DND calls sexual misconduct in military a ‘wicked problem,’ seeks long-term solutions

October 28, 2020
Military members who report sexual misconduct still say they're being dismissed by chain of command: report

Sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces is “a wicked problem” with no easy solution, and the plan to address it is being given a retooling for the long haul, says the Department of National Defence.

A new long-term plan was introduced Wednesday, aiming to refocus Operation Honour on changing the underlying culture of misconduct and setting up the program to be a permanent fixture of the federal institution.

The plan is called The Path Towards Dignity and Respect and replaces the previously published CAF Action Plan issued in April 2015, which was the foundation for the existing program.

Operation Honour has been the focus of intense public scrutiny since it was first introduced five years ago, after reports of sexual misconduct surfaced in 2013.

It was the result of a scathing independent report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps. Her groundbreaking analysis said the military was steeped in a highly masculine, sexualized culture where leaders turned a blind eye to misconduct.

The crackdown, which has involved charging alleged perpetrators and setting up a support system for victims, has met with mixed success.

Critics have dismissed Operation Honour, claiming the program has done little to change the culture of a military that has allowed misconduct to go unchecked for decades.

“There are no quick fixes for achieving culture change. It requires sustained effort and continual assessment to ensure we remain on track,” the country’s top military commander, Gen. Jonathan Vance, wrote in the opening remarks to the plan.

His deputy, Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, said the new strategy is the first of its kind and unique among Western militaries because it lays down clear expectations for cultural change.

‘Enduring mission’

The military has previously acknowledged that misconduct will not disappear overnight, but the new strategy said Operation Honour “will have no end date and will remain as an enduring mission for the CAF.”

The new framework hopes to achieve “cultural alignment” over time through a series of measures that mostly revolve around education.

A number of authors and critics have referred to addressing sexual misconduct in the CAF as a “wicked problem,” the report said, referring to a phrase initially coined in the 1970s to describe intractable institutional dilemmas.

“Wicked problems are highly complex since understanding the problem and required solutions is extremely challenging. There is rarely an obvious end point where the presenting problem is solved, and there are no quick tests for solutions or their outcomes, due mainly to the fact that every wicked problem is unique and a symptom of another.”

The new strategy, among other things, attempts to address issues the military has already been struggling to fix.
It calls for an improved leadership response to incidents of sexual misconduct.

A recent study done by the defence department concluded that many victims still don’t feel supported by superior officers when complaints are made.

It also references the implementation within military law of the Declaration of Victims Rights. That measure was passed by Parliament over a year ago but is held up because the military legal branch has not yet drafted the regulations to support the legislation.

Rouleau could not say when that will happen, but said he is focused on it as the military’s judge advocate general.

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