First female JAG says arrival sends a message

OTTAWA — The Canadian military’s new top legal officer is hoping her appointment sends a message, namely that the Forces is serious about accepting — and valuing — women in uniform.

Commodore Genevieve Bernatchez’s arrival as the Canadian Forces’ first female judge advocate general, or JAG, comes after two decades of work in the office of the JAG, and she’s served as one of several deputies since 2010.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, she said her appointment represented a “historical moment” for women in the military as she had “broken that glass ceiling.”

It also demonstrates that senior leaders aren’t just blowing hot air when they talk about changing the culture within the Forces, she said, and making it more inclusive to women.

After a scathing report in 2015 showed that many women in uniform were being harassed or assaulted, Defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance ordered an end to any inappropriate sexual behaviour.

He’s also aiming to see women make up 25 per cent of military personnel within the next decade and is appointing more women to the senior ranks.

Her appointment reflects that, Bernatchez said.

“I think that when we’re criticizing institutions, saying that they speak but do not act, in this case the words are matching the deeds,” she said.

“And that’s wonderful.”

Bernatchez’s appointment also comes as the military justice system is looking at big changes.

The system is currently in the midst of a major review launched last year in part because of complaints about how sexual crimes committed by those in uniform were being handled.

Bernatchez said there’s no doubt that she will bring a different perspective and approach to military justice than her male predecessors.

“Being a mother, being a daughter, being a wife has shaped who I am and the way I see things,” she said.

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