In December, Defence Minister Anita Anand delivered a long-overdue apology to the military women the government failed to protect from predators within the ranks. For years, women in the military have been desperately calling for change, facing retaliation and reprisal of the most extraordinary kind in asking for justice and accountability.
These retaliatory acts not only impact those women who come forward reporting harms at the hands of their colleagues and employers; they serve as an informal organizational mechanism signalling that gendered violence against women officers is tolerated and a condition of their employment.
While Anand is attempting to effect positive change by appointing an outside police entity to investigate sexual and physical violence reports against women in the military, how is this possible? Women serving in the RCMP and provincial and municipal policing agencies have been experiencing the same organizational violence and retaliation for decades.
Approximately one year ago, Michel Bastarache detailed his findings from the Implementation of the Merlo Davidson Settlement Agreement in the report titled, “Broken Lives, Broken Dreams.” Much of the violence, discrimination, and harassment he found the women experienced is similar to that of women serving in male-dominated militaristic organizations, including police forces.
His report prompted a public apology by RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki. While public apologies are nice, they do not demonstrate action. Despite Judge Bastarache’s recommendations, what changes have been implemented to date? More importantly, how many more women have suffered since the release of the findings as a result of inaction? And how can outside policing agencies investigate military complaints of sexual and physical violence against female members when those completing the investigations belong to organizations that cover up and dismiss these types of allegations against their own?
Despite the commitment from the federal government to advance gender equality, gender-based harassment and discrimination continue within Canadian policing organizations. This results in unsafe and hostile workplaces, thus hindering gender empowerment and equality.
Already a stressful occupation, the addition of officer-to-officer organizational violence — including physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and stalking abuse — combined with organizations’ failures to investigate complaints adequately, if at all, places female officers at greater risk.
Research studies have highlighted that police organizations’ failure to provide safe workplaces for women negatively impacts their mental and physical health, family and personal relationships, and financial status — such as taking a medical leave, which equals reduced pay or unions’ failing to cover legal costs when women attempt to obtain justice for themselves because internal measures have failed.
Furthermore, when a female officer comes forward with a complaint against a fellow member, she often experiences numerous additional assaultive measures of organizational violence at the hands of her colleagues and supervisors. We do not have to look far to find media examples from across the country — Consts. Heather McWilliam and Effy Zarabi (Toronto Police Service), Const. Kimberly Cadarette (Ottawa Police Service), Sgt. Leslee Whidden (Peel Regional Police), Const. Angie Rivers (Waterloo Regional Police), Const. Kim Prodaniuk (Calgary Police Service), former Staff-Sgt. Jamie McCabbe (Sarnia Police Service) and an unnamed officer from the Vancouver Police Service whose perpetrator — another officer — was recently convicted of sexual assault.
Given these concerning findings, if officers are willing to perpetrate and cover up these acts of violence against their female colleagues, how can they investigate accused military members, and equally as important, what are they doing to members of the public?
A quick internet search reveals article after article of policing organizations at the centre of stories of sexual and physical violence, including Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Ottawa, Halifax, and Charlottetown, and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, to name a few. In light of these examples, we should be asking ourselves, if there is no justice for women in policing and military roles, how can there be justice for women at large?