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‘Profoundly immature’: Senior officer sorry for post on military colleges after damning report – National

A senior member of the Canadian Armed Forces is facing criticism for a post amid a grassroots social media campaign rallying support for Canada’s royal military colleges less than a week after a scathing independent review raised serious concerns about the institutions.

Last weekend, Maj.-Gen. Simon Bernard — a senior member of the military in charge of personnel — was among a number of alumni of RMC Kingston and RMC Saint-Jean who changed their profile pictures on LinkedIn to their RMC graduation photos.

A number of the gradudates explicitly identified that their reason for posting these photos was to support the military colleges and their alumni in the wake of strong condemnation of the culture within these colleges in Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour’s report, which was released last week.

As part of her comprehensive review into sexual misconduct and harassment within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), Abour highlighted RMC Kingston and RMC Saint-Jean as institutions “from a different era” with a problematic leadership model in desperate need of a systemic overhaul.

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Arbour went so far as to say the “discriminatory culture” and outdated mindset within these institutions is so persistent, she questioned whether they should even continue to exist in their present form and warned that a lack of major reform could hold back the CAF from truly adopting a necessary culture of change.

Grads of the colleges have since been posting messages of support on LinkedIn for RMC and the positive impact these institutions have had on their lives, including some who have taken issue with Arbour’s findings.

Global News has identified at least 21 different individual profiles on LinkedIn that have engaged in this activity.

On June 4, Bernard changed his profile photo to his RMC graduation portrait and commented “TDV” on a LinkedIn post written by another former graduate. TDV is an acronym for RMC’s motto: truth, duty, valour.

But this outward show of support didn’t stay online long.

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After several women, who said they were victims of assault and harm at the schools, challenged him over this public show of support for the colleges, Bernard deleted his comment and removed his graduation photo.

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In a statement to Global News, Bernard says he immediately removed these posts after he “realized the possible impact of this post on others.”

“Though there was no ill-intent in my post, I accept accountability for what, in hindsight, did not consider the impact on others and I sincerely apologize to anyone who has been affected.”

A day after his LinkedIn comments, Bernard posted a long message expressing support for Arbour’s recommendations as a “positive thing for the department and the CAF.”


A day after posting support for RMC on LinkedIn , Maj.-Gen. Simon Bernard published this message expressing support for Arbour’s recommendations as a “positive thing for the department and the CAF.”.


Photo from LinkedIn profile

In a statement to Global News, a defence department spokesperson said Bernard “immediately informed his chain of command of the LinkedIn post, and as soon as he realized the post could potentially harm others, he removed it.

“He has accepted accountability for his actions and recognized his post may have impacted survivors,” said Derek Abma, senior communications advisor with DND.

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He also noted Defence Minister Anita Anand accepted the recommendations of the Arbour report, which calls for a review of the military colleges.

 

Defensive posts “disappointing,” “childish,” experts say

But some experts say Bernard’s actions and those taking to social media to defend RMC are an example of a “fortress mentality” that demonstrates the entrenched attitudes against change that Arbour and victim advocates have flagged as a major barrier to improvement.

“I thought it was asinine,” said retired Lt.-Col. Mark Popov, who was in charge of officer cadet training in 2014 and 2015 at the colleges.

“I thought it was the actions of those who actually hadn’t read the Arbour report in detail and who, in a reactionary fashion, sought just to push against the recommendations.”

While not everyone will agree with all of Arbour’s calls for change, Popov says he does believe a full examination of the colleges is needed to address deep-seated concerns about their operations and the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault experienced by too many students.


Retired Lt.-Col. Mark Popov, who was in charge of officer cadet training in 2014 and 2015 at RMC Kingston, says former grads taking to social media to defend the colleges from the findings about RMC in the Arbour report are an example of a “fortress mentality” that demonstrates the entrenched attitudes against change.


Submitted photo.

“The reactionary viewpoint that I’m seeing on social media is disappointing from a lot of people that I know personally because Justice Arbour is not attacking them… but is pointing out some flaws that exist and identifying the need for some changes which will only do good for the entire Canadian Armed Forces.”

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Julie Lalonde, a women’s rights advocate and public educator, says she believes the social media backlash against Arbour’s findings stems from a denial of the systemic problems that exist within the institutions.

Too many military members see criticisms of the military as personal attacks, she said.

“It is profoundly immature to be a grown adult and to see a Supreme Court justice report saying this campus has a problem and then to have a fit and change your profile photo because you want to be proud of RMC —  it’s so childish,” she said.

“They should be embarrassed that you are a decorated military member and this is your reaction to what happened.”

 

Businessman defends RMC as a “great institution”

Among those who have posted in support of RMC is Bryan Brulotte — a businessman and former member of the military who also briefly attempted a run at the leadership of the federal Conservative party earlier this year.

Brulotte says he felt “compelled” to post his RMC grad photo and express support for Canada’s military colleges because he believes the Arbour report and the response to it to date “gives a sense that everything is wrong at the college.”

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“That’s not the case. I think that there’s a lot of good things that are happening there and there’s a lot of progress that’s been made,” he told Global News.


Businessman and former military member Bryan Brulotte says he felt “compelled” to post his RMC grad photo and express support for Canada’s military colleges because he believes the Arbour report “gives a sense that everything is wrong at the college.”.


Photo from LinkedIn profile

In her report, Arbour said she was told almost every female cadet has either experienced one or more incidents of sexual misconduct “or worse,” including persisting discriminatory comments and attitudes.

Arbour also cited a 2020 Statistics Canada report that found 68 per cent of students at RMC Kingston and RMC Saint-Jean have either seen or been the victim of unwanted sexual behaviour during their time at the schools.

But Brulotte believes Arbour has overplayed the prevalence of sexual misconduct at military colleges as compared to the rate of reports of these incidents at civilian universities.

He also takes strong issue with her criticism of the cadet leadership structure at the colleges, which she said has been likened to “children leading children.”

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Click to play video: 'Defence minister ‘totally understands’ skepticism on military culture reform'







Defence minister ‘totally understands’ skepticism on military culture reform


Defence minister ‘totally understands’ skepticism on military culture reform

Brulotte said he thinks the Arbour report was positive in that it provided a voice for many who felt they needed to be heard, and said he supports measures that appropriately deal with sexual assault, racism or bullying at the schools that may be required on a case-by-case basis.

But also said he believes Arbour’s process was “flawed” and that it suffered from an “inherent bias.”

That’s why he took to social media to defend RMC and the many eminent Canadians who have graduated from these colleges, he said, listing many of them.
“I’m posting because I’m defending what I believe to be a great institution that has produced fantastic Canadians.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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