Is common sense being lost?

Jun 8, 2021

The annual Officer/Naval Cadet Mess Dinner was held at RMC Saint-Jean with Major (retd) Barbara Maisonneuve (Class of 1990) as the Guest of Honour. The College wanted to thank Barbara for her service on the Royal Military Colleges Foundation and for her support to RMC Saint-Jean over the last ten years.

In a fiery 2018 speech, Maj Maisonneuve addressed the Cadet Wing and staff with lessons learned over her career and life; she encouraged current and future leaders to have a "common sense approach" to human relations.

At the time, the speech drew some gasps of disbelief as she questioned the #metoo movement, but ended with a thunderous standing ovation. 

Recognizing that her words are possibly more relevant today, in light of the sexual misconduct allegations swirling within DND, she has graciously given permission for FrontLine to reprint her words of wisdom.

Discours / The speech (2018)

When I was asked to be the guest of honour tonight, my first thought was “what will I talk about?” What can I say to a room full of Officer Cadets who are preparing for exams, training for PT tests, writing term papers. You have been absorbing information for the past 8 months. Can you even process any more info??  Your brains, like wet sponges, must be close to saturation. So – what can I talk to you about that might resonate?

I thought I might speak to you about leadership – after all, everyone of you in this room has chosen leadership as your career. Whether you become a pilot, or an Infantry Officer or a ship’s Captain – first and most importantly – you are training to become a military leader in the Canadian Armed Forces.  So Leadership is immensely important – as are the other 3 pillars. Academics, physical fitness and bilingualism are all speech-worthy topics. But then I looked around at the CMR campus, at the Commandant and military staff, at the Academic staff, the PSP instructors, the language department – all these resources at your fingertips and I realized – you already have the best.

Vous avez déjà les meilleurs instructeurs et professeurs et modèles pour vous guider dans les quatre piliers. Vous avez la crème – vous avez tout ce qu’il vous faut pour réussir, donc rien à rajouter ici pour moi.

You already have the very best instructors and professors and role models to guide you through the four pillars.  You have the best – you have what you need to succeed and there is nothing for me to add here.

So then I thought that maybe I would share some funny stories from when I first joined and as an Officer Cadet. The problem with these stories is that I am not sure what the statute of limitations is on kidnapping the Cadet Wing Commander of another College; or for the unlawful discharge of small machine guns at the local skeet shooting club; or even getting the siren stuck on a military police car while going through the drive-through at McDonalds… also I believe there are still a few senior NCOs out there who would feel it well within reason to press charges.

So, we aren’t going to talk about that.

Il y a une multitude de sujets desquels on peut parler en public. Il fut un temps où la seule règle était que c’est défendu de parler de politique ou de religion… de sexe aussi – mais c’est pour un autre discours! Malheureusement, de nos jours, cette liste des choses dont on ne devrait PAS parler s’est beaucoup allongée.

They say that there are LOTS of topics available to you when you are going to speak publicly.  In the old days the only rule was that you couldn’t talk about politics, or religion. These days, sadly, that list has grown exponentially.

These days of hyper-political correctness have turned just about every topic of conversation into a minefield. You seem to offend someone no matter what you talk about. If you dare to have an opinion you risk being called a racist or a chauvinist or an extremist.  We have become so careful not to offend that we can’t say Merry Christmas, or tell someone they look happy today. On ne peut pas demander à quelqu’un quels sont ses origines ethniques, s’ils sont mariés, s’ils ont été à l’université ou s’ils vont à l’église. You can’t ask someone what their ethnic origins are, if they are married, did they go to university or do they go to church?

It seems that facts themselves have become racist. A headline from the Washington Post – N.Y. City Council told its city police force – “Don’t describe suspects with gender, race, age.” (“Ne pas décrire un suspect par son genre, sa race, ou son âge”) It leads to profiling. Just try it – look at the person sitting next to you and try to describe him or her without telling us their gender, race or age. Ridiculous.

The lesson here, the first I hope you will take away from this evening, is that whenever a policy of zero tolerance is applied, you must be very careful that it doesn’t equate to zero common sense.

Common sense is the best parameter there is to gauge what is OK to say or do versus what isn’t. Je sais que vous avez tous du “common sense”; et cela devrait jouer un role énorme dans votre vie politiquement correcte. I know you all have common sense – and it should play a huge role in your politically correct lives.

The beauty of common sense is that it is so simple. So very simple.

