Military to reopen 23 unfounded sexual assault cases

Military to reopen 23 \unfounded\ sexual assault cases
Following review, military police reopening 23 unfounded sexual assault cases
Canada's military is reopening investigations into nearly two dozen cases of sexual assault after reviewing 179 old cases that had been closed as "unfounded."

In each of those 23 files, investigators will conduct additional interviews, seek better documentation or use other investigative tools to review the cases.

Well conduct those investigative steps until we get to a point where we are happy that we have explored every avenue of the investigation, Cadman said in an interview. And either we will lay a charge or label the file found and not cleared, or unfounded. Many police forces in Canada have been revisiting sexual-assault cases labelled as unfounded since a Globe and Mail investigation last year flagged concerns that such complaints are often under-investigated.

Senior military commanders decided to comb through the old cases after an internal review found that nearly a quarter of cases filed between 2010 and 2016 concluded with an "unfounded" label — a rate higher than the rate for cases investigated by civilian police forces.

One may argue that having one file that we took a misstep on or didnt corroborate information is too much, Cadman said. But I would argue that its a great news story in the fact that its never too late to get it right, and now is the time to do so.

Reviews by the military and RCMP were launched following an in-depth 2017 Globe and Mail report on unfounded sexual assault cases across Canada.

The move follows an internal review last year that found nearly one in every three sexual-assault complaints logged with military police between 2010 and 2016 was deemed unfounded – a designation applied when investigators determine an offence did not occur.

Of the 179 military police files reviewed in an 18-month period from early 2017 to July 2018, 43 cases were deemed to have been "misclassified" and have been re-coded to "reflect more accurately the findings of the investigations," according to a release from National Defence.

Marie-Claude Gagnon, a former naval reservist who founded a group for survivors of military sexual trauma, called Its Just 700, said the decision to reopen 23 files was one sign of positive progress by the Forces in tackling sexual misconduct in the ranks.

Another 113 cases will remain labelled as unfounded — 14 per cent of the 757 sexual assault cases in that six-year period.

In a statement, Lt.-Col. Kevin Cadman, commanding officer of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, said the review was "beneficial in many ways" and that best practices will be assessed continually to ensure National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces receive the "highest standard of policing service."

Military officials have previously acknowledged that investigating sexual assault cases years after the fact can be difficult, but Cadman pushed back against suggestions authorities failed victims by not properly investigating their complaints.

The release said the average unfounded rate has been declining; it dropped to eight per cent in 2016 from 17.6 per cent in 2010. The average unfounded rate for Canadian policing is about 19 per cent.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the CAF has a "zero tolerance" policy for inappropriate sexual behaviour of any kind and commended the investigation team for their work in "ensuring victims are heard."

Meanwhile, the military is still working to set up a panel of outside advisers comprised of social workers and other experts to go back over all the files to ensure they were properly reviewed, which was first promised in April 2017.

"Every person who willingly serves their country, despite the many dangers and sacrifices of military service, deserves a professional environment in which they are treated with respect and dignity," he said in a statement. "That is why Operation Honour and its mission to eliminate harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour within our ranks remains a top priority."

Another 43 were found to have been valid complaints that were properly investigated but did not have enough evidence to lay a charge and mislabelled as unfounded. The correct term in police-speak is founded, not cleared.

Sajjan said the Canadian Forces Military Police are in the final detailed planning stages of a sexual assault review program, which will establish an "open and transparent" review process for all unfounded sexual assault cases going forward‎.

Military investigators are now poring over the remaining 23 cases to see if additional evidence can be obtained and charges laid, said Lt.-Col. Kevin Cadman, the commander of the militarys investigation service.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan said his party called for the external review of sexual misconduct in the ranks and launched Operation Honour because it stands up for victims of sexual assault.

That rate was higher than most civilian police forces in Canada and appeared to confirm some victims complaints that the Armed Forces did not investigate their cases properly and hold perpetrators accountable.

"While progress has been made, the fact is that even one such unfounded case is one too many. We hope that for the sake of the victims, these cases are resolved and the perpetrators brought to justice," he said in a statement.

NDP MP Irene Mathyssen said every report of sexual assault should be approached from the perspective of believing survivors, and reopening 23 cases is a "very small first step" toward creating a safe and inclusive culture in the military.

