Canadian Forces brace for report on sexual misconduct in the ranks

An external investigation of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces will target military leadership for failing to better manage the problems of discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault in the ranks, CBC News has learned.

Review by former Supreme Court justice expected to blast military leadership

A report ordered by Gen. Tom Lawson, chief of the defence staff, into sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces will be released Thursday Defence Minister Jason Kenney has confirmed. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

An external investigation of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces will target military leadership for failing to better manage the problems of discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault in the ranks, CBC News has learned.

Sources familiar with the report say the language used by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps in her report is "quite inflammatory."

Officers at the highest level of the Forces are bracing for the report, which was described as "pretty nasty."

"The report is pretty bad … and won't be good for the Canadian Armed Forces, especially the leadership," one source said.

The military has been preparing for the report's publication for more than a month, and CBC News has learned the government intends to make it public by the end of the week, likely as soon as Thursday, barring any change in plans.

Several senior military officials, including Gen. Tom Lawson, outgoing chief of the defence staff, will be part of a Defence Department presentation of the damning report.

Whatever Deschamps learned has apparently shaken the senior ranks of the military. 

"The report is not something [the chief of defence staff] will take lightly," one source said. 

Top female general to lead response

In February, Lawson established the Canadian Forces Strategic Response Team on Sexual Misconduct. It's led by Canada's highest-ranking woman, Maj.-Gen. Christine Whitecross, and supported by a top female sergeant-major, Chief Warrant Officer Helen Wheeler.

It's expected Whitecross will be there when the report is released this week and will offer her plan to solve the problems it highlights.

Lawson ordered the external review of sexual misconduct within the Canadian military more than a year ago after a spate of stories in the media suggested the military did not take seriously its responsibility to prevent and investigate misconduct against female soldiers. Some reports suggested sexual assault had reached epidemic proportions in the military.

I need to know if barriers exist in reporting incidents of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment.–Gen. Tom Lawson, May 2014

An article published by Maclean's and L'actualité reviewed military statistics and said an average of about 178 incidents of sexual misconduct are investigated every year. The magazine suggested only about one in 10 assaults is typically reported, suggesting the number of incidents inside the military each year is likely more than 1,780, or about five per day.

The fallout from that report led the Commons defence committee last May to question the military's top general. Lawson conceded he needed more information about the scope of the problem.

"I need to know if barriers exist in reporting incidents of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment and need to be certain that the chain of command is reacting to complaints appropriately," he told MPs.

Review looked at rules, procedures

Lawson said the external review he ordered would look at the rules, procedures and the processes the military uses to respond to complaints of sexual misconduct so that more women will trust the military to take them seriously and treat them fairly.

"My heart goes out to them, those individuals need to be well-protected and brought back into an organization that they can trust, so we need to make sure that they can report and that we follow up with investigations and prosecutions," Lawson told reporters last May.

The former justice was appointed by Lawson to lead the external review. That work began in earnest in June last year and her investigation concluded in January.

Deschamps visited with hundreds of soldiers at bases across the country. In some cases, she held separate sessions for soldiers based on rank and gender.

Deschamps has refused several requests to be interviewed, but said by email she was convinced the military would be forthcoming about her report.

"I am convinced the Armed Forces will do their best to ensure that both the report and their position are well understood," she said.


James Cudmore covered politics and military affairs for CBC News until Jan. 8, 2016.


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