Defence chief calls for internal review after 'disturbing' report on military sexual assaults
Published Thursday, April 24, 2014 9:58PM EDT
Canada’s top military commander has asked for an internal review of workplace programs and policies after an investigation by two magazines uncovered allegations of rampant sexual violence within the Canadian Forces.
The eight-month investigation, conducted jointly by Maclean’s and its French-language sister publication L’Actualite, also suggests there may have been cover-ups of assaults. A preview of the cover story, titled “Our military’s disgrace,” was posted online Thursday.
The full report, which includes interviews with 12 alleged victims of rape or sexual assault, suggests that an average of five sexual assaults occur each day within the Canadian military.
Victims say their cases are ignored. Going public, they say, jeopardizes their career.
In a statement Thursday, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson called the article “disturbing,” and said sexual assault is an “abhorrent and corrosive act that goes against the entirety of our military ethos.”
In light of the report, Lawson said he has called for an immediate internal review of the military’s “workplace programmes and policies, and leadership engagement.”
“Sexual misconduct of any kind is not and will not be tolerated within the CAF, and this is a message that I reinforce throughout the chain of command,” Lawson said. “We will pursue any and all allegations of sexual misconduct and we will protect complainants from reprisals.”
Workers at the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton told CTV News they see at least one uniformed soldier per week.
“A lot of them are frightened about making a disclosure about a fellow in arms,” said executive director Karen Smith. “A lot of them are sad, a lot of them are anxious. Just in general, they are broken people.”
L’Actualite political bureau chief Alex Castonguay said Thursday the investigation found that military culture discourages victims from reporting sex assault.
“The fact that they are a military family, they are obliged to band together and be one team,” Castonguay said on CTV’s Power Play. “So it’s pretty hard when one member of the family is complaining that they (have been) raped or sexually assaulted.
“It (breaks) all the unity inside the Canadian military so people are not complaining a lot, they are fearing retaliations.”
Castonguay said there is also “question of confidence” in the way military matters are handled in the judicial system.
“If there’s a military investigating about another military problem, victims are not feeling safe about that,” Castonguay said. “In different countries, they are doing huge reforms to put confidence in the system for the victims -- we are not doing that in Canada and the United States so far.”
In the U.S., President Barack Obama has called for higher standards of conduct in the military. It is unclear, however, why it has taken more than a decade to force change in Canada’s military system.
“We do review, on a continuous basis, our policies and procedures to make sure that we're doing things right,” Canadian Armed Forces' chief warrant officer Kevin West told CTV News. “Now that the article is out, it has shown that maybe we do have a trend.”
Canada’s Opposition party is demanding leadership from the top.
“It is horrifying, it is something that needs to be dealt with,” said Jack Harris, the NDP’s Defence critic. “We’ve got a government that claims to be all about victims.”
In a statement Thursday, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said he was “deeply angered” to learn of the alleged sexual assaults in the military and said sexual misconduct of any kind “will not be tolerated within the Canadian Armed Forces.”
With a report from CTV News’ Richard Madan