A letter outlining the dress code for young people interested in joining a Newfoundland air cadets squadron is offensive and “completely unacceptable,” Canada’s defence minister said Friday after learning that the document referred to girls’ breasts as “developing bits.”
Harjit Sajjan issued the blunt statement after a parent complained about a leaflet handed out recently by the 510 Lions Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron in St. John’s.
A photo of the document provided by the military shows it outlines what the squadron considers appropriate civilian dress for cadets and lists the Four Bs: “boobs, belly, bums, boxers,” going on to say that girls should wear shirts that do not “reveal their developing bits.”
“This kind of language and the attitudes it represents are completely unacceptable in the cadets, in the Canadian Armed Forces and in our society,” Sajjan said. “This shaming of young women is offensive to me as a person, as a father, and as the Minister of National Defence. It is completely inappropriate.”
The strongly worded condemnation comes after the mother of a 13-year-old girl revealed the letter and told the CBC she believed it sexualized young girls and imposed different standards on them than their male counterparts.
The document also spells out guidelines for acceptable hair, makeup and body piercings.
Canada’s top soldier, Gen. Jonathan Vance, also criticized the leaflet and said he would try to make sure materials distributed by cadet organizations show more respect to members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
“While we expect all cadets to dress appropriately and professionally, this letter used language that is completely unacceptable and not in keeping with Operation Honour,” he said in a statement.
“This document does not reflect the high standard expected of the program. To the members of the 510 Lions and their parents, please accept my personal apologies.”
The squadron did not respond to a request for comment.
Brig.-Gen. Kelly Woiden, commander of the national cadet program, said he has ordered that the document be rescinded and that regional cadet support units determine if they have material that uses similarly offensive language.
Woiden said the guidebook sends a bad message to young girls interested in joining the cadet program, which has about 1,100 squadrons representing 53,000 cadets. He believes it was produced locally as a way to introduce people to the cadet program.
“It’s a very sexualized response — the four Bs is not a vocabulary that we utilize to describe any kind of dress and deportment,” he said in an interview form Ottawa, adding that he was trying to contact the officer in charge of the 510 squadron.
“It’s not a good message and I find I’m personally a little bit angry at its content.”
The revelation comes at a time when the Canadian Forces are stepping up efforts to stamp out what retired justice Marie Deschamps described as an “underlying sexual culture” in the military. In her report in April 2015, she described an environment that was hostile to women and left victims of sexual assault and harassment to fend for themselves. In response, military leaders promised to take immediate action to root out unacceptable behaviour.
Randall Garrison, the NDP defence critic, said the leaflet shows that more work is needed to shift what he called the “sexualized nature” of the military culture.
“Training is offered to all leaders — including leaders in the reserves — to help kind of eliminate this kind of approach to problems in the military,” he said. “So obviously, somebody either hasn’t had the training yet or failed the training.”