Esquimalt military police encouraging sex assault victims to come forward

Maj. Lisa Clark's main emphasis right now is urging victims of sexual assault and harassment to come forward.

She’s only had a couple of months to settle into her new role as the head of CFB Esquimalt’s military police, but Maj. Lisa Clark’s main emphasis right now is urging victims of sexual assault and harassment to come forward.

The message falls in line with the Canadian Force’s Operation Honour — an initiative launched by Canada’s top general Jonathan Vance in response to an independent review last year by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps.

In her review, Deschamps found that sexual misconduct was “endemic” in the military and tolerated by the highest levels of leadership. She raised warnings about a sexualized culture that subjected women in uniform to abuse ranging from sexual jokes and harassment to rape, and also found that sexual misconduct is vastly under reported.

Shortly after the report was released, Vance ordered an end to sexual misconduct in the military and Lt.-Gen. Christine Whitecross was appointed to head a special team to deal with misconduct.

Whitecross visited military bases across the country to hear directly from victims and also travelled overseas to hear from other militaries. She’s since been replaced by Rear Admiral Jennifer Bennett, who recently attended CFB Esquimalt to talk about Operation Honour — aimed at ending the decades-long problem of sexual assault and harassment plaguing the military.

“We want to encourage victims to feel that they can come in and we’re not going to drop the ball on their file. We are going to handle it professionally and give them the resources they need so they can move forward and deal with the situation,” said Clark, noting the military police are now better structured to support the increase in complaints.

In September, the Canadian Forces military police launched a new 18-member team to support the investigation of criminal sexual offences throughout the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence. Dispersed in three-member teams at six regional offices in Victoria, Edmonton, Borden, Ottawa, Valcartier and Halifax, the specially trained team is meant to protect and support victims of sexually based offences.

The Canadian Forces has also opened a new independent sexual misconduct response centre that’s fielded more than 100 complaints of sexual assault or harassment from members and civilians since it opened in September 2015.

Due to the ongoing training and reminders around the issue, Clark expects to see an influx of personnel bringing forward complaints now that they’re made to feel more comfortable and supported by their chain of commands.

“Everyone deserves a chance as a victim to be heard and to have us investigate and determine the best way forward so there’s a resolution,” she said.

Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke MP Randall Garrison is the critic for national defence and has been following the matter closely. So far he feels a good start has been made, particularly with the sexual misconduct response centre providing support for victims, but said there’s still a lot of work left to be done.

“It’s a big task to change the culture of the military,” said Garrison. “It’s an ongoing process because we have more people come into the Canadian Forces all the time so that (training and education) has to be repeated and repeated. It’s going to take a generation to really solve the problem.”