Canadian Forces to review allegations of sexual misconduct

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Military police investigators dismissed almost 30 per cent of complaints of sexual misbehaviour within the armed forces as “unfounded” – cases that it now intends to take a second look at, a new report says.

A preliminary review of files between 2010 and 2015 has found 166 cases, or 29 per cent, were deemed unfounded by military police.

Yet in 2015-16, the unfounded rate for complaints of sexual misconduct dropped to 15 per cent, dropping further in the current year to 7 per cent.

Now the defence department is launching an external review of those past cases, using independent stakeholders to help determine whether the military was right to dismiss the complaints.

“This will ensure that all cases are handled appropriately, and that victims feel confident in reporting offences to military police,” said a statement from the military.

As well, the Canadian Forces provost marshal has ordered that only the commanding officer of the military’s investigative branch has the authority to deem that a complaint of sexual assault is unfounded.

The findings are contained in a progress report issued Friday morning on efforts to reduce cases of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff, says the military is making good progress to stamp out sexual harassment and abuse in the ranks – and drum out the soldiers responsible.

“We still have more work to do and we will continue to promote cultural change so we can rid our institution of this abhorrent behaviour,” Vance said in a statement.

In the fiscal year April, 2016 to March, 2017, the military logged 504 incidents of inappropriate sexual behaviour. More than half –281 – involved jokes, language or images; 74 involved sexual harassment; 66 were sexual misconduct; and 47 were cases of sexual assault. The other complaints involved voyeurism, indecent exposure and child pornography.

The military police received 288 reports of potential sexually related offences and deemed 267 as founded. Of those, 64 charges have been laid so far.

Vance has vowed that any military member engaged in sexual misbehaviour will be drummed out of the forces – in past fiscal year, the military has formally notified 117 personnel that it intends to release them.

The military has made the issue a priority since 2015, following the release of a disturbing report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps who found an “underlying sexualized” culture in the military that is “hostile” to women as well as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and queer members.

Vance took over as top commander a few months after Deschamps’s report and one of his first acts was to launch OP Honour, an ongoing effort to end inappropriate sexual behaviour and improve the culture within the military ranks.

The scale of the problem was driven home by a Statistics Canada survey of military personnel released in November that found nearly 1,000 members said they had been the victims of sexual assault over the past year. The misconduct ranged from unwanted sexual touching to attacks and sexual activity without consent.