By all means – have an opinion, and express that opinion with words – words that are respectful (even if you are disagreeing) words that are clear, well defined and courteous.  Words that allow, even encourage rebuttal.  BUT if what you are about to say is nasty, hurtful, offensive or just stupid – then walk away and don’t say it. Rephrase, or just shut up.  The same common sense rules should apply to your actions.  Ask yourself the same questions – is what I am about to do offensive, disrespectful mean or just stupid?  If yes – don’t do it.  If you are truly unsure of the answer -which I have a hard time believing – then try this – think of someone whom you respect and admire very much. 

Ask yourself – if MWO Ouellet could see me right now would he be impressed? If your father was standing outside the door watching you – would he be proud of you?  If the answer is no – It is time to stop and think again. Perhaps we need to create a new movement #CommonSense, or even #KinderGentlerGeneration

So this topic of taking responsibility for your words and your deeds leads me directly into my main topic for tonight.  I am going to jump into this muddle of today’s headlines with both feet and talk to you about the #MeToo movement and more specifically, “Where do we go from here?” “Quelle est la suite?”

#MeToo was created “to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.”  So, do you think it has accomplished its mission? Pensez-vous qu’il a réussi?  I think so.  I know that there are, and always will be, predators and criminals in the world. Luckily for us we have a legal system and a justice system to deal with those kinds of people.  I trust in those systems.  They are not perfect but I trust that if someone breaks the law and harms another person, our legal system will investigate, apprehend and charge this person.  Our justice system will try that person and, if guilty, convict and punish.   Before we even get to that stage – we now have programs like Op Honour, and help lines and task forces and bystander training to make sure no one ever feels they are alone, or questions the validity of what has happened to them.

And with Bystander training – everyone has a responsibility to help.  No more saying, “I didn’t want to get involved.”  “Je ne voulais pas m’impliquer.”

I think all the bases have been covered.

In addition to the good this movement has brought, I believe there are 3 other outcomes created by #metoo that are not good.  I call these the fallout.

First, #metoo hit social media last fall and shed light on several sexual predators that had been committing crimes of violence for far too long.  They are now churning within the wheels of justice.  Good.  But as the movement progressed, the accusations began to fly and thousands of women jumped on the bandwagon with their own ‘stories’ of incidents and comments that they claimed caused serious, long lasting, trauma.

This has – in my opinion – unleashed a dangerous precedence.  Because this movement has relieved us of the burden of proof. In our zeal to support victims – real or alleged – we are allowing accusations to ruin people’s lives and we are accepting these accusations as fact – without requesting proof.  We – through the unstoppable bulldozer of social media – have become judge and jury – and the verdict on these accusations – even if unsubstantiated – is always guilty.

There is no due diligence. When someone is accused of an offence under #metoo, their name and the accusation is splashed across the news – on social media, on tv in newspapers.  The accuser needs to do no more than that – just make the accusation and tag it with #me too. And whether or not charges are ever laid against the accused, that person’s life – or at least his/her reputation AND career are likely ruined.

We cannot allow this movement to continue without insisting on proof.  And when you graduate and are leading your own troops – remember the principle that is written in the Canadian Charter of Rights and FreedomsArticle 11 – the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

L’article 11 de la charte Canadienne des droits et libertés dispose que : Tout inculpé a le droit d’être présumé innocent tant qu’il n’est pas déclaré coupable. 

Do not – ever – forget that.

The second fallout issue I have with #metoo is the idea that every man you meet is a potential predator.

I served in our military for over 20 years.  I was very often the only woman – or one of very few – on a course, in the back of a truck, on a flight, or in a tent with all male colleagues.  During all of those years and all of those missions I was never subjected to the abuse I read about daily.  I simply wasn’t.  And there are countless women like me.

Search Christie Blatchford or Claire Berlinski, respected journalists who echo this sentiment – they recount stories of women in notoriously male dominated fields – engineering, sports, entertainment and government – women who have had long and prosperous careers and have never been victims of the kind of harassment or abuse this #metoo movement proclaims is so widespread.  So what does that mean? Does that mean I was just lucky?  A freak exception to the rule? Does it mean that I am one of a tiny minority of women who escaped unscathed?

NO – the fact is that I am one of the majority.  The MAJORITY of women in Canada and North America work with men who are not predators – by and large they are decent guys, respectful and good people.  But this movement portrays all men as potential predators; it questions every innocent comment or conversation that takes place.  How can you function and do your job surrounded with that kind of suspicion and distrust?  Comment pouvez-vous travailler dans un monde comme ça?  I can’t imagine going through my career believing everyone around me was waiting for a chance to harm me.  I didn’t.  #Common sense.

