Former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour Monday released a long-awaited report recommending that all sexual offenses committed by Canadian military personnel should be prosecuted in civilian courts instead of military tribunals. The report also calls on the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to conduct demographic reviews for alleviating the over-representation of white males in leadership positions, which Arbour says would aid the military in sexual misconduct prevention efforts.
Canada has allowed the CAF to prosecute sexual offenses committed by military personnel since 1998, but its handling of such offenses has come under increasing scrutiny since 2014 when the Canadian government commissioned an external review on the prevalence of sexual misconduct within the Canadian military.
In the report, Arbour substantiates assertions that the Canadian military has been ineffective and dismissive in its handling of sexual assault cases. She highlights that a survey of sexual assault victims in the CAF found that “55% to 65% of those surveyed disagreed that military justice actors took positive steps for the victim’s benefit” and that 66.8 per cent of respondents who were victims of a crime outlined by Canada’s National Defence Act disagreed that military justice officers treated victims with dignity and respect.
Arbour says that the evidence presented substantiates findings from an earlier report by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps. Arbour includes the following portion of Deschamps’ report in her own:
Unfortunately, victims of sexual assault have not reaped the benefits hoped for under the new jurisdiction. Victims criticize the lack of training of the MP [Military Police], poor support by the chain of command, and inconsistency with which charges of sexual assault are ultimately sanctioned. While civilian law enforcement, prosecutorial authorities, and courts have also been criticized for their conduct of sexual assault cases, there is a strong perception among members of the CAF that the way in which the military handles such cases is the cause of added prejudice to the victim.
The report contains a comprehensive review of the current state of women in the Canadian military, with 48 recommendations ranging from clarifying the definition of sexual misconduct to reviewing if undergraduate instruction at military institutions is necessary for the CAF. Arbour includes recommendations concerning officer recruitment in the CAF to ensure that it “selects the right leaders, those who truly deserve the trust given to them to lead people into harm’s way” and ensures a more proportionate representation of women in senior positions.
Numerous Canadian officers have been investigated for sexual offenses. In October last year, then-Lieutenant General Trevor Cadieu was reported to the military police for an alleged sexual assault that took place in 1994. In July that year, former General Jonathan Vance was charged with obstruction of justice relating to accusations of inappropriate behavior brought forth by two women. Major General Dany Fortin was charged with a 1988 sexual assault in August that year; his trial is scheduled for September.