Billions spent on institutional embodiment of toxic masculinity

Maclean’s May 1998

Does a misogynist, right wing, racist institution rife with sexual assaults deserve tens of billions of our tax dollars per year and slavish praise from politicians, media, sports leagues and many others?

My guess is that the vast majority of Canadians would answer “no” to this question. But, in fact, questioning the military budget is almost verboten in polite (dominant media) circles. Certainly, commentators ought to at least raise the question when discussing sexual assault and the military’s socially regressive values.

In recent months the media has published numerous stories about sexual assault allegations leveled against military leaders. A dozen top commanders have been accused of sexual misdeeds over the past year and between April 1, 2016 and March 9 of last year there were 581 sexual assault and 221 sexual harassment complaints implicating Canadian Forces members. 19,000 former Canadian Forces—Department of National Defence members have submitted claims as part of a sexual misconduct class-action. In 2015 Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps published a report that found a “culture of misogyny” in the Canadian Forces “hostile to women”.

As sexism within the institution draws significant attention, there’s also been a spate of stories about those with extreme right-wing beliefs in the Canadian Forces. Recently Global News published “White supremacists in Canada’s military pose ‘active counter-intelligence threat’” while CBC noted “Far-right infiltration of Canada’s military poses a serious threat, says Winnipeg reporter”. The Canadian military’s role in empire, history of white supremacy and hierarchal nature is attractive to far-right activists.

Amidst hundreds of reports about the military’s problem with the far right/sexism I have yet to see a story suggest that fewer public resources should go to the institution as a result. Why does no one link the funding an institution receives to the values it upholds?

It’s not as if there’s not plenty of room to cut. The military is by far the largest Canadian government department, employing the largest number and purchasing the most equipment. Combined spending on the Department of National Defence (DND) and Veteran Affairs is $30 billion, about 15 times the budget of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

About 30% of federal discretionary spending goes to the institutional embodiment of toxic masculinity. While it’s received a bout of attention recently, the military has long promoted regressive social values. The Canadian Forces’ culture and structures are frequently in opposition to pluralistic, democratic, values. Loyalty, conformity and obeying orders are considered essential. There’s little room to challenge authority or injustices and voting is nearly nonexistent.

Rather than link funding to the sexual assault/far right scandals, challenging the issue is framed as a way to strengthen the institution. “This crisis [sexual assault] is hurting morale and recruitment in the Canadian Armed Forces,” said new Defence Minister Anita Anand during the opening of November’s Halifax International Security Forum. Similarly, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency report cited in the Global article above frames far right activists joining the force as a threat to the institution.

Canada’s “feminist” prime minister, who claims to be concerned about the far right, has responded to the sexual assault/far right scandals by plowing ever-growing sums into the military. DND’s budget has grown about $5 billion between 2016 and 2021. The government is currently planning to spend $19 billion on 88 new fighter jets ($77 billion over their life cycle) and $82 billion on 15 combatant vessels ($286 billion over their life cycle).

Should the public purse continue to devote such large sums to an institution that promotes values most Canadians disagree with?


Yves Engler’s latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom? — A People’s History of the Canadian Military

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