CANADA

BREAKING THE FAMILY SILENCE

JOHN NICOL June 8 1998
CANADA

BREAKING THE FAMILY SILENCE

JOHN NICOL June 8 1998

BREAKING THE FAMILY SILENCE

CANADA

JOHN NICOL

Maj. Mary Ellen Timperon was 28 when she enlisted in the Canadian Forces in 1984. She was tough enough to brush aside suggestions by some superior officers that sex might earn her favorable performance reviews, and she rebuffed the soldiers who got drunk and tried to climb into her bed. Instead, she became a military psychologist—and a crusader for women. She helped establish a status-of-women committee and the Athena Centre for women at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., did controversial research that uncovered sexual mis-

conduct endured by female cadets and convinced CFB Borden to recognize International Women’s Day. Today she remains determined to change the minds of those soldiers who can’t stand the presence of, as she says she has been described, a “feminist bitch” in uniform.

Her latest adventure—the establishment last June of a Conflict Resolution Centre at CFB Borden near Barrie, Ont.—has earned her, she says, the nickname “female gestapo.” Until last week, when reports of sexual misconduct prompted the military to set up a 1-800 line for those seeking help, Timperon’s centre—designed to investigate conflicts between soldiers and educate those involved about proper conduct—operated the country’s only military help line for sexual assault victims. Now, based on her concept, similar centres are about to be established on bases across the country as pilot projects. “We’ve come a long way," says the 43-year-old ma-

jor, “but we’ve got a long way to go.” According to Timperon, the military has had difficulty dealing with sexual abuse and harassment because of a reluctance to air its problems in public. “The military is an old traditional family," she notes. The prevailing ethos, she says, is that “there is nothing wrong inside this house, when you go out that door you put a smile on your face, and the problems stay inside these walls.” Timperon estimates that 15 per cent of men in the Forces remain seriously opposed to having women serve in combat units, although most of them, she feels, could be persuaded through education programs. “But two per cent are not salvageable,” she says. That two per cent, she adds, should be removed from the military.

Recent allegations of rape and chronic sexual harassment in the military have not surprised Timperon and her colleagues who deal with gender issues. She was w at national defence head1 quarters in Ottawa on d May 19 when the

1 Maclean’s story broke.

2 “There were people I jumping all over the g place, but it didn’t come s as a shock to us,” Timperon says. “We just thought, it’s about time.” Last week, her own base commander, Col. W. R. Reid, gave her Conflict Resolution Centre a ringing endorsement by informing troops at CFB Borden they could ignore the chain of command and call the centre’s special phone line with reports or questions about abuse or harassment.

Timperon is glad to see the issues she has worked on throughout herl4-year career finally being addressed. But she remains cautious about the future. She was troubled by comments made by Reform defense critic Art Hanger, who, in response to the Maclean’s reports, suggested that women did not belong in combat units. “Don’t take away from us what we’ve struggled for for so long,” Timperon says. Women have achieved a beachhead, and with some reinforcements, they want to soldier on.