Good morning, everyone.
I want to start by saying thank you, Laura and Sandra, for your courage, not just for this morning but for going public with your experiences. What happened to both of you is horrific, and it's preventable. It's preventable, and we need to talk about it in that way.
My name is Julie S. Lalonde. I have spent the last 16 years working to end male violence against women in this country. My father was a proud CAF member, but I have been thrust into this conversation because of my experience in presenting to the Royal Military College in the fall of 2014.
I was engaged by the Royal Military College, because of my expertise, to come to train every cadet at RMC—that's about 1,000 students—and give them training on bystander intervention and sexual violence.
I was quite excited about the opportunity. It feels like a lifetime ago, but 2014 was before the Ghomeshi story broke and before #MeToo. Nobody was talking about sexual violence—not even close to the way they are now—so an institution asking me to come and train every single cadet felt progressive.
Unfortunately, when I arrived, it was clear that not only was this not taken seriously, but they were clearly checking off a box and really setting me up to fail in a number of ways, which I can get into later. That was a institutional failure on the behalf of the institution, then, but the cadets were some of the worst people I have ever had to deal with in my entire life.
They were rude. They were disrespectful. I was catcalled. I was accused of hating men. This is what I was told: “Why did you think we were going to take you seriously? You came here in a dress and you're a civilian.” I had women cadets tell me that they just weren't going to take me seriously because I was a woman, to which I replied: “You're a woman in this institution. That means they're never going to take you seriously either.”
It was a horrific experience. I think what is noteworthy is that the third-years were the worst. These are people who had been in that institution for three years; we're not talking about 18-year-olds off the street. These are people who had been indoctrinated in that institution for three years.
I filed a complaint with the institution. It was clear that the cadets knew that I wasn't going to take it, so they filed a complaint against me. They had access to the chain of command and I did not. Therefore, I was investigated by RMC for five months under allegations that I had called all men “rapists”, something that is laughable, I would hope, but that was taken seriously by RMC. About five months later, they concluded that I had in fact been harassed, and I was issued a written apology by DND.
Shortly afterwards, Justice Deschamps wrote her report and, if folks remember, the CAF was not too pleased with her recommendations. This was under General Lawson at the time. There were crickets. There was nobody in a position to come forward and back up what Justice Deschamps was saying.
Because I'm a civilian and because I had a written apology, I was well positioned to come forward and back up her claims, so I did. The result was that it was a national news story, which was great for starting the conversation, but I was inundated with threats of violence and death threats. In fact, someone was arrested and charged with threatening to kill me, and I'm a civilian with a written apology recognizing that I was harassed by DND.
For me, what I want folks to understand is that as an expert Governor General's award-winning civilian with a written apology, I was absolutely slandered. Also, I wasn't just slandered by random trolls on the Internet. General Lawson was asked directly about my experience by Peter Mansbridge on national television, and he insinuated that I was lying. For the general—who at the time was giving an exit interview to Peter Mansbridge on national television—to insinuate that I was lying is horrific. It's not okay.
Again, I am a civilian. I owe nothing to the military. I could never walk into those institutions ever again and be fine. Unlike the women sitting at this table who have dedicated their lives to that space, I had little to lose and I was treated in that way, so I don't understand how we think we're going to get to the core of this issue when nobody is safe if they call out what's going on.
There are answers, but part of the military institution, which is something I see when I work with campuses as well, is the mistaken belief that unless you are part of the institution, you don't have the answers. The military is a notoriously closed door environment. They are notoriously a non-welcoming environment to outsiders, and there's a real belief that they have the answers. Every time a military institution tells you that they have the answers to sexual violence, they are dunking on themselves by recognizing that they've had the answer for years and years and they've just never implemented it. We need to frame it in that way. They do not have the expertise.
General Lawson was a pilot, so he could go on the news and talk about how to fly a plane, and I could not correct him on that. But he did not have more authority on addressing sexual violence than people who have been doing this for decades. We really need to frame it as “expertise”. If you're building a bridge, you're going to hire an engineer. If you're trying to address sexual violence that is rampant in the institution, then you need to bring experts to the table.
Lastly, I think it's important to recognize that part of the reason I have received so much heinous backlash, which continues to this day, is that we believe the military is the last place where men can be men. I think we need to be bold and say that. There is a real belief from women within the RMC, who are proud cadets, that they are there on borrowed time: “They are letting us be here, and the second we step out of line, they will remind us we are here only because they're allowing us to be here.”
Again, that's in the context of gender, but it's also in terms of race. RMC is a very white institution. The military is very white. It's very straight. Folks who are marginalized in any way, shape or form are constantly reminded, “If you toe the line and you act like us, we will allow you to be here, but fundamentally this is where we let men be men.” For me to challenge that institution was seen as challenging all of masculinity, and that's why I think the response was so heinous.
As a civilian, this is how I have been treated, so I cannot imagine the level of courage it takes to speak out as folks who are current or former members of the CAF. Again, my incredible gratitude to Laura, Sandra and all of the others who have come forward. It takes an immense amount of bravery, and I recognize that.