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Top female officer quits Canadian Forces, says she's 'sickened' by reports of sexual misconduct

One of the most prominent women in the Canadian military has resigned, saying she is "disgusted" by ongoing reports of sexual misconduct in the Armed Forces and dismayed that it has taken this long for the problem to come to the fore.

Lt.-Col. Eleanor Taylor, the deputy commander of the 36th Brigade Group and a distinguished veteran of combat in Afghanistan, delivered a scathing resignation letter to senior military leaders — a letter that has been circulating around army headquarters in Ottawa.

"I am sickened by ongoing investigations of sexual misconduct among our key leaders," Taylor wrote in the letter, which was posted to Facebook on Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, I am not surprised. I am also certain that the scope of the problem has yet to be exposed. Throughout my career, I have observed insidious and inappropriate use of power for sexual exploitation."

The letter was first reported on by Postmedia. CBC News has confirmed its contents and has obtained a copy of an internal note Taylor sent to explain her departure.

The country's two most senior military leaders — former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance and his replacement, Admiral Art McDonald — are under investigation by the military's National Investigation Service over separate allegations of sexual misconduct.

Gen. Jonathan Vance (pictured) and Admiral Art McDonald, who replaced Vance as chief of the defence staff, are facing allegations of sexual misconduct. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The fact that two high-ranking officers are both facing claims of inappropriate behaviour involving female subordinates has rocked the Department of National Defence to its foundations.

Taylor, who retired from the regular force but serves in the reserves, is considered a important role model for young women in uniform.

"Some senior leaders are unwilling or (perhaps unable) to recognize that their behaviour is harmful both to the victim and to the team," Taylor wrote in her letter.

"Some recognize the harm but believe they can keep their behaviour secret. Perhaps worst of all are those in authority, who should know better, but lack the courage and tools to confront the systemic issue."

A 'damaging cycle of silence'

The scourge of sexual misconduct, Taylor wrote, has been accepted for far too long by everyone — including Taylor herself — as an unchanging aspect of military life.

"I have been both a victim of, and participant in, this damaging cycle of silence, and I am proud of neither," she wrote.

"I am not encouraged that we are 'investigating our top officers.' I am disgusted that it has taken us so long to do so."

She wrote that while she's grateful for her service in the military — and had even considered staying in order to effect change from within — she can no longer defend the institution.

"I have spent the past decade speaking publicly and passionately about the gains women have made in the CAF," Taylor wrote.

"While I remain fiercely proud of parts of our organization, on the issue of addressing harmful sexual behaviour, we have lost all credibility."

A trailblazer in the Armed Forces

In her letter, Taylor suggested the military drop the name "Operation Honour" from its campaign to stamp out sexual misconduct in the ranks. The effort should continue, she said, but the name has lost all meaning.

Many in uniform consider Taylor a trailblazer.

As a female infantry officer, she commanded a rifle platoon and led the 1st Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment during major combat operations in Panjwaii district in western Kandahar during one of the most intense phases of the war in Afghanistan in 2010.

She was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) for her leadership.

Afterward, she served in a key staff position with the country's elite special forces counter-terrorism unit, JTF-2. In 2013, she was selected as one of Canada's most outstanding women leaders.

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