NEWS
06/17/2015 11:49 EDT | Updated 06/17/2016 01:12 EDT

Liberal critic calls on general to resign after harassment comments

OTTAWA - The country's top soldier is facing questions about how seriously the Canadian Armed Forces is taking the issue of sexual harassment in the military.In an interview with the CBC that aired Tuesday, Gen. Tom Lawson, the chief of defence staff, said some male soldiers are "biologically wired in a certain way" to make them believe it is OK to force themselves upon female soldiers.Lawson has apologized for what he called his awkward characterization.“My reference to biological attraction being a factor in sexual misconduct was by no means intended to excuse anyone from responsibility for their actions," he said in a statement.But Lawson's comments bring to the forefront the challenge the military faces in tackling the issue of sexual harassment. A recent high-profile report on the problem concluded that the first thing that needs to change is the culture that permits — and even tacitly condones — such behaviour.Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray called for Lawson's immediate resignation, saying the remarks are proof there is still a long way to go to deal with the problem of sexual harassment in the military."He essentially says this is just the way it works," Murray said. "That is completely unacceptable."Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said she was almost at a loss for words over Lawson's choice of language. "It's not something that I agree with and it is not something appreciate hearing in senior management."Lawson is set to leave his position this summer, to be replaced by Lt.-Gen. Jonathan Vance. In April, former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps released a review of sexual misconduct and harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces.The study found a highly sexualized culture in the military that confronts women virtually as soon as they enlist and persists throughout their efforts to move up the ranks.Deschamps made 10 recommendations, including that the military acknowledge that inappropriate sexual conduct is a serious problem and that a comprehensive strategy be put in place to change their culture."The (report) found that many officers were quick to excuse sexual incidents in the CAF on the basis that this kind of conduct is a 'reflection of Canadian society,'" Deschamps wrote."Ultimately, there was a broad perception among participants that the senior leadership of the CAF condones sexually inappropriate conduct."In response to the report, the military has set up a unit focused on implementing the recommendations and assigned Maj.-Gen. Christine Whitecross to lead those efforts.Whitecross in the midst of visiting bases across the country. At a stop in Halifax earlier this month, she expressed confidence that a cultural change would be possible, over time."We can't do it in quick fixes. It's going to take months and years not days and weeks," she said in an interview with Global News."But it's important enough that we need to move forward on it."