A fact-finding and review of Canada’s armed forces commissioned by the government concluded that it is still not meeting its obligations to improve transparency, accountability and accountability for sexual harassment and assault on the grounds that the Armed Forces underestimated what was needed.
“The armed forces did not fully account for the gaps in reporting,” said a report by the Wainwright-based Canadian Forces and National Guard.
Commander of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Lieutenant General Guy Thibault said that “while the CAF is not falling far short of our goals, we know we have not done enough.”
The report found that military leadership, which has been leading an effort called Bringing Letters Home, which aims to offer notice of termination to those found guilty of sexual assault, did not comply with recommendations that involved doing more to prosecute and oversee such crimes.
The government commission, which included Wainwright MP Patricia Davidson, said that since Sexual Assault Awareness Month, there has been an increase in the number of military members approaching military medical centers with symptoms that may indicate a sexual assault.
The review found that while Forces reported a 400 percent increase in data, the number of cases processed by the military medical center was a fraction of the reported numbers. The costs for managing all those cases may have far exceeded initial estimates.
Thibault called the progress “unacceptable,” and said that it was necessary to “ensure that no new cases of sexual assault or harassment are unduly discounted.”
The next step, Thibault said, is to bring the existing “foundational” approach for the establishment of all such a solution together with the Letters Home plan.
“We must succeed,” said army Gen. Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff. “We need the right approach, with the right plan, from the start. Let’s make sure we focus on the needs of victims and survivors of sexual assault and harassment, not the allegations of abuse and misconduct.”
Violent sexual assault has been an issue in Canada since the Sixties and Seventies when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which then handled complaints, was routinely accused of inaction. The current army policies were first drafted in 2007 by a task force led by Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell.
The numbers make the problem widespread. When the audit was completed, some 14 percent of men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces reported having experienced unwanted sexual contact.
A 2008 study by the University of Calgary found that sexual assault rates among Canadians are one-and-a-half times higher than among the general population.
The recent negative spotlight on military sexual assaults has taken on new relevance with Canada’s NATO partners pushing for it to increase its efforts to deal with the problem.
The Canadian government has been especially vocal in the international forum. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this month told an audience at the NATO Alliance Defense College in Mons, Belgium, that Canada will be spending an extra $750 million to combat sexual harassment, specifically in the military.
The CAF did not change its sexual assault legislation until 2017.
This story was written by Becky Sturm of the Toronto Star