Fight­ing words

New RCAF chief pledges zero tol­er­ance on sex­ual ha­rass­ment

Cape Breton Post - - CANADA -

The new com­man­der of the Royal Cana­dian Air Force used his swear­ing in cer­e­mony to de­liver a sharp, pin­point mes­sage — sex­ual ha­rass­ment will not be tol­er­ated on my watch.

Lt.-Gen. Michael Hood’s abrupt dec­la­ra­tion stood out among the pomp and cir­cum­stance of Thurs­day’s change of com­mand cer­e­mony at the Cana­dian Avi­a­tion Mu­seum, which in­cluded a 100-per­son hon­our guard and a fly past in­volv­ing two CF-18 jet fight­ers that the mil­i­tary in­sisted were on the way to another as­sign­ment.

The ref­er­ence was a clear sign of how deeply the Cana­dian mil­i­tary is seized with the fall­out of last spring’s re­port by re­tired Supreme Court jus­tice Marie Deschamps, which called sex­ual mis­con­duct is “en­demic’’ within the ranks.

The air force with its high-fly­ing, fighter jock men­tal­ity might well be con­sid­ered as the poster boys for the “macho cul­ture’’ ref­er­enced in the judge’s sear­ing re­port, which blamed lead­er­ship for tol­er­at­ing an at­mos­phere where women were afraid to re­port ha­rass­ment.

Hood said there was no bet­ter plat­form than his first speech in which to make a point.

“If any­one was go­ing to be lis­ten­ing to any­thing I’m about to say in the next few weeks, it was go­ing to be to­day,’’ Hood told re­porters af­ter the cer­e­mony.

“It was im­por­tant for me to set the tone for the Royal Cana­dian Air Force mov­ing for­ward; that we have got to stamp out those kinds of be­hav­iours. And my first step, the first I’ve said as com­man­der is solidly that.’’

Public skep­ti­cism that Deschamps’ re­port is be­ing taken se­ri­ously was only height­ened last month when the coun­try’s out­go­ing mil­i­tary com­man­der, Gen. Tom Law­son, said in a CBC tele­vi­sion in­ter­view that male sol­diers are “bi­o­log­i­cally wired in a cer­tain way’’ that makes in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour seem ac­cept­able to them.

Fol­low­ing a tor­rent of public anger, Law­son apol­o­gized, but the dam­age was done.

It was left to Hood on Thurs­day to lay down a clear marker by say­ing he’ll con­vene a meet­ing of the air force se­nior lead­er­ship in the near fu­ture and the ha­rass­ment is­sue will be a prin­ci­pal fo­cus.

“I’ll be send­ing a very clear mes­sage to my sub­or­di­nate com­man­ders that ha­rass­ment of any sort, be it sex­ual or oth­er­wise, has no place in the RCAF or that mat­ter through­out the en­tire Cana­dian Armed Forces,’’ he said.

Frus­tra­tions other than the ha­rass­ment is­sue were also on dis­play.

Hood suc­ceeded Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin, a for­mer CF-18 fighter pi­lot who is re­tired Thurs­day af­ter 35 years in the mil­i­tary and al­most three years as the air force’s top com­man­der.

Dur­ing his ten­ure, the Harper gov­ern­ment hit the pause but­ton on the con­tro­ver­sial F-35 pur­chase.

And Blondin stirred up a tem­pest last fall by sug­gest­ing on Twit­ter that Canada’s bomb­ing cam­paign in Iraq was re­venge for the mur­ders of Cana­dian sol­diers by Is­lamic-inspired ex­trem­ists.

In his farewell speech, Blondin tossed away his notes and spoke off-the-cuff about his frus­tra­tion deal­ing with the Ot­tawa cul­ture and bu­reau­cracy, but noted serv­ing in con­flict zones around the world has given him an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the need for checks and bal­ances.

He spoke us­ing a wire­less mi­cro­phone, pac­ing back and forth in front of high-pro­file au­di­ence that in­cluded not only Cana­dian mil­i­tary brass but mem­bers of the diplo­matic corps.

His re­tire­ment pro­ject will be re­fur­bish­ing “a house that’s far enough from Ot­tawa that I’m not go­ing to hear the noise.’’

CP PHOTO

Lt.-Gen. M.J. Hood takes ques­tions from the media fol­low­ing a Change of Com­mand cer­e­mony in Ot­tawa Thurs­day.

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