Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance arrives before a town hall meeting with cadets at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont., on Wednesday, March 29, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

Top soldier promises to fix military college

Vance putting college, two other military schools under his direct command

OTTAWA — A review of the Royal Military College of Canada has uncovered significant problems at the prestigious institution in Kingston, Ont., prompting a promise of immediate action from none other than the country’s top soldier.

Chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance says he is putting the college and two other military schools under his direct command to ensure they get the attention they deserve.

The move is intended to address years of neglect caused by what the review, conducted by eight current and former officers, called “a decade of resource pressures and higher priorities” at National Defence.

That neglect manifested itself in a variety of ways, the review found, including cuts to support staff, a lack of money for repairs, and the appointment of unqualified military personnel to work at the school.

It also meant a steady build-up in rules and requirements facing the school’s 1,000 cadets, to the point where the review team found significant levels of “negative” stress within the student body.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Vance said he was committed to getting the school “back to basics” and wants to “inject some fun” back into the institution.

“I think we understand, as a result of the report, that there are some negative stressors at the college that are not useful or productive in the development of junior leaders in the armed forces,” he said.

“And they will be eliminated.”

Vance is promising to modernize the 140-year-old college by adding staff, improving medical and food services, and investing more money to fix the library, dormitories and other infrastructure.

He is also ending the age-old practice of requiring cadets to wear their uniforms at all times, a move he expects to spark outrage amongst some alumni but whose time he says has come.

“What part of wearing a ceremonial uniform downtown on a Friday night to have a drink with your friends would directly relate to your ability to be a good warrior leader or a good infantry officer?” Vance said.

“It’s a rhetorical question because there is none.”

Vance is also establishing one basic set of standards that all cadets must meet to graduate and earn their commissions as military officers, which isn’t the case now and has led to deep divisions at the college.

“If you don’t achieve it because of some sort of motivation issue or you’re just ill-inclined, then you won’t get your commission,” he said.

“In the past, they’ve gotten them. I will withhold the commission until such time as you pass.”

Vance ordered the review last November following the suspected suicides of three cadets and allegations of sexual misconduct at the school, which is responsible for grooming future military officers.

But the team did not investigate the deaths of cadets Harrison Kelertas, Brett Cameron and Matthew Sullivan. Those incidents are instead the subject of a board of inquiry due to wrap up in the coming weeks.

Vance committed to incorporating any recommendations on suicide prevention that come out of the board of inquiry.

The review team also said in its final 227-page report that it did not find evidence of rampant sexual misconduct at the college.

Retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps reported last year that sexual harassment was considered a rite of passage at the institution, and sexual assault was an “ever-present risk.”

Many female cadets instead told the review team they felt safe day and night at the college, with only one previously unreported incident uncovered in more than 400 interviews with students, staff and others.

Vance said the findings reflected his own assessment of how widespread sexual misconduct is at the college, given a lack of police reports and other indicators.

“I would know if there was a trend,” he said. “If there was a serious problem there, we would know.”

Vance, who outlined his plan for modernizing the college to staff and students on Wednesday, said fixing the college was essential given its importance to the military’s long-term success.

“This is a brand new, raw population whose ultimate benefit to the armed forces is huge,” he said.

“There are future chiefs of defence staff in there. So we’d better do it right there or we’re going to have problems later.”

— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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