The only thing we can look at is the facts that we have in front of us, which is the amount of time that they took for the review and the fact that the panel is still not in place, she said.

"We should be addressing the root causes of misogyny and power culture that keeps women from participating and forces them to either be silent or leave when faced with sexual harassment and assault," she said in a statement.

That includes going back to the victims for further information or reaching out to witnesses and trying to corroborate what information was provided during the initial investigation.

It is a priority for CBC to create a website that is accessible to all Canadians including people with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive challenges.

The Canadian Armed Forces has reopened 23 cases of alleged sexual assault after revisiting dozens of files previously dismissed by military police as unfounded.

A Canadian flag sits on a members of the Canadian Forces leaving from CFB Trenton, in Trenton, Ont., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. (The Canadian Press/Lars Hagberg)

OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces has reopened 23 cases of alleged sexual assault after revisiting dozens of files previously dismissed by military police as "unfounded."

Defence officials now say the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, which investigates all major crimes in the military, reviewed 179 cases and confirmed 113 were unfounded — a designation applied when investigators determine an offence did not occur.

The move follows an internal review last year that found nearly one in every three sexual-assault complaints logged with military police between 2010 and 2016 was deemed unfounded — a designation applied when investigators determine an offence did not occur.

That rate was higher than most civilian police forces in Canada and appeared to confirm some victims complaints that the Armed Forces did not investigate their cases properly and hold perpetrators accountable.

The move comes nearly 18 months after authorities revealed that nearly one in every three sexual assault complaints logged with military police between 2010 and 2016 was deemed unfounded.

The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, which investigates all major crimes in the military, subsequently launched a review of 179 cases and announced Thursday that 113 were indeed unfounded.

Another 43 were found to have been valid complaints that were properly investigated but did not have enough evidence to lay a charge and mislabelled as unfounded. The correct term in police-speak is "founded, not cleared."

Much of the concern that has prompted the current focus on sexual misconduct within the military has revolved around complaints from victims that their cases were not handled properly.

Military investigators are now poring over the remaining 23 cases to see if additional evidence can be obtained and charges laid, said Lt.-Col. Kevin Cadman, the commander of the militarys investigation service.

Previously, many incidents would have been handled by less experienced military police officers at whichever Canadian Forces base or facility the alleged incident occurred.

That includes going back to the victims for further information or reaching out to witnesses and trying to corroborate what information was provided during the initial investigation.

Another 43 were found to have been valid complaints that were properly investigated, but officials say there was not enough evidence to lay a charge.

"Well conduct those investigative steps until we get to a point where we are happy that we have explored every avenue of the investigation," Cadman said in an interview. "And either we will lay a charge or label the file found and not cleared, or unfounded."

Many police forces in Canada have been revisiting sexual-assault cases labelled as unfounded since a Globe and Mail investigation last year flagged concerns that such complaints are often under-investigated.

Military officials have previously acknowledged that investigating sexual assault cases years after the fact can be difficult, but Cadman pushed back against suggestions authorities failed victims by not properly investigating their complaints.

Previously, many incidents would have been handled by less experienced military police officers at whichever Canadian Forces base or facility the alleged incident occurred. All sexual assault complaints are now handled by the investigative service.

"One may argue that having one file that we took a misstep on or didnt corroborate information is too much," Cadman said. "But I would argue that its a great news story in the fact that its never too late to get it right, and now is the time to do so."

Meanwhile, the military is still working to set up a panel of outside advisers comprised of social workers and other experts to go back over all the files to ensure they were properly reviewed, which was first promised in April 2017.

Officials have cited privacy and legal concerns for the fact it remains a work in progress nearly 18 months later, though Cadman said the aim is to have it up and running by late fall and promised the panel would go over all the files again.

Marie-Claude Gagnon, a former naval reservist who founded a group for survivors of military sexual trauma, called Its Just 700, said the decision to reopen 23 files was one sign of positive progress by the Forces in tackling sexual misconduct in the ranks.

Yet she questioned why it took so long for the military to revisit the cases as well as to establish the external panel.

"The only thing we can look at is the facts that we have in front of us, which is the amount of time that they took for the review and the fact that the panel is still not in place," she said.

"At this point, at least they went forward and did something. I just wish they had done it a little sooner."

Thursday, members of Parliament unanimously agreed to pass a motion recognizing the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar as genocide.