Sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces remains as “rampant” and “destructive” in 2021 as it was back in 2015 when a landmark federal report first documented the extent of the problem — and pressing reforms are needed now, according to a new report released Tuesday.
Former Supreme Court justice Morris Fish’s independent review of the military justice system was tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday morning. In it, Fish said his work had heard extensive evidence that “confirmed the factual findings” of the 2015 report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps.
“The nature, extent and human cost of sexual misconduct in the CAF remain as debilitating, as rampant and as destructive in 2021 as they were in 2015,” Fish wrote in his report.
He said he hopes to see “rapid implementation of the pressing reforms” he recommended in the report, including removing the current requirement for military members who experience sexual misconduct to report that through their chain of command — a key barrier flagged by Deschamps in 2015.
“I see no reason, for example, to delay removal of the present duty of victims to report their victimization to the chain of command, which impacts on their autonomy and, I have been told, risks their exposure to reprisals, ostracization and pressures to withdraw their complaint.”
The report makes a total of 107 recommendations to change the system.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Department of National Defence said officials accepted in principle all of those recommendations and will start work to implement 36 of them in the short-term.
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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan appointed Fish in November 2020 to lead a review into the military justice system and how it can be made better. The system has long been criticized for failing to take sexual misconduct allegations seriously enough but reporting by Global News earlier this year into allegations of high-level sexual misconduct has sparked an institutional crisis for the Canadian Forces.
Multiple military police probes into senior leaders have been launched, as well as two parliamentary committee studies that have heard repeated testimony from witnesses who say the military justice system failed them when they tried to report sexual misconduct and sexual violence.
A Global News investigation revealed less than one-quarter of military police investigators on sexual misconduct cases are female — far less than the number in three major Canadian civilian police forces.
READ MORE: Less than one quarter of military police investigators on sexual misconduct are female
The data mirrors larger trends in the makeup of both military police writ large as well as the broader membership of the Canadian Forces as a whole — despite efforts to increase the number of women in the military over recent years, the figures remain low.
One in seven members of the Canadian military as a whole identified as women in 2019.
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In 2020, women made up just 15.8 per cent of regular force members and 16.6 per cent of reservists, for a total representation of just 16 per cent.
Similar numbers appear in the military police overall as well. In 2015-2016 female members made up 14 per cent of total military police, a number that has risen in the years since to 16.9 per cent in 2016-2017, 24 per cent in 2017-2018, 24 per cent in 2018-2019, and 25 per cent in 2019-2020.
Victims and survivors of sexual misconduct in the military have testified repeatedly over the last three months about how they say they were left shaken by recent experiences of trying to report allegations of sexual misconduct to male military police investigators.
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The 400-page Fish report released on Tuesday included a chapter specifically focused on sexual misconduct and how allegations are handled within the military justice system.
The persistence of the problem has a “traumatic” impact on the lives and careers of military members who try to come forward, and Fish also noted that while Deschamps was “prohibited” in her 2015 report from looking at how the military justice system fit into the problem, he wanted to do so in detail.
Fish also noted throughout the military’s continued struggle to address sexual misconduct, efforts to do so have been sparked by journalists investigating different facets of the matter.
“They all begin with disclosures by investigative journalists,” he wrote, flagging key reporting from Maclean’s in 1998, from L’actualité and Maclean’s in 2014, and from Global News this year.
“The first two ended with important reforms to the military justice system; the third has just begun and its outcome remains promising but uncertain.”
Global News first broke details of allegations of inappropriate behaviour against former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance on Feb. 2 and in the months since, multiple other senior leaders have faced allegations amid what experts have described as a reckoning for the military.
Vance denies all allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
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Fish cited that reporting and subsequent allegations against senior leaders as creating “fresh pressure on the CAF and on the government to respond with urgency to the problem of sexual misconduct in the CAF.”
“They have revived concern whether the CAF itself, and its military justice system in particular, are capable of dealing appropriately with conduct of this sort,” Fish said.
Fish said he did not hear during his consultations any “serious issue” expressed about the military maintaining control over sexual misconduct investigations. However, he recommended the rules be changed so that all such investigations are handled by military police and not by military units.
And while C-77 — federal legislation creating a Declaration of Victims Rights for the military justice system — is not yet in force, Fish recommended military police should be trained on it as soon as possible to prevent further harm done to victims in the course of sexual misconduct investigations.
Fish added he did hear some concerns while preparing his report that the military should not have jurisdiction over sexual assault cases. But he said he believed bringing C-77 into force could have a significant effect in bolstering the rights of victims within the military system and that removing sexual assault from military jurisdiction was not the right course of action right now.
“Upon reflection, I am not persuaded that Parliament should withdraw military jurisdiction
over sexual assaults at this time,” he wrote.
But Fish also added a significant caveat to that recommendation: until C-77 comes into force, it should be civilian authorities to investigation and prosecute alleged sexual assaults.
More to come
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