Thousands of Canadians have served, and continue to serve, with honour in one of the country’s most prestigious organizations: the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Many, however, were denied that chance. Members of the LGBTQ2+ community were purged. Members of Indigenous and black communities, and other visible minorities and equity-seeking groups, have been largely absent, clearly not welcome. For years, women were simply shut out.
When finally allowed to serve, women were made to feel they did not belong. They were denied opportunities to compete fairly and to thrive. They were harassed, humiliated, abused and assaulted, and, appallingly, many continue to be targeted today.
During my Review, the most poignant stories I heard were of broken dreams and disillusion. Many of these stories have been told before. Efforts have been made to reverse this shameful reality, but much remains to be done.
The CAF has a long history of recruiting among military families. I was quite struck to hear that many serving members of the CAF, including high-ranking officers, would not encourage their daughter(s) to enrol today. Indeed, the exposure of sexual misconduct in the CAF has caused as much damage as defeat in combat would have to demoralize the troops and shock Canadians.
In addition to an increased willingness to speak publicly about their personal stories, women have come together with actionable energy to seek redress. I have heard incredible stories of courage and resilience from women who are determined to fight for their rightful place in the CAF. This extraordinary mobilization of women – complainants, victims, survivors and allies – has been an irreversible impetus for profound, radical, change. The culture change that the CAF has embarked on cannot afford to fail. Above all, the CAF owes it to its own people, past, present and future, to live up to the values it claims to embrace and uphold at home and globally: Duty, Loyalty, Integrity, Courage.
As challenging as it is, this organization must demonstrate enough humility to accept external help and open itself to the outside world.
Meaningful change will rest on the political will and determination of the civilians who oversee the CAF. Still, it will not happen without the support of CAF leaders and, ultimately, the goodwill of all its members who are, every day, entrusted with the duty to protect our country, and who do so on our behalf.
I trust, hope, they will.
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