I wrote this article in June 2015, in response to Christie Blatchford's rant about how Justice Deschamps' report on sexual harassment in the CAF was overstated. I shared it with both Christie Blatchford and the National Post, without getting a response. Since then, case after case of sexual abuse and harassment have surfaced. According to Christie, she spent many weeks with the military, and didn't see any harassment, so she concluded that it must not exist to the extent that is stated in the report. Maybe now she would change her tune...
Ms. Blatchford is very quick to downplay the findings of former Judge Marie Deschamps’ report based on her experience as a short-term “guest” during her numerous visits with the military. What she fails to understand is that there is a very distinct difference between being a reporter attached with the military and actually being a member of the unit. The harassment I experienced in the military never happened openly, and certainly not in front of visiting guests even when they were attached to my unit for what they felt was a long time. First, it seems obvious to me that everyone will be on his or her best behaviour when reporters are around (my troops certainly were) and second, reporters are generally not the targets of discriminatory behaviour because they are not part of the unit, even if they are made to think they are. Her defence of the army’s behaviour is the equivalent of going to spend a week with relatives where there is sexual abuse in the household and concluding that the allegations are false because she was neither witness to nor the target of any of it. Or, perhaps if she didn't suffer from PTSD during one of her short deployments she can question why soldiers around her might have suffered from the trauma given that they both experienced the same situations (except that these soldiers were exposed to those situations for a prolonged period of time, which is not a negligible factor). Her very limited experience should not negate the voices of all the other 700 members who were interviewed by Judge’s Deschamps’ team.
Blatchford was also critical of the broad brush Judge Deschamps uses to paint the picture of sexual conduct in the military. There again, she is quick to defend the Canadian Armed Forces saying that a slice of 700 participants in focus groups should not tarnish the impeccable reputation of its 10,000-member force. Is that not what focus groups are for, but to give us a sample of issues present? Deschamps is not saying that every member or officer of the military has contributed to sexual misconduct in one form or another, but that based on a significant number of conversations and interviews she’s had with members of the military, she has enough information to make a reflective judgment on her observations. Simply, her explorative surgery has identified a problem that needs to be addressed because it is causing irreparable damage to certain members of the Canadian Forces.
I too believe that the army is full of excellent NCOs and officers, and that in general the cadets at Royal Military College are smart, and engaged. As a former Board of Governors member of the RMC in St Jean (I resigned last year, disappointed that on my watch the representation of women at the college fell from a whopping 11% to 8%) I can tell you that my own informal discussions with cadets are not entirely different from Judge Deschamps’ findings. Abuse, bullying, and discrimination are still very present at the college, despite having an outstanding female Commandant, Deputy Commandant and Sergeant Major.
Blatchford is doing exactly what CBC regrets doing at the onset of allegations against Jian Gomeshi. Instead of taking the initial complaints seriously, they excused his behaviour, concluding that the women who spoke out about the abuse were isolated cases. The women he’d been with were strong, brilliant and competent and as such, it was assumed they would never tolerate the treatment Jian Gomeshi allegedly committed.
I understand Blatchford’s desire to come to the defence of our beloved soldiers and officers. I did the same when it was my turn to complain about the abuse I suffered, fearing that all my colleagues would be similarly labeled and so I kept quiet. For every woman who reports abuse, there are three more who remain silent in part because of brilliant and articulate naysayers like Blatchford, who are so quick to defend the abusers. It takes an inordinate amount of courage as a victim of sexual misconduct or bullying, to confront the offenders, to lodge a complaint, and to pursue corrective action. It is an even bigger mountain to climb when one must suffer the backlash from another woman who discounts your claim because she’s never witnessed any of it, or because she feels she is tougher and could handle it. Just because Blatchford is beyond offence doesn’t mean that she is the moral compass by which we all must navigate to tolerate the world in which we live and work.