Head of Veterans Affairs office that supports women keeps positive outlook

·2 min read
Christina Hutchins, director for the Office of Women and LGBTQ Veterans at Veterans Affairs, which is based on P.E.I., said she's hopeful the work of her office has helped create a safe space for victims of misconduct to come forward with allegations.    (Submitted by Christina Hutchins - image credit)
Christina Hutchins, director for the Office of Women and LGBTQ Veterans at Veterans Affairs, which is based on P.E.I., said she's hopeful the work of her office has helped create a safe space for victims of misconduct to come forward with allegations. (Submitted by Christina Hutchins - image credit)

The head of a Veterans Affairs department that started up about a year ago to support women and LGBTQ veterans says she's disappointed about continued allegations of sexual misconduct within the Canadian Forces, but she's hopeful her office will find ways to make things better.

Admiral Art McDonald abruptly stepped aside last month as Canada's top military commander after questions were posed to the Department of National Defence about a sexual misconduct investigation into allegations against him.

CBC News has learned those allegations involve a female crew member and an incident a decade ago aboard a warship.

There is also an ongoing investigation into McDonald's predecessor, Gen. Jonathan Vance, after allegations he had an inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate.

'A power to be reckoned with'

Christina Hutchins, director for the Office of Women and LGBTQ Veterans at Veterans Affairs, which is based on P.E.I., said she's hopeful the work of her office has helped create a safe space for victims to come forward with allegations.

"Women veterans themselves are a power to be reckoned with, I guess, so I don't think this will go away. So there will be continued pressure to make the appropriate changes," she said.

A big part of the work she's been doing since the office opened last March has been building trust with groups who have felt invisible or unheard in the past, she said.

Hutchins said in the past year a three-day virtual conference was held to hear directly from veterans who identify as female and/or part of the LGBTQ community.

She said she's heard concerns about health care, inequalities in employment, pay equity and safety.

Her office has also had seminars with experts about gender identification and expression.

"People seem more comfortable having some of those difficult conversations," she said. "They're bringing that topic up. It's not taboo or it's not something that you don't bring up at a meeting. People, I think, are getting more comfortable asking kind of more probing questions, digging a little bit deeper."

Small actions like deliberately changing language to be more inclusive and avoiding gender stereotypes will help in the long run, she said.

"If enough people do enough little things, then that will result in a bigger change," she said.