The future of Canada’s military colleges is at a crossroads, say two veterans of the school and the military.
Defence Minister Bill Blair named the college’s review board on Wednesday after a Statistics Canada survey found “significant” spikes in sexual assault in the military in 2022 compared to two surveys done before the pandemic.
The finding comes two years after renewed focus on the military’s sexual misconduct crisis, spurred by reporting from Motorcycle accident toronto today, and the resulting report from former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour report calling a significant overhaul at the institution.
The college’s first female cadet, Kate Armstrong, tells The West Block host Mercedes Stephenson that many issues with the college are carried on through a long-running tradition.
“What I wrote about a lot of the historical traditional things happening that were disturbing are still going continuing now,” Armstrong said.
“The cadets start out as recruits to the fourth year and then they go through the system … and so in that way, I think culturally that’s how things end up being carried on.”
Armstrong wrote a book, The Stone Frigate, detailing her time among the first RMC class to allow female officer cadets at the previously all male institution.
In her 403-page report, Arbour writes that the RMC has an outdated leadership structure and there are “legitimate reasons to question the wisdom of maintaining the existence of these military colleges, as they currently exist.”
“There is a real risk that the perpetuation of a discriminatory culture at the colleges will slow the momentum for culture change the CAF has embarked upon. There is enough evidence that military colleges are not delivering on their mandate that I believe alternatives must be explored with an open mind,” Arbour wrote.
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Lt.-Col. Mark Popov, former RMC cadet director, told Stephenson that there is a fundamental question that the government needs to answer with the college.
“Is it going to be a degree granting institution, an academic university where the students wear uniforms, or is it going to be an officer-training institution that provides junior officers to lead the sons and daughters that serve in the Canadian Armed Forces?” Popov said.
Additionally, Popov says that there just aren’t enough leaders to properly supervise the officer cadets.
“And that shows. It’s a large, uncontrolled population of young people, many of them away from home for their first time. And they need a little bit more guidance and direction than the current staffing and organization of RMC let happen,” he told Stephenson.
All of this comes on the heels of a Statistics Canada report released last week, which says sexual assaults in the military saw significant increases in 2022. Among those who were assaulted, 64 per cent said they did not report and 41 per cent said their reason was they believed it would not make a difference.
“I believe that people that have been assaulted need to hear: ‘I believe you. I’m sorry that happened to you. How can I help you?’ And to feel that that is an honest response to them coming forward,” Armstrong said.
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“The key is to create an environment where, like a culture is just a shared dream. So everybody needs to be on the same page.”
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Popov sees this increase as a step toward cultural change in the military actually taking place.
“I don’t see this spike in reporting as a massive increase in rape culture in the forces. I actually think it’s that people are reporting because they’re having more confidence in the system doing what’s good for them,” he said.
While the Arbour report questions the need for RMC, Armstrong maintains that it offers an “astoundingly good” education, but needs a cultural shift.
“I think one of the other problems that we have that doesn’t get spoken about a lot is the toxic nostalgia of the folks that are still keeping their fingers in what’s happening at the college,” she said.
“Retired generals that were commandants of our RMC, they’re carrying forward, for example, some of this problem that we have with the culture. They carry it forward at the level of mentoring for the commandants.”
Popov says he will be watching the RMC review process with great interest but criticized Blair’s Wednesday announcement as vague.
“I would be very interested to see what other Canadians, what the mandate letter is, what are they trying to find out? What deliverables do they have at the end of this year? So that’s one thing that’s really lacking in this announcement is what they’re trying to see,” he said.
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