By Jim Poling Sr.
Imagine you are a potter whose prized vase slides from slippery fingers and falls to the floor.
If it is only cracked, you try to patch it. If it is shattered, you sweep the pieces into the waste bin and start over, building a new one.
That is the situation of our elected representatives in Ottawa. They are the potters whose prized possession, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), has slipped through their fingers and crashed on the floor. It is in pieces, cannot be put together properly and must be swept away and rebuilt.
The corruption and controversies are too serious and too longstanding to simply fix. It’s time for a complete rebuild.
The Canadian Forces changed dramatically in the years following the Second World War. They were unified in 1968, supposedly to improve efficiency and to save money.
Unification damaged morale and although some unification has been pulled back, the forces have become more civilian-thinking and more bureaucratic. The soldier-warrior of the CAF of the past has become the soldier-manager of a bureaucracy more interested in careers, politics, and executive-style benefits and thinking.
Canadian Forces scandals have been continuous since the Somalia Affair in the early 1990s. That was when two members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, supposedly peacekeepers, beat to death a Somali teenager.
Then came the coverup, which thankfully was revealed by a hard-working CBC journalist. A Somalia Commission of Inquiry, led by a federal court judge, was started in 1994, but was cut short by the federal government with the approach of the 1997 election.
Before it ended, the inquiry issued ‘Dishonoured Legacy’, a report highly critical of the Canadian Forces’ military and civilian leadership.
“Our soldiers searched, often in vain, for leadership and inspiration,” said the report.
It also said: “Many of the senior officers who testified before us, reveal much about the poor state of leadership in our armed forces and the careerist mentality that prevails at the Department of National Defence.”
The Somalia Affair was a national shame. It revealed white supremacy thinking within the forces and resulted in the disbanding of the highly-touted airborne regiment. Also, it resulted in a huge loss of public support for the armed forces.
So here we are again, swimming in a torrent of reports of sexual abuse and corruption within the forces. And, it’s not something new. Sexual misconduct in the forces has been reported for years with little effective change to correct it.
In 2014, Macleans magazine published a major report on sexual harassment. A year later a former Supreme Court justice conducted an investigation detailing sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in the CAF. A year after that Statistics Canada issued a report on these problems.
Now there are so many sexual misconduct investigations of the CAF’s top leadership, and so many resignations, that you need a playbook to follow the action.
Earlier this year Lt.-Col. Eleanor Taylor, one of the country’s top female soldiers, resigned, saying she is sickened by sexual misconduct in the armed forces and dismayed that it has taken so long to bring the problem into the open.
“Some senior leaders are unwilling or (perhaps unable) to recognize that their behaviour is harmful both to the victim and to the team,” Taylor wrote in her resignation letter.
“Some recognize the harm but believe they can keep their behaviour secret. Perhaps worst of all are those in authority, who should know better, but lack the courage and tools to confront the systemic issue.”
The first step in tearing down and rebuilding the armed forces must be the resignation or firing of Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan. He seems to be an honourable and decent man but in six years has done little to fix the scandalous problems in the CAF, which now are held in contempt by many Canadians.
Last week the House of Commons voted to censure Sajjan for what it called mishandling of the ongoing sexual misconduct crisis.
It’s now up to the prime minister to do the honourable thing and initiate the tearing down and rebuilding. With an election likely in the offing, that is not likely because doing what is right and honourable at election time just doesn’t fit with the way politics are done these days.