On June 4, 2015, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, the Honourable Rob Nicholson, issued a statement condemning in the “strongest terms all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peace operations.” The statement goes on to express outrage over the delay in UN investigations and to welcome the announcement of the UN efforts to address sexual abuse and exploitation.
While Canada presses the UN to “do more to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse and to fully investigate any allegations against UN peacekeepers and staff,” one cannot ignore the irony and shallowness of these statements. The statement focuses on negative action, rather than offering any assistance moving forward. However, at this point, it is questionable if Canada would even have the capability to assist with this process. Canada’s own military and RCMP are both currently facing public scrutiny as reports and lawsuits are exposing ‘toxic’ environments for women and members of the LGBT community.
The Canadian government is quick to condemn other military and peacekeeping institutions for sexual abuse yet appears indifferent to the situation occurring at home. While there have been conversations with the media and in the House of Commons, Canada’s Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Jason Kenney, has not released any official statement on the damning Maclean’s exposé or on former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps’s report into sexual violence and harassment in the military. Although these reports classify highly inappropriate, sexualized behaviour as ‘endemic’, citizens and military personnel alike hear no direction forward from their government. Statements condemning “in the strongest terms all forms of sexual abuse” are not extended from our elected officials to our men and women in uniform. Instead, the Canadian government has passed this responsibility to a General who believes sexual assault continues because individuals are “biologically wired in a certain way”.
If Canada is indeed “among the strongest proponents of the UN’s zero-tolerance approach to sexual abuse and exploitation,” the government must put these words into action. Is offering condemning words with no way forward truly demonstrating our alliance with this approach? Are we looking at our own institutions through the same ‘zero-tolerance’ lens? Are we supporting survivors?
Through silence and indifference, both the UN and the Canadian government are guilty of protecting perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment. Echoing Theo Sowa’s words, this is devastating not only to individuals who look to these institutions for hope and for change, but also to those wearing the uniforms.