Canadian Forces establishes sex crimes unit in Edmonton

The Canadian Forces have created a special team to investigate sexual crimes within their ranks, after a scathing report criticised how the offences are handled within the military.

'We'll increase the confidence in our ability to fight sexual misconduct'

Chief of Defence staff General Jonathan Vance speaks during a news conference to , in Ottawa Tuesday August 30, 2016. Vance says the military has learned from the mistakes of peacekeeping missions in Rwanda and Bosnia, and that he will never give up command of Canadian troops to the United Nations. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The Canadian Forces have created a special team to investigate sexual crimes within their ranks, after a scathing report concluded that allegations are often mishandled within the military.

Brig.-Gen. Rob Delaney, the military's top police officer, announced Tuesday the creation of a new 18-member team.

Units have been deployed to six locations across Canada, including Canadian Forces Base Edmonton. The three-member unit in Edmonton will serve Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

'We're taking these crimes seriously'

The units are trained to investigate sexual crimes, provide support to victims, and prosecute suspects, said Lt.-Col Francis Bolduc, commanding officer of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.

"I certainly hope that the members of the Canadian Armed Forces will see that we're taking these crimes seriously," Bolduc said in an interview with CBC Edmonton.

"We've put in the resources to enhance the ability of my unit to fight those type of crimes, that we have the ability, we have the training and we are there when they come forward to report these crimes."

Scathing conclusions 

Bolduc said the new investigative units are intended to address concerns raised by retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps.

In her report, tabled in April 2015, Deschamps sharply criticized the military police service, and said soldiers face a hostile environment within their own ranks.

Her external review concluded that the military was ill-equipped to properly handle allegations within its ranks, and said many officers "were confused about the relevant policies, insensitive to the problem of sexual assault, lacked training on the basic elements of the offence, and were unaware of the available resources to support victims."

Bolduc said the report suggested there was an under-reporting on the number of the cases.

"So we're working on it to make sure that we have a team in place to enhance the ability of the Canadian Forces  to investigate those types of crimes and fight sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces."

According to the Canadian Forces National Investigative Service, military police opened 106 investigations into alleged sexual offences during the first six months of 2016, compared to 174  cases for all of 2015. Officials say the majority of cases were sexual assault.

Of those 280 cases, 49 have led to charges. Convictions are more difficult to track.

When it comes to sexual offences and a number of other crimes, military police have the option to refer cases to military or civilian courts. The investigative service says 40 of the 49 recent sex-related cases that led to charges went to civilian courts.

The number of cases shows no sign of abating.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance told a Senate committee last week that military police are on track to see a 22-per-cent increase in the number of reported sexual offences from the previous year.

Bolduc said he hopes the presence of the units will help reverse the concerning trend.

"That's certainly the objective, to show that we care about the victim, we care about them reporting those crimes and showing that we're doing something about it.

"If we're investigating those crimes fully, and get better results, we'll increase the confidence in our ability to fight sexual misconduct."

With files from the Canadian Press