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Defence minister announces panel members tasked with reviewing military colleges

OTTAWA — Defence Minister Bill Blair has announced the names of the seven people asked to review Canada's military colleges and recommend whether they should stay open, and if so, how they should change.
National Defence Minister Bill Blair speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Defence Minister Bill Blair has announced the names of the seven people asked to review Canada's military colleges and recommend whether they should stay open, and if so, how they should change.

Former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour recommended such a review in her May 2022 report looking into the military's problem with sexual misconduct.

Arbour examined the culture at the Royal Military Colleges in Kingston, Ont., and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and found they had outdated and problematic leadership models.

Arbour found persistent issues of sexual harassment, discrimination and misconduct at the colleges, writing "there is enough evidence that military colleges are not delivering on their mandate that I believe alternatives must be explored with an open mind."

She called for the review to consider whether it would be best for officer cadets to go to a civilian university for an undergraduate degree, then receive a year of professional military education and training at a military college.

Blair said Wednesday that closing the colleges would be a knee-jerk reaction on the part of government, one that "ignores the value of that military education and the good that has and can come out of that."

"My strong belief is that our military colleges are important institutions in the Canadian military culture but there are elements of them that need to change," he said.

Arbour also recommended that while the review board was doing its work, the chief of professional conduct and culture should work with the colleges to address "the continuing misogynistic and discriminatory environment and the ongoing incidence of sexual misconduct."

A Statistics Canada report found that in 2019, 68 per cent of military college students witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours and 40 per cent witnessed or experienced discriminatory behaviour, almost always from other students.

The report also found that 28 per cent of female students were sexually assaulted during their time at military college, much higher than the 15 per cent of female students who reported being sexually assaulted at other post-secondary institutions.

Unlike most schools, the military colleges are male-dominated --- women made up one in five students in 2019 — but the report found that both men and women were responsible for the behaviour 45 per cent of the time.

The review board will look at this and other past studies of the colleges as part of its work. It will also study how Canada's allies train their military leadership.

The board's terms of reference state that it will be expected to recommend whether the colleges should continue as degree-granting institutions or in another capacity, and to "assess the potential of different models for delivering university-level education and military leadership training to naval/officer cadets."

Arbour recommended that the cadet wing responsibility and authority command structure — which gives fourth-year cadet commanders authority over newer cadets — be eliminated. The government has tasked the review board with recommending whether that structure should be eliminated or modified.

The terms of reference state that if the board decides the two colleges should stay open, it must recommend changes to the program structure and curriculum along with ones aimed at improving the conduct of those attending the colleges.

Blair said the colleges "can and must evolve" and said it is the government's responsibility to ensure they provide a safe learning environment.

The review board will make its recommendations to government within one year.

The board will be chaired by Kathy Hogarth, an adult education specialist.

The other external board members are Chantal Beauvais, a young adult socialization expert; Michael Goldbloom, a culture evolution expert; Renée Légaré, an executive expert; and Martin Maltais, an academic expert.

The Defence Department's executive representative is Suneeta Millington and Col. Kyle Solomon, the former commandant of the Canadian Army Command and Staff College, is the military representative.

Solomon replaced Brig.-Gen. Corinna Heilman, who was appointed to the post in the spring. She had been working in the Chief Professional Conduct and Culture office and was also the director of cadets at the Royal Military College from 2019 to 2021.

A LinkedIn profile for Heilman says she started a position with the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services in October. The Defence Department says she retired from the Forces.

Blair said "a number of people" changed positions since June, when the Defence Department had said the board members would begin their work within a matter of weeks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2023.

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press