Critics cast doubt on justice for sex assault victims in Canadian military
Published Thursday, December 1, 2016 10:28PM EST
While top military brass are publicly encouraging sexual assault victims within the Canadian Forces to come forward, defence sources have raised doubts about what kind of justice victims would see from military courts.
Canada’s top general has repeatedly vowed to root out sexual assault and harassment within the Canadian Forces.
“I gave an order to every member of the Canadian Armed Forces that this behaviour had to stop,” Gen. Jonathan Vance said earlier this week.
But critics have raised doubts about the process, with some alleging that the military justice system is allowing perpetrators to avoid sexual assault convictions.
In the Judge Advocate General’s 2015-2016 report, which covers a time period from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016, the military's top lawyer shows that four sexual assault charges were laid. Two were stayed, one was withdrawn and one led to a guilty plea on a lesser offence.
Over the same period, there were no sexual assault convictions.
The military says that’s changing. There has been at least one case since April resulting in jail time.
“We are seeing a trend where people are being held to account,” said rear-admiral Jennifer Bennett of the strategic response team on sexual assault.
This week, two more soldiers faced court martials on sexual assault charges. In both cases, the soldiers pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disgraceful conduct while the sexual assault charges were stayed.
Retired Col. Michel Drapeau calls the process “a second-class type of justice system” for victims of sexual assault.
“The accused pleads guilty to (a) disciplinary offense and gets away -- I think that’s the term -- with a minor sentence, no criminal records,” Drapeau told CTV News.
Amy Graham is an Afghan veteran and military sexual assault victim who was sexually attacked by a superior. He was fined $2,500 and bumped down a rank after the case was brought forward.
Graham said she wasn’t satisfied by the reprimand.
“The punishments they have in place at this point are pathetic,” Graham said.
Military prosecutors say they take sexual offences seriously and that plea bargains are not a default.
“Obviously if we put them forward professionally, it’s because we think they are appropriate in the circumstance. Otherwise we would not put them forward,” said Lt.-Col David Antonyshyn with the Canadian Military Prosecution Service.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has said the system is under review.
"I want to give confidence to the people that any allegations will be looked at very seriously and it will be dealt with," said Sajjan.
Multiple military sources and victims who have spoken to CTV News say they don't believe sexual misconduct can be eradicated until perpetrators face tougher sentences.
With a report from CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson