06/23/2015 04:11 EDT | Updated 06/23/2016 05:59 EDT

Army chief orders mandatory briefings on sexual misconduct

The Canadian Army has ordered mandatory commanders' briefings aimed at preventing sexual misconduct for its 43,000 soldiers and civilian staff delivered at every base and in every one of more than 130 units across the country.

The commanding officer's briefings follow an extraordinary all-staff memo sent out May 15 by Army Commander Lt.-Gen. Marquis Hainse that urged officers at all levels to accept "collective responsibility" for the military's failures to prevent misconduct and to "be prepared to adopt a climate of change within our institution."

The army orders came about two weeks after the release of a shocking report on military sexual misconduct written by Marie Deschamps, a former Supreme Court justice.

Hainse's memo is a sign the army is not waiting for a formal response to the report, now being compiled by Maj.-Gen. Christine Whitecross, before taking action on Deschamps's findings.

Hainse said the briefings are a first step in recognizing and addressing sexual misconduct within the ranks.

"The findings of the report are certainly disappointing as we believed we had matured over the years in this crucial and sensitive area," Hainse wrote.  

"The idea that any member of this great institution, military or civilian, should have to defend themselves against any form of sexual behaviour is absolutely deplorable and unacceptable."

Deschamps found the Canadian Forces had a misogynistic and sexualized culture in which harassment and abuse were overlooked, underreported and poorly understood. The report made 10 recommendations, but Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson only accepted two of those recommendations outright.

Lawson's commitment to dealing with the problem also was questioned after he told CBC's Peter Mansbridge that "biological wiring" played a role in harassment and assault.

Lawson apologized and the government said the comments were unacceptable and inexplicable.

'Erodes foundation' of army

The army commander's note does not try to explain or minimize the problem in any way.

Instead, it ordered soldiers to immediately stop using language loaded with demeaning sexual references and directed officers and other military leaders to start taking seriously complaints of misconduct made to them.

"A key concern that strikes at one of the core values of the [Canadian Army] is the mistrust that the chain of command is not taking complaints seriously," Hainse wrote.

"It is a problem that erodes at the very foundation on which the [army] is built."

The army is the largest part of the Canadian Armed Forces, accounting for roughly half of the military's 90,000 regular, reserve and civilian staff.

The army's personnel manager, Col. Tim Young said Hainse's orders came out of a sense of disappointment that 20 years after the military first made efforts to seriously deal with sexual misconduct, the problem still exists.

"Soldiers work as a coherent team together," Young said, "and to actually look at soldiers having to defend themselves against each other because of sexual misconduct is absolutely unacceptable in the team work environment that we work in.  There's no place for it, no place whatsoever, and that was the key message from the commander."