Saturday, September 3, 2016

Four cadets' deaths within five months spur RMC Commandant to give survivors "resilience training" -- Uh-uh?

Two years running, Canada’s Royal Military College (RMC), which first opened in 1876 as an officer training college in Canada, is once again in the news. The RMC is located on Point Frederick in Kingston, Ontario on the shores of Lake Ontario.
In 2015, RMC was rocked by allegations of rampant sexual misconduct.

 In 2016, RMC is now faced with a spate of sudden deaths of cadets or recent graduates.

2016 - Four deaths in past five months
The total cadet population numbers 866. Approximately 225 cadets graduate each year.
  • Two officer cadets died within days of each other at the College in April and May 2016. They were aged 20 and 22 respectively. 
  • In June 2016, a recent graduate took his own life while undergoing training at a nearby army base in Borden Ontario.
  • In August 2016, a 19-year old cadet who was recently medically released from the military took his life. 
Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) officials have yet to confirm the cause of death for any of the men, but suicide is suspected. If so these premature and preventable deaths would bring the CAF suicide rate to an unprecedented level.[See discussion paper by Statistics Canada.
CAF Reaction to the Deaths

CAF is set to conduct its own internal ‘in camera’ inquiry.

The Commandant of the RMC, Brigadier-General Sean Friday, has announced that the CAF will be conducting a ‘single’ official board of inquiry into the deaths of these cadets which took place outside the academic year per se.

Such a board of inquiry is convened pursuant to section 45 of the National Defence Act.

The Board is composed of military officers appointed by the CAF. Hearings are not open to the public and the public plays no part in the inquiry process. There is also no ‘right to standing’ for relatives of a deceased.

The Final Report of the Inquiry is not revealed to the public nor is a copy given to families of the deceased although a redacted copy of that report may be obtained through freedom of information (FOI) legislation which is protracted process. However FOI access to the BOI report can only be achieved after it has been thoroughly reviewed by the chain of command and approved by the Chief of the Defence Staff. This has been known to take many years. [That issue was raised in the House of Commons during Question Period on January 30, 2014.]

Requirement for a Coroner’s Inquest

For the benefit of the deceased families and society as a whole, a Coroner’s Inquest [or a Public Fatality Inquiry] should be conducted into these contentious deaths. [This is precisely what happens in Europe because the European Convention of Human Rights obliges States to carry out a full investigation on the contentious death of a soldier. See: Jordan and others v. The United Kingdom (2000), 31 EHRR 6.]

A Coroner’s Inquest would ensure that there is a sufficient element of public scrutiny, that the inquiry is conducted by an independent and external tribunal and, most importantly, that it involves the relatives of the deceased.

This would not prevent the military from having its own Board of Inquiry to investigate any other incident connected with the service of these four individuals.

Resilience training is adding pain to injury

Last week Brigadier General Friday, an Air Force officer, announced plans to introduce “resilience training” for the RCM students.

As reported in the Toronto Star: the program aims at making cadets:
‘personally more resilient to stresses and adversity so that not only do they bounce back from adversity but even potentially be able to thrive in adversity and stressful moments.'
This is a form of an insult to the parents of the dead soldiers and a slight to the honour, courage and valour of the departed by suggesting that they lack the required toughness, strength and resistance to undergo academic training at the military college. It is also more or less an entire cop-out to properly investigate what roles, if any, the training (academic and military), administration, supervision and discipline regimen imposed on the cadets may have played in the early demise of these young men.

Indeed, they may well be factors outside the control of cadets which might have played a part in their uncommon fate. Some of these factors and influences might be instead entirely under the design and control of the RMC as an institution. This is one more powerful reason why an independent and external inquiry such as a Coroner’s Inquest needs to be conducted to investigate all possible causes for such losses.

2015 - Sexual Misconduct at the Royal Military College

On May 21, 2015 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC] reported “Royal Military College head apologizes for cadets' behaviour at harassment seminars.”

On May 29, 2015, the National Post reported that ‘Sex assault scandals rock prestigious Royal Military College in Kingston.”

Fast forward to 2016, the issue of sexual misconduct at the military college and elsewhere in the CAF is still very much an issue in the national news. This gave rise to the delivery of a special Progress Report by the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, earlier this week. See CTV National News.

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