Auditor criticizes cheating and misconduct at Royal Military College

The country's auditor general has delivered a sharp rebuke of the Royal Military College of Canada, saying the institution is failing to deliver quality officers at a cost comparable to civilian institutions.

Staff examined 54 'serious' incidents involving drunkenness, drug abuse and mental distress

A graduating cadet stands at attention at the Royal Military College of Canada commissioning parade to salute the graduating class in Kingston, Ont. May 15. (Mary White, DND/Combat Camera)

Canada's auditor general says the Royal Military College is not producing quality officers who can serve as "role models" and the education provided at the 143-year-old institution is twice as expensive compared with a civilian university.

The problem, according to Michael Ferguson's latest report is that the Kingston, Ont. school "emphasized academic education over military training and that there were weaknesses in military training."

He delivered a blunt assessment.

"In our opinion, the academic environment at the college does not consistently support the teaching of military conduct and ethical behavior," Ferguson said. 

"The College must re-establish its focus as a military training institution so that it can produce the leaders the Canadian Armed Forces require."

The audit, released Tuesday is just the latest criticism, of the military college, which was the subject a special investigation ordered by the chief of the defence staff following a string of suicides in 2015 and 2016.

That investigation report, released last spring, made similar observations about the balance between academics and military training.

But Ferguson said the "effect on the institution is likely to be limited" because more than half of the recommendations in the report by National Defence did not involve concrete corrective action, just further review.

Quality of leadership

Some of the most stinging criticism in Ferguson's audit was reserved for the quality of leadership training at the school.

His staff examined 54 "serious" incidents involving 24 Officer Cadets.

The cases involved drunkenness, drug abuse and mental distress.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson found the Royal Military College of Canada is not cost-effective. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

While the audit found the college "provided support and took disciplinary action" in those cases, the review noted that — as of last spring — the college had not "fully implemented" changes and recommendations related to four suicides at the school.

"This means at the time of our audit, some designated first responders were not fully trained to take action to prevent and respond to suicides," said Ferguson's report.


The auditor also uncovered cheating by students.

"We found the number of misconduct incidents that involved senior Officer Cadets showed that that Royal Military College of Canada had not prepared them to serve as role models for their peers," said the report, tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

Between September 2014 and December 2016, the audit uncovered 87 incidents of academic misconduct, including plagiarism and cheating on assignments, and the majority of those offences were conducted by third-and-fourth-year cadets.

Ferguson's report also broke down the cost of the education being delivered and compared it to the regular officer training program, where an officer receives an undergraduate degree at a civilian university.

The cost per student to taxpayers of a four-year education at the military college is $403,288, while training at a civilian university run $238,928.

"Despite higher standards and higher costs, National Defence could not demonstrate that RMC produced more effective officers than other officer entry plans," said the report.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said he accepts the auditor's findings, but argued that the college's unique character lends itself to higher costs.

"It should be noted that RMC is the only degree-granting institution in Canada where graduates must not only complete academic work, but military, physical fitness, and bilingualism components as well," Sajjan said Tuesday. 

"The unique nature of the military college program adds to its costs. That said, I agree with the auditor general that more can be done to improve efficiencies while maintaining the excellent programs delivered by RMC."

When it comes to the criticism of leadership, Sajjan said the government intends to develop an action plan.

The military says it has found no cause for alarm after a report was released on suspected suicides, alleged harassment and low morale at the Royal Military College of Canada. 2:20

About the Author

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.