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Toronto van attack, toxic masculinity and the Canadian Forces

Canadian soldiers point guns. Photo: Cpl Alana Morin/4 Cdn Div / 4 Div CA - JTFC/FOIC/Flickr

Progressive online commentary about Monday's van attack in Toronto has focused on the influence of "toxic masculinity." The analyses should be expanded to include the alleged perpetrator's ties to a powerful patriarchal institution that is Canada's biggest purveyor of violence.

Early reports suggest alleged mass murderer Alek Minassian may have targeted women and been motivated by sexism. Before carrying out his horrific attack he posted on Facebook about the "Incel Rebellion," a community of "involuntarily celibate" men who hate women, and praised misogynistic U.S. mass murderer Elliot Rodger. Minassian reportedly wrote: "Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161.The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!"

It should surprise no one that alongside his call for an "Incel Rebellion" the misogynist Minassian cited his (short) military service. Last fall he joined the Canadian Forces (CF), which has 100,000 active members and 300,000 retired members. A 2015 investigation led by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps found a "culture of misogyny" in the CF "hostile to women and LGTBQ members." While women now represent 15 per cent of military personnel, the Deschamps report concluded that "the overall perception is that a 'boy's club' culture still prevails in the armed forces."

Until 1979 women were excluded from the Royal Military College. Until 1989 women were excluded from combat roles in the CF. In 2000 the submarine service was finally opened to women.

A 1992 Department of National Defence survey found that 26.2 per cent of female CF respondents were sexually harassed in the previous 12 months. Subsequent investigations have shown steady improvements, but 27.3 per cent of women in 2016 still reported having been victims of sexual assault at least once since joining the CF. The Deschamps review "found that there is an undeniable problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the [Canadian Armed Forces]." In 2017 plaintiffs in five separate cities united to sue over sexual assault, harassment and gender-based discrimination in the CF.

When Nichola Goddard became the first female CF member to die in Afghanistan it came to light that she wrote her husband about sexual violence on the base. Goddard wrote about "the tension of living in a fortress where men outnumbered women 10 to one" and "there were six rapes in the camp last week, so we have to work out an escort at night." But, the CF only admits to investigating five reports of sexual harassment or assault in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2010. Valerie Fortney, author of Sunray: The Death and Life of Captain Nichola Goddard said she "hit a brick wall" when seeking to investigate sexual harassment in Afghanistan.

Male veterans have repeatedly engaged in gender-based violence. Last year Lionel Desmond killed his wife, daughter, mother and himself while Robert Giblin stabbed and threw his pregnant wife off a building before killing himself in 2015.

After the worst incident of patriarchal violence in Canadian history, members of the elite Airborne Regiment reportedly held a celebratory dinner to honour Marc Lepine. In 1989 Lepine massacred 14 women at the Université de Montréal while shouting "you're all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!"

Not only is the CF a patriarchal social force, it is the country's greatest purveyor of violence. The Canadian military spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year promoting militarism and during the past quarter century it has fought wars of aggression in Libya, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Iraq (not to mention helping to overthrow an elected government in Haiti and engaging in gunboat diplomacy in a number of locations).

To a large extent the CF is the institutional embodiment of toxic masculinity and therefore it's not surprising that Minassian was drawn to it. His connection to an organization that receives over $20 billion a year in public funds while upholding patriarchy and promoting violence ought to be part of the discussion of this horrible act.

Photo: Cpl Alana Morin/4 Cdn Div / 4 Div CA - JTFC/FOIC/Flickr

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