Politics

Victims of sexual misconduct not treated in 'respectful manner' by military, says auditor

Federal audit finds military police took 7 months to investigate cases

Posted: November 20, 2018
Last Updated: November 22, 2018

The auditor reviewed 46 military police files and 29 military career administration files and looked at the impact on victims who had either come forward or had incidents reported for them by a third party. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Victims of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military face a slow, confusing patchwork system that sometimes forces them to make complaints of inappropriate behaviour when they might not be willing — or ready, the auditor general said Tuesday.

One of the chapters in Auditor General Michael Ferguson's fall report reviewed the effectiveness of Operation Honour, the signature initiative of chief of the Defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, intended to stamp out harassment and assault.

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The report credits National Defence for putting in place a variety of systems and services, but identified a number of "gaps" and noted the initiatives "were not well co-ordinated" and not designed with victim support in mind.

Significantly, the report, tabled Tuesday in Parliament, said the response to complaints of inappropriate sexual behaviour was still left wanting three years after the Operation Honour program was launched.

"We found that the Canadian Armed Forces did not always resolve reported cases of inappropriate sexual behaviour in a timely, consistent, and respectful manner," said the audit.

"As a result, some victims did not report or they withdrew their complaints, and they had less confidence that the investigations would produce any tangible results."

The audit found it took military police, in many instances, seven months to investigate cases — far longer than the 30-day service standard.

In July 2018, the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal changed the policy to eliminate the 30-day requirement  

AG reviewed 46 military police files

"The updated policy stated that investigations must be conducted as quickly and efficiently as possible, with regard to both complexity and severity," the audit noted. 

"It also required a written explanation in the file if there had been no meaningful investigative activity for 30 days."

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said his department accepts all of the auditor's recommendations and has been learning as it attempts to set up a more responsive system.

"We will look at any avenue to improve things," he said.

"I wish, when a problem identifies itself so significantly as [this] did, that we could fix it immediately, but unfortunately in this case we did not have all of the right answers. This was going to take time for us to get an understanding."

The auditor reviewed 46 military police files and 29 military career administration files and looked at the impact on victims who had either come forward or had incidents reported for them by a third party.

"In 21 of the 53 cases, the file showed that the victim experienced fear, distress, discomfort, a lack of support, reprisal, or blame, including from the victim's commanding officer, senior leaders, instructors, and colleagues," said the audit. 

"In addition to the psychological trauma, such outcomes can only reduce victims' confidence in the system and contribute to the belief that there are negative consequences for those who report inappropriate sexual behaviour."

In four of the instances, the cases were reported by the commanding officer of an individual even though that person did not want to make a complaint.

Under legislation, members of the military have what is known as "the duty to report" and face sanctions if they do not speak up about misconduct the moment they become aware of it.

That, the auditor said, has meant unintended consequences.

"Victims were therefore required to report inappropriate sexual behaviour whether or not they wanted to or were ready," the report said. 

"This discouraged some victims from disclosing, for fear of being forced into a formal complaint process, which contributed to underreporting."

The report went to say that some victims did not wish to pursue criminal charges and only wanted the inappropriate behaviour to stop.

"Subject matter experts argue that victims must decide whether and when to report," said the audit. "If they are forced to report when they are not ready, it can cause further harm and discourage reporting."

Lack of support

The auditor also called into question the definition of inappropriate sexual behaviour, saying some members found it "too broad" and that has led to differences in how cases are reported.

In interviews with auditor general, staff members "told us it had created an environment of fear and frustration and reduced camaraderie."

Overall, many soldiers, sailors and aircrew were less comfortable and confident working with one another. 

"Some were afraid of even basic social interaction, for fear of being accused of inappropriate behaviour," the audit said. 

"Other members [particularly females] told us that they felt isolated because of their peers' fears about interacting with them. "

Ferguson also complained about the lack of availability of support services and recommended National Defence establish an integrated national approach to victims support — something the department has agreed to do.

The auditor found that investigators with the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service's Sexual Offence Response Team and counsellors in the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre had specialized training.

However, that instruction was rarely given to others involved in providing support services, such as physicians, nurses, and chaplains.