized what a strong message it sends. As a consideration for promotion, this may be the only real incentive to keep ethical personal-conduct 'top of mind' during everyday interactions. It would  prove the resolve of leadership to discourage the inappropriate traditions that permeate today.

It’s time to get serious and make real change – this would do it.

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Chris MacLean,
Editor-in-Chief

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