Friday, November 4, 2016

Suicides and sexual assault at RMC are the canaries in the mineshaft.

More bad news about the the Royal Military College of Canada (RMCC) which first opened in 1876 as an officer training college. The RMCC is located on Point Frederick in Kingston, Ontario on the shores of Lake Ontario. In 2016, its cadet population is 866. Approximately 225 cadets graduate each year.

The RMCC is under the command of Brigadier-General S.G. Friday. Its Principal is retired Brigadier-General Dr. H.J. Kowal. It is governed by a Board of Governors chaired by retired Lieutenant-General Frederick Sutherland and Major-General Eric Tremblay

Members of the Board of Governors are appointed by the Honorable Harjit Singh Sajjan, the Minister of National Defence [MDN] who is also the Chancellor and President of the College.


         Over the past two years, the RMCC's image and second-to-one legacy has been seriously sullied by some very disturbing news:

    1995 -- Sexual misconduct. A series of events took place at RMCC indicating the rampant presence of serious sexual misconduct on the part of Cadets. These incidents contextualized the damming report tabled in March 30, 2015 by retired Justice Madame Marie Deschamps of the Supreme Court of Canada which warned of the sexualized culture in the Canadian Armed Forces in general where harassment is commonplace and victims are unwilling to complain for fear of being ostracized, demoted, transferred or harassed anew. [See blog on Monday June 1, 2015]

    2016 -- Spate of sudden deaths. The RMCC is rocked with a spate of four (4) sudden deaths. Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) officials have yet to confirm the cause of death for any of the men, but suicide is suspected.Considering the relatively small size of the college, this would result in an suicide rate many, more than three times the international suicide rate. or the Canadian suicide rate of 16.9 per 100,000 population.
  • Two officer cadets died within days of each other at the RMCC 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.

As noted earlier, the MND is both the President and Chancellor of the College. Yet, the MND has yet to be heard or be seen to take any action to address the situation at the RRMC. 

Instead, unexpectedly, and strangely, on November 2, 2016 the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance ordered a Special Staff Assistance Visit (SSAV) . The SSAV will look at all aspects of the RMCC, from ‘the institution college, climate and culture to its academic programs and infrastructure.”

Additionally, the SSAV will interview staff and cadets and assess the mental state (?) of cadets by looking a stress level, available support and morale levels. See CBC story. The SSAV will be headed by Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff (whose father acted as Commandant of the RRMC from 1982-1985). The VCDS will be assisted by a eight member team comprised of serving and retired CF officers.

Immediate serious concerns were raised in the media for leaving academics and non—military personnel off the staff review team.

“This is a cover your-butt exercise. . . done in house by the military for the military.”


It is disconcerting to note that Minister Sajjan, who also acts as President and Chancellor of the RMCC, has chosen to completely ignore this most serious crisis. A crisis which is impacting on the very institution that looks to him for guidance and leadership and, more importantly, on the RRMC alumni and the current cohort of RMCC cadets as well as their families, friends and colleagues. Instead, he appears to be happy and satisfied to let RMC graduate, General Jon Vance and his military staff to take over that important task by conducting an internal review of the grave problems facing the RRMC as an institution.

For the benefit of the deceased families and civil society as a whole, the Minister should ask that a Coroner’s Inquest [Public Fatality Inquiry] 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: Hugh Jordan and Others v. The United Kingdom (2000), 31 EHRR 6 and others. This would ensure that any such investigation be done in an independent and open manner and that