Dramatic drop in number of 'unfounded' sexual assaults in Canadian Forces: DND report

The number sexual assault cases deemed unfounded by military police has declined dramatically, according to a new report by the Department of National Defence.

Number of cases deemed 'unfounded' drops from 29% in 2010 to 7% in 2016

A Canadian flag patch sewn onto green army fatigues.
The military plans to bring in independent, external reviewers to examine each sexual assault case deemed to be unfounded. (Frédéric Pepin/Radio-Canada)

The number of sexual assaults deemed "unfounded" by military police has declined dramatically, according to a new report by the Department of National Defence.

In addition, the Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, has told 117 military members they were on track to be kicked out after they were found guilty of sexual misconduct.

Seventy-seven of those notices have been issued since January. The military said 24 members have been let go, thus far.

"Leadership is taking care of troops, and I believe, perhaps, somewhere along the way we lost sight of that," Vance said as the Defence Department released its third progress report on Friday in the battle to stamp out inappropriate behaviour.

The military has been consumed with the issue for over two years since former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamp issued a scathing report that said the Canadian Armed Forces was rife with a "highly sexualized culture" where harassment and misconduct were treated with indifference.

On the surface, the numbers released Friday appear to suggest that claims of inappropriate and criminal behaviour are being taken more seriously by military police.

The report says a review of case complaints filed between 2010 and 2015 shows military police considered 28.8 per cent of them to be unfounded. That rate dropped to 14.5 per cent in 2015 and 7.2 per in 2016.

Over the entire six-year period there were 166 cases that military police did not pursue. Officials said Friday the Canadian Forces Provost Martial has reopened those cases for review.

In addition, the military plans to bring in independent, external reviewers to examine all unfounded cases to ensure they've been handled properly and the alleged victims are confident in the process. 

Stamping out sexual misconduct in the ranks is a signature initiative for Vance.

The number of court martial charges — both administrative and criminal — may be easier to measure, but he acknowledged that changing the culture at the root of the problem is more difficult.

"I think we've done a pretty reasonable job at educating people," Vance said. "I think the Canadian Armed Forces knows what our standards are. Leaderships knows what our standards are, and what right behaviour looks like."

That may be so, but the number of misconduct complaints received each month by the military is holding steady.

Rear Admiral Jennifer Bennett, who leads the Defence Department's response team, said that can be partly attributed to the fact that people feel comfortable coming forward, especially with incidents that may have taken place years ago. 

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Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, 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.