Canadian military police see increase in reporting of alleged sex crimes involving young people
There were 23 investigations in 2016 and 2017 combined, but 30 in 2018
Military police in Canada's Armed Forces have seen an increase in the number of investigations into potential sex crimes against children and youths.
The most recent data from the military police shows there were 13 investigations into possible sexual violations against people under 18 in 2016 and 10 in 2017. The figure grew to 30 in 2018, according to a report from the Canadian Forces' provost marshal for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
In 2019 there were 26 reported incidents, according to the report from the following year.
Canada's military police investigate any alleged crimes occurring on military property that involve members of the military's full-time regular force or part-time reservists, under certain circumstances.
"When we see a spike like this, a lot of folks focus on … is it a problem area?" said Lt.-Col. Eric Leblanc, the commander of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, which investigates serious and sensitive crimes.
"For me, as a military policeman, I see it as victims feeling comfortable to move forward and actually bring us their complaints."
Leblanc said there are other reasons for the increase, including a change in the way military police record statistics.
There has also been a consistent rise in reporting sexual offences since the release of a report on sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in the military in 2015, he said.
However some would like more details on the increased number of reports, including professor Michel Drapeau, who teaches military law at the University of Ottawa and is a retired colonel.
"I wish we had more information to let the public decide what is in fact the significance of having all of sudden … 30, which is a significant increase from one year to the next," said Drapeau.
"What are the characteristics of the victims and the alleged assaulter, or the alleged offenders?"
Leblanc said all the alleged victims would have been younger than 18, and that many of the cases involved children or adolescents abusing their peers. He would not specify how many cases involved a child or youth and a military member.
"The subject is not always a soldier," he said. "Sometimes it's a young person against a young person, at times it's an unknown person against a young person. At times it's an adult that's come into report a historic offence.
"We also have cadet camps that also occur on our defence establishment, so in those cases it would be the same thing — a youth against a youth — and dealt with through the Youth Criminal Justice Act."
3 investigations in Nova Scotia
The investigations in 2018, according to an email from military police, included allegations of luring a child via computer, invitation to sexual touching, sexual interference, sexual assault, reputation offences and sexual exploitation.
Three of those investigations took place in Nova Scotia, one in Greenwood and two in Shearwater. Both locations are home to air force bases.
The remaining 27 investigations were spread across 20 geographical regions in Canada, and two outside of Canada. The military police wouldn't be more specific.
Only three of the investigations resulted in charges. Those charges were sexual interference, luring a child, making child pornography and distribution of child pornography.
One of the cases is proceeding through the military justice system, while another suspect entered into a peace bond. A third person was convicted.
The military police would not say which case is connected to which charge or where the offences occurred.
The charge rates are low, but Leblanc said in cases like these that's not a bad thing. He said there are many times when charges simply are not the right tool to handle an offence.
An example is historical sexual assault.
"There are a number of them we found out through our investigation that the offender is since deceased," Leblanc said.
"We've found at times it was a consensual act between young persons, in which case the law is clear, given the age range and the difference in age, as long as there's no position of authority, it's not appropriate to lay a charge."
Cases can be dealt with under the Youth Criminal Justice Act for offenders under 18. The cases end up in youth court, which has sentencing provisions that tend to focus more on rehabilitation.
The military police also try to give victims a voice in the investigative process, and if victims don't want to pursue charges the force may drop the case, said Leblanc.
But that can't happen all that often, according to Nicholas Bala, a professor of family law at Queen's University.
"It would be a rare case where you were satisfied that there actually was sexual offending perpetrated by an adult and decided not to prosecute," he said.
"If cases are being investigated and there's a finding that there's been sexual abuse, normally a prosecution is the appropriate way to hold the offender accountable. It would require special circumstances before one decided not to go ahead. In some cases a victim might be too young to testify."
Military law not keeping pace, says expert
However, laws in Canada have changed to make it easier for children as young as four and five to tell their story to a court via closed circuit TV or a video recording, said Bala.
Military law isn't keeping pace though, said Drapeau, since it hasn't yet enshrined victim rights into its justice system.
"All crimes, including sexual crimes, are not looked after," he said. "[Victims] don't have the same benefits as they would if the offenders were prosecuted before a civilian tribunal as opposed to a military tribunal. It's time to change that."
He doesn't believe the military should investigate any sex crimes and should hand over their investigations to civilian police, who have more experience and are better equipped for these investigations.
Leblanc agrees, in part, saying that civilian police are the experts in sexual offences that's why military police get special training from civilian forces.
"We'll take every complaint that comes to us and treat it with the utmost professionalism and we will investigate thoroughly," he said, "and really ensure the victims coming forward to us get the appropriate supports in place for them."
The military police also set up a special sexual offences response team, all of which helps them be prepared to handle sex crime. Even then, Leblanc said there are certain cases that are handed over to civilian police.
Still, Drapeau said the military and its police force are too tight-lipped about their investigations into the sexual abuse of young people.
"We as a society require more information to decide for ourselves whether we can trust the military police to do the type of job that has to be done to protect our youth."