I walked into my career with some common sense and trust and I walked out of it with respect and some of the most rewarding experiences and best friends I will ever have.

DO NOT let the fallout from this movement rob you of that.

The final issue I have with #metoo that disturbs me is the image of weakness in women that this movement has created.  In many ways it has set us back decades.  To be very clear I am talking about the fringe complaints of the movement – not the abuse or the rapes or the violence – those are crimes. I mean the posts I have read within #metoo that recount an incident from 10-15 years ago where a colleague complimented her sweater and she was uncomfortable but did nothing and she now blames every failure in her personal and professional life on that incident.

Women, starting generations before mine, have worked very hard to be given equal opportunity.  We have had to fight the notion that we are weak, helpless, too emotional, not as smart.  But we won those battles a long time ago – and we have proven ourselves worthy in so many ways – we are courageous and clever and capable and we have held our own working alongside men in every walk of life – this profession of arms being one of the toughest.  So when I read these stories about women coming forward still traumatized because some jerk brushed up against her in the elevator 10 years ago, what I feel for her is not sympathy.  I feel shame, and anger because she is setting us – the majority of women – back decades – undoing so many of the things we fought for.

C’mon ladies – and gentlemen – you are going to encounter jerks in your life – vous allez rencontrer des salauds dans votre vie – they will be male or female, bosses or subordinates, friends, friends of friends, your new in-laws – they are everywhere so deal with it – be yourself, be strong,  handle it and MOVE ON. Do it. For yourself or on behalf of someone else.


“EXCUSE me, did you mean to brush up against me like that or was it an accident?”

“EXCUSEZ-moi, que voulez-vous dire exactement par cette remarque?”

These will work.  TRUST ME – they will work. You have been trained to look after yourself, to look after your subordinates, to face the enemy and make good decisions – so I know you can deal with the daily stupidity – and I know you can make it right and carry on.

My conclusion tonight is a question – for you:

Where do we go from here? Quelle est la suite de tout ça?

What does the world and the workplace look like post #metoo? How will the office and the sports field and Friday nights at the mess look like going forward?  Is there any room for friendship and comraderie – is there any room left for romance?  Les gens tombent en amour – parfois c’est un peu complexe et ça cause toutes sortes de défis administratifs – mais ça arrive! (Élof Bouchard, ça fait trois mois… avez-vous des regrets? Avez-vous pris la bonne décision?)

People do fall in love – it can be inconvenient and cause all kinds of administrative headaches – but it does happen. (OCdt Bouchard – it’s been 3 months, any regrets? Did you make the right decision?)

Life goes on, but we have blown the lid off the pot of human relationships and friendships as we knew them – and into the pot we have tossed suspicion and political correctness and hyper sensitivity – and sooner or later the lid has to land again – what will be the new normal?

That, ladies and gentlemen is up to you.  It was the generations before you that brought us to this place.  Now it will be up to you to build the way forward. You will have to decide where the pendulum stops swinging. How far in one direction will it go. Will we ever be friends in the workplace again? Will it ever be ok for Mr Walter to tell Madame Deschenes that she “looks very nice today.”  Is it appropriate for the Dean of Studies Dr Richard to tell General Maisonneuve “Hey Boss, J’aime vos chaussettes?”

Are you ready, and strong enough, to say, “Stop.  OK. There was a huge problem and it has been dealt with and we are ready to move forward?”

Êtes-vous prêt à avancer?

It’s a lot of responsibility to place on the shoulders of such young men and women.  But I look at you – sitting here before me – and around similar tables in Kingston and I know that you are the best we have.  You are the brightest and the most well trained – you have it within your power to set the example moving forward.  To show those who come after – and to show those who came before – that you can create harmony and respect and still have fun.

You can make friends and have professional relationships and you can do this at work and in life. You can lead the way. Vous pouvez montrer le chemin.

So, from me, my last message – I believe in you – all of you – and I know that the bottom line is – YOU’VE GOT THIS.

Merci beaucoup,
13 April 2018, Officer/Naval Cadet Mess Dinner

Major Barbara Anne Maisonneuve (née Krasij) retired from the Canadian Armed Forces after 21 years of service, including 15 months on the Golan Heights with UNDOF, She currently serves on the Board of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton.