'Only the beginning': 8 investigations launched into military sexual misconduct

Eight investigations have been launched in the six months since a military crisis centre opened to address sexual misconduct, Canada’s top soldier says.

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While Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said this is “only the beginning of the mission,” victim’s advocates are unconvinced that the right steps are being taken to make victims feel comfortable coming forward.

Vance released the first progress report Monday, on the Canadian Armed Forces’ efforts to address “inappropriate sexual behaviour” after a former Supreme Court judge concluded last year that sexual misconduct was “endemic” in the military.

Vance said the military has adopted, or is working on, a number of recommendations outlined in Marie Deschamps’ damning report.

Since Deschamps’ report was released in March, 2015, the military has opened a sexual misconduct response centre, where members and others can file complaints. The centre operates “outside of the military chain of command,” but provides the armed forces with the information needed to implement new policies, according to the progress report.

The progress report shows that 204 individuals, including 156 members of the Canadian Armed Forces, contacted the sexual misconduct response centre between Sept. 15, 2015 and the end of December.

Of those, 53 reported an alleged sexual offence and 32 contacted the centre about sexual harassment.

The report says that 23 calls to the response centre were referred to a military police liaison officer, and six investigations were opened as of the end of December.

Vance said two other investigations have been opened in the past month.

When Vance took command last summer, he vowed to change the military culture and end “harmful behaviour.”

“Last July, I lamented the fact that there were, within our ranks, members who bullied, degraded and even assaulted fellow brothers and sisters in arms, preying on those perceived as different or vulnerable,” he said Monday.

“This will take time, but we are determined,” he said. “The consequences of not succeeding are simply too dire.”

He said that type of behaviour cannot persist and called the first progress report “a start.”

The military is planning to survey personnel to better understand the scope of the problem, Vance said.

Statistics Canada will design the survey for all 66,000 full-time members and 21,000 part-time military members.

However, the military cannot force members to participate, according to Lt.-Gen. Christine Whitecross, who is leading the charge against sexual misconduct.

Whitecross told CTV Power Play that although eight investigations may seem like a low number, they represent “eight investigations we wouldn’t normally have.”

She added that Deschamps had made clear that the military should empower victims to come forward, but allow them to decide whether to register official complaints.

Bailey Reid, from the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, told CTV Power Play that those identified in the report represent “probably only about 10 per cent” of those affected.

Reid said the military’s definition of harassment needs work because it doesn’t look at the problem through a “gendered lens.”

“I think that something they really need to acknowledge is that a lot of Armed Forces culture is this built-in toxic masculinity,” Reid said. “I want to see words like misogyny and power and control.”

Whitecross told Power Play that the military is looking at their definition of sexual harassment and is hoping to have new policies in place “by summer.”

Retired Col. Michel Drapeau, who works as a lawyer for women who claim sexual assault, told CTV Power Play he’s not sure whether victims yet have “a sense of confidence that the military has got it.”

“Have we done anything at all to reduce the number of those who don’t report the crimes?” he said.

NDP defence critic Randall Garrison said Monday that the progress report is encouraging, but the military still needs "an effective complaint process and an effective discipline process and a culture where people don't believe they will become the victims if they complain.”

Garrison said one way to address the culture is to focus on hiring more women.

Only about 15 per cent of military members are women, Garrison said. He blamed the previous Conservative government for reducing recruiting efforts across the country.

“We’re looking for a commitment from this new government.” Garrison told reporters.

With a report from The Canadian Press



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