TORONTO — Maj. Kellie Brennan says she was subject to unfair power imbalances throughout her years with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), including those in her relationship with former defence chief General Jonathan Vance, who she says fathered two children with her.
“I was not to mention certain things about our relationships, our personal lives. The consequences were always the same — that I had to stay silent,” Brennan said.
Brennan testified on Thursday before the House of Commons status of women committee, which is one of two parliamentary studies looking at what needs to be done to change the culture within the CAF to prevent sexual misconduct.
Brennan was one of the first women to come forward with allegations against Vance. She said she had a sexual relationship with Vance while he was her superior and during his time as chief of the defence staff. Vance denies any wrongdoing.
Multiple other women have since shared their stories of experiencing sexual misconduct in the military.
Military police launched an investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations against Vance in early February following his retirement. CTV News has not independently verified these allegations. Vance’s successor, Admiral Art McDonald, is also under a separate investigation.
Brennan testified that Vance told her that he was “untouchable” should she go to military police and instructed her to lie to the investigation service. While Brennan said Vance never threatened her with “bodily harm,” she says he did tell her there would be consequences should she speak out.
“Definitely, he gave me very many consequences if I was not following his orders,” she said.
Brennan also said “he fathered two children to me,” but has not paid any child support.
The status of women committee, along with the defence committee, is studying how Vance and other senior leaders rose to the top of the chain of command with a history of alleged sexual misconduct, how difficult and complex the reporting process is for members, and what culture change should look like.
While an investigation is currently underway, Brennan doesn’t believe that justice will be served in her case.
“I definitely feel like there will not be justice for me, and that’s OK because if my coming forward can change everything for other women to come forward and change our policies, that’s OK with me,” Brennan said.
“I was first in the infantry when we were allowed to join, and I knew I was taking a hard road,” she added.
Witnesses have repeatedly testified before the committees claiming a hostile, sexualized and hyper-masculine culture within Canada’s military system.
Many witnesses have said they don’t trust the CAF’s chain of command, and want an independent body, rather than military police, to conduct investigations when allegations of sexual misconduct arise.
The federal government’s 2021 budget has committed to creating a new external oversight mechanism to help fight sexual misconduct in the military, but no details have been provided.
The Liberal government has faced criticism for its handling of the Vance allegation upon hearing about it as early as March, 2018, however an investigation into his behaviour following “rumours” of an inappropriate relationship began in 2015, when he was first appointed defence chief.
MANY SAY CHANGING THE MILITARY CULTURE WON’T BE EASY
Navy Lt. Heather Macdonald testified on Tuesday to the House of Commons status of women committee that the military justice system re-victimizes women.
Macdonald, a combat systems engineer who has served 16 years in the Royal Canadian Navy, is one of the women at the centre of the investigation into Admiral Art McDonald.
The specific allegations against McDonald, who temporarily stepped aside in February after the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service launched an investigation, have not been publicly disclosed.
While Macdonald did not speak about the case, she spoke about the challenges women in uniform face when trying to report inappropriate or criminal behaviour to military police investigators.
“Victims wear it a lot more than perpetrators. Many times they can continue their careers unhindered whereas the victims just can’t. It lead to many victims not coming forward,” Macdonald said.
Former military member Dawn McIlmoyle previously testified to the committee that she felt at blame for being sexually assaulted within the ranks. McIlmoyle says she was sexually assaulted while serving in 1992 and later left the military in 1993.
“When I left the military I felt betrayed, demoralized and broken, like I was still at fault. I could not comprehend how I got charged for being raped,” McIlmoyle said.
However, changing the culture within the CAF won’t be easy.
Lt.-Gen. Christine Whitecross testified to the House of Commons status of women committee on Thursday, calling the behaviour she heard from witnesses by their male superiors “insidious.”
“Canadian Armed Forces members are expected to exhibit high morale, high ethics,” Whitecross said.
“All of this has been a complete surprise to me, and very, very disappointing,” she added.
Not only was Whitecross the highest-ranking woman to have served in uniform, she also led the military’s early efforts to crack down on sexual misconduct in the ranks following the launch of Operation Honour in 2015.
However, female members have widely considered Operation Honour a failure.
Aviator Emily Tulloch, an air force technician, told MPs on Tuesday that she feels like she has experienced a “lifetime worth of sexual assault and misconduct” since joining the military in July 2018.
“The leadership has been willfully ignorant to the fact [that sexual misconduct] has been seen as a joke — aged like rotten milk and serves as a joke,” Tulloch said during her testimony.
In order to combat sexual misconduct in its ranks, experts say the military needs a leadership overhaul and greater accountability among its members.
Those interviewed suggest a pattern of sexual misconduct going back to the 1990s. Charlotte Duval-Lantoine of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, who has studied gender integration in the Forces, says this is part of a broader problem with the military’s reluctance to accept outside oversight.
“We don’t know if the military will implement recommendations down the line. We have recommendations made since 1999, when gender integration started that have yet to be implemented,” Duval-Lantoine said in an interview with CTV News.
While the military has had some new forms of accountability imposed on it over the years, Duval-Lantoine said more needs to be done.
Brennan told MPs during her testimony on Thursday that the future of the Canadian military is at stake if some sort of external oversight is not introduced.
She said the military justice system needs to be reformed and there should be greater sexual misconduct training for its members so women aren’t deterred from joining its ranks.
“Women are often looked down on, or shuffled out of positions quickly if they speak the truth. The guilt women feel also puts them in a prison, where they are made to feel shame, and that’s by the very institution that they’re committed to serve, and still want to serve,” Brennan said.
With files from CTVNews.ca’s Sarah Turnbull, CTV National News’ Annie Bergeron-Oliver and The Canadian Press
An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Lt.-Gen. Christine Whitecross as the first-ever female chief of the defence staff.
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