Feature photos (L) M0472 Barb Maisonneuve and (R) Sharon Miklas
The M0472 Barb Maisonneuve – fiery speech
Article by: Sharon Miklas, Associate – RMC Vice-Principal Academic
The 15 April 2018 issue of e-Veritas included a brief description of a Cadet Mess Dinner that took place at RMC Saint-Jean on 13 April 2018 and included a transcript of the speech provided by the guest of honour, M0472 Maj(retd) Barbara Maisonneuve (Class of 1990). The subject of her speech, in her own words, was to talk about, “…the #MeToo movement and more specifically, “Where do we go from here?” For those who haven’t yet read the transcript of the speech, I would encourage you to do so, as I will only be summarizing parts of that speech and it is always best to go directly to the source.
In brief, the speech opened with a discussion about the dangers of extreme political correctness and the speaker’s belief that the pendulum had swung too far, such that people were afraid that their innocent comments would be interpreted as offensive and were feeling overly constrained in how they could relate to others in conversation. She recommended to her audience that a return to “common sense” in assessing their comments and behavior would be far superior to extreme political correctness or “zero tolerance”. Maj (retd) Maisonneuve then proceeded to briefly comment on her perceptions of the positive impact of the #Me Too movement, before moving on to relate how she perceives that #Me Too has gotten it wrong in terms of Harmful and Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour (HISB) and concluding by providing her advice to her audience as to how to handle HISB in their future careers.
Initially, I was offended and angered by my reading of the speech because I felt that she had provided a narrow view of the issue of HISB that failed to acknowledge its prevalence and the impact that it has on survivors. In my work at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in Kingston, I have spent a great deal of time trying to educate people about HISB as well as attempting to increase their awareness of how HISB negatively impacts everyone and not just survivors. A key aspect of this educational and awareness programming involves providing information on all of the individual factors, organizational issues and cultural and societal norms that contribute to and perpetuate HISB. Unfortunately, nuanced presentations of issues are not as attractive or digestible as more simplistic sound bites that purport to provide easy solutions to complex problems.
I believe that Maj (retd) Maisonneuve intended to inspire and empower her audience and that she spoke based on her experience during her career in the military as well as in her personal life. She has clearly given a great deal of her time to support RMC Saint-Jean and she should be commended for again giving of herself to speak to the Officer Cadets at an important event.
I am glad to hear that she had a positive experience during her time in the military and that she has not been subject to HISB during her career. Unfortunately, her personal experience is not the norm for the majority of women either in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) or in the general population. We know from the myriad surveys that have been conducted on HISB in the general population, as well as a recent survey by Stats Can of the prevalence of sexual assault in the CAF that the majority of women do not share her experience with HISB. For example, according to the 2016 Stats Can survey on Sexual Assault in the CAF, two-thirds of women in the CAF experienced sexualized or discriminatory behaviours during their career, and, among Regular Force members, over a quarter of women have been victims of sexual assault at least once since joining the CAF. Although Maj (retd) Maisonneuve is not required to provide all of the context or facts about HISB and its prevalence in the CAF, I feel that this issue is important enough to warrant fully informing oneself prior to speaking publicly about it, especially to young people who we know are at an increased risk of experiencing HISB.
One of the statements made by Maj (retd) Maisonneuve that I find particularly problematic is the following,
“C’mon ladies – and gentlemen – you are going to encounter jerks in your life – vous allez rencontrer des salauds dans votre vie – they will be male or female, bosses or subordinates, friends, friends of friends, your new in-laws – they are everywhere so deal with it – be yourself, be strong, handle it and MOVE ON. Do it. For yourself or on behalf of someone else.”
The above statement was made, I hope, in an effort to empower those who may experience HISB to report the incident, as well as in an effort to encourage those who witness incidents of HISB to intervene positively as active vs. passive bystanders. Unfortunately, statements like this one not only assume that all women are identical in terms of their experiences and their beliefs as to their ability to speak up, but also don’t acknowledge the possibility that HISB often occurs where there is an imbalance of power between the target and the perpetrator and/or where the target feels threatened (whether physically or otherwise). HISB, including incidents of sexual assault, are notoriously underreported by survivors and many times this is because individuals worry that they will not be believed, especially where they may feel that they were precluded from actively resisting the advances of an alleged perpetrator due to fear, past experiences of abuse, “freezing up”, etc.
Encouraging and empowering survivors of HISB to come forward and report or speak up about their experiences is about ensuring that they know that they will be believed and supported regardless of how they reacted in the moment when the HISB happened. Maj (retd) Maisonneuve’s advice could be perceived as indicating that those survivors who don’t speak up are somehow complicit in what happened to them. Unfortunately, this means that her words could have the opposite effect to what she intended and in fact discourage some survivors from coming forward about their experiences with HISB.
Believing and supporting survivors does not mean; however, that we assume that all men all perpetrators of HISB or that we throw “due process” out the window when an allegation of HISB is made. If the appropriate processes are in place regarding how to respond to allegations of HISB, then both parties (i.e., alleged perpetrator and survivor) will have their rights respected during the process of providing support, investigating the complaint and coming to an appropriate resolution.
In conclusion, my intent in commenting on this issue and Maj (retd) Maisonneuve’s speech is to provide a more balanced look at the issue of HISB and how best to respond to HISB. My belief is that more is accomplished by having a dialogue about the complex issues surrounding HISB, than by distilling a tremendously important and disturbingly prevalent problem down to vague soundbites related to “common sense”, standing up for yourself and “moving on”. Everyone is entitled to their own experience and their own opinion but it is important to think carefully before presuming that one’s own experience applies to everyone.
 For example, the Measuring Violence against Women: Statistical Trends, 2013, Statistics Canada; and It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, Ontario Government, 2015. For further resources, visit the Canadian Women’s Foundation website, canadianwomen.org.
 Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, 2016, Statistics Canada.
 Measuring Violence against Women: Statistical Trends, 2013, Statistics Canada.