Military inquiry finds failure of 'basic leadership' in handling of sex assault allegation

A military inquiry has determined there was a failure of "basic leadership" by the army in a high-profile case of alleged sexual assault.

Revelations over military's treatment of retired master corporal Stéphanie Raymond helped launch investigation

A military inquiry has issued its report into the treatment of retired master corporal Stéphanie Raymond, who alleged she was raped by a superior and then drummed out of the army in 2013 for reporting it. (Murray Brewster/CBC)

A military inquiry has determined there was a failure of "basic leadership" in how the army handled a high-profile case of alleged sexual assault and harassment.

The internal investigation, released Tuesday, has made 25 recommendations for change. But the woman at the centre of the investigation says she doesn't believe the military is any safer for women than it was a few years ago.

Retired master corporal Stéphanie Raymond, who alleged she was raped by a superior and then drummed out of the army in 2013 for reporting it, was briefed on board of inquiry's findings.

The investigation — ordered in early 2015 by former chief of defence staff Tom Lawson — examined the military's response to her complaints and formal grievances.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Gen. Jonathan Vance, the current defence chief, said he accepted the board of inquiry's recommendations.

He said the report acknowledged "the failure to apply basic leadership principles in administering ... Raymond's harassment complaint, including a lack of communication with her throughout the process and the absence of followup to ensure her well-being."

Vance went on to say "many of the recommendations found in the report have already been implemented" as a part of the Forces's "commitment to eliminating harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour."

"I have ordered the vice-chief of the defence staff, the commander Canadian army and the commander of military personnel command to implement the recommendations as soon as possible," Vance said in the statement.

Stephanie Raymond was featured in a 2014 Maclean's magazine investigation into sexual assaults in the military. (Macleans.ca)

Raymond's story was among a handful of cases featured in a Maclean's magazine report in May 2014 that helped spark an overall investigation into sexual misconduct in the military.

The report from that investigation, by retired justice Marie Deschamps, concluded that inappropriate behaviour was "endemic" in the military and the institution was steeped in a macho culture that leaves women fearful to report abuse.

The superior officer who Raymond accused of assault was acquitted by the military justice system, but Raymond received an apology from Lawson. In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that the defence minister could appeal the acquittal.

Report is 'absurd'

A summary version of the internal investigation was released to the media on Tuesday, but a full copy of the redacted report was not made available. 

Raymond, who read the full account, says there is no formal acknowledgement of a connection between her complaints and the decision to release her from the military.

According to Raymond, Vance said there was not enough evidence to establish the connection as fact — something she called "absurd" and "incredible."

"I think the most important thing is to admit it happened and take action," she told CBC News.

Since the Deschamps report, there have been a series of reforms, including better tracking of assault complaints, more support for complainants, and a number of prosecutions.

In a 2015 report, former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps found sexual misconduct is 'endemic' in the Canadian military. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

Failure of military justice

In light of what she has seen, Raymond says she believes very little has changed. Her advice to women in uniform who have been sexually assaulted was brutally frank.

"I do not recommend you [file a] harassment complaint or grievance," she said. "I don't want to participate in that and say to other women, 'Yes, do what I did. It will go well.' 

"No, it's really dangerous for our health, mentally."

Even if civilian police may not be able to help, she says it's best to report incidents to them "because military justice, it doesn't work well."

Report won't be publicly released

Col. Josée Robidoux, who commands Raymond's former unit, was the one who presented her with the findings. She called Raymond's remarks "unfortunate" in light of the actions the military has taken.

"I think that Madame Raymond was the catalyst for Operation Honour to begin, to be initiated within the CAF," she said. "And I really appreciate all the tenacity, and the perseverance, and courage it took her to pursue this to the end.

"The institution, the Canadian Armed Forces, and the leadership within the military are trying. They're doing everything they can to ensure leaders are held accountable. They are not letting people that do not conduct themselves improperly off the hook."

National Defence says it cannot release the entire report publicly for privacy reasons. But Raymond's lawyer, Michel Drapeau, questioned why, saying his client has no objections.

He said he wondered whose privacy was being protected: ​"Certainly not Madame Raymond, I can tell you that."