By Natalie Flynn
Ottawa, Ont. — Central to the Canadian Army (CA) philosophy is a fierce team spirit, a sense of community and esprit de corps among its members. This includes feeling connected to and responsible for one’s own, as well as other team members’ well-being.
Working in military environments involves the added challenges of frequent interaction with others in situations that go beyond the training area, the armoury or the office. Moments of interaction with other members while traveling, during leisure time, and during athletic and social activities often factor into the daily life of a member of the CA. The context of such interactions is generally casual and relaxed and helps to further support the mutual bond that members of the Army share.
Lt. Gen. Paul Wynnyk, Commander of the Canadian Army, wants to ensure that positive, strong and collaborative professional working relationships, both formal and informal, are always the norm in the CA. That’s why he adamantly supports Operation Honour, the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF’s) campaign against harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour (HISB).
Wynnyk has stated, “The Canadian Army fully acknowledges the severity of the issue of HISB in our organization and there is simply no place for it. Through this operation, we have two clear objectives: to provide care to victims and to stop this inappropriate behaviour.”
The spectrum of HISB is very wide and can range from disparaging language and inappropriate jokes about any particular gender or sexual orientation through to criminal acts such as assault. Research has shown that when members as a group realize that they have a role to play in ending harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour, then the community norms that typically discourage victims and bystanders from coming forward will change.
It is here where the strength of the Canadian Army as a team and the vital soldier skills that every member possesses come into play in helping to prevent or stop sexual misconduct. “The leap from applying a similar mindset to our day-to-day activities and interactions doesn’t have to be large,” said Megan Leslie, a senior counsellor with the Canadian Forces Sexual Misconduct Response Team. “You could see it as simply applying a different context for existing skills.”
In an operational environment, maintaining focus and acute awareness of one’s surroundings is vital to mission success. It is part of the way the Army works. Gen. Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, stressed the importance of team cohesion to the CAF’s effectiveness as a fighting force in a February 2016 issue of Maclean’s Magazine. So, to build on this motif, soldiers must consider themselves and their colleagues as members of a “fire team”. They keep an eye on each other, and “have each other’s backs” in the office, while traveling, at the gym or throughout the duration of an event or outing. They look around, are mindful of what is happening around them and check in with their team often. They are encouraged to trust their instincts and if something doesn’t look or sound “right”, to speak up or step in.
“If even one member feels unsupported, marginalized or uncomfortable among the people he or she works with, the strength and cohesion of the entire team are compromised,” said Ms. Leslie.
It can be simple to start. As Major Craig Gardner, Canadian Army Ethics Officer, noted in a recent article on sexual misconduct in the Canadian Army, if, for example, a member is in a group setting with the team and a disparaging remark or an inappropriate joke is made, it is important to speak up so that all members of the team acknowledge that such behaviour and activity is unacceptable.
“If we understand and capitalize upon the strength of ourselves as a team, and the mutual respect and support that comes with it, we can truly propel the necessary shifts and foster lasting positive change within the workplace culture,” said Ms. Leslie.
The Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) efforts under Operation Honour have helped define and provide context for when and how to take action against HISB and the information, support and training resources are readily available for every member of the Canadian Army team.
A website has been set up for CAF members to get help when needed: DND/CAF HISB resources/ Operation Honour : http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/caf-community-support-services/sexual-misconduct.page
Members can feel confident that they can respond in a manner in which they are most comfortable, whether it be taking action during or after an occurrence. In the case of the previous example, the issue could be raised within the group immediately, the person who made the remark could be spoken to individually outside of the group setting, or the chain of command could be made aware of a situation.
Dialogue, transparency and open lines of communication are essential in building a team working environment that empowers its members. This builds and maintains respect and trust among the entire team and reinforces that all team members are valuable contributors, to be treated with respect and courtesy. When the expectations for the work environment are clear and members feel supported, the team can confidently work together toward any goal.
Natalie Flynn is a member of the Army Public Affairs