Military chief in Canada forced to apologize after saying men are 'biologically wired' for sexual harassment


© Reuters/Chris Wattie
Canada's Chief of Defence Staff General Tom Lawson

Canada's military chief has apologized for saying the prevalence of sexual harassment in the Canadian Forces is due to "biological wiring." His comment drew outrage from politicians and those on social media.

Tom Lawson's controversial statement was made during a Tuesday interview with CBC News.

"It would be a trite answer, but it's because we're biologically wired in a certain way and there will be those who believe it is a reasonable thing to press themselves and their desires on others. It's not the way it should be," Lawson said.

"Much as we would very much like to be absolutely professional in everything we do, and I think by and large we are, there will be situations and have been situations where, largely, men will see themselves as able to press themselves onto our women members,"he added.

But it took Lawson just hours to backpedal on the statement, calling it an "awkward characterization."

"Sexual misconduct in any form, in any situation is clearly unacceptable," Lawson said, adding that his "reference to biological attraction being a factor in sexual misconduct was by no means intended to excuse anyone from responsibility for their actions."

But the apology didn't come before a barrage of criticism from politicians and social media users.

Joyce Murray, a Liberal defense critic, called Lawson's excuse "deplorable."

Meanwhile, Liberal Marc Garneau called for the military chief's immediate resignation.

Others on social media expressed the same thoughts, stating that Lawson should be removed from his post.

Lawson did, however, say in the interview that the current situation needs to change.

"We are going to tackle that. We've been successful in tackling other cultures," he said, adding that the Armed Forces are "well on their way."

The comments come after an April report by Marie Deschamps, a retired Supreme Court justice, which called sexual misconduct "endemic" in the Canadian Forces.

Deschamps accused the military of having a macho culture, in which the leadership tolerates abuse and leaves women in fear of reporting it.

In particular, she concluded the Canadian Forces environment was characterized by frequent swearing and "highly degrading" comments about women's bodies, along with sexual jokes, unwelcome sexual touching and discriminatory comments about women's abilities.

She laid out an action plan to change that culture - a plan that Lawson claims he's committed to following.

"I am committed, alongside Canadian Armed Forces leadership, to addressing the issue of sexual misconduct through an action plan based on the 10 recommendations provided in Madame [Marie] Deschamps' report," Lawson's statement said.

Lawson will be stepping down as military chief in September. He will be replaced by Lieutenant-General Jonathan Vance, currently the commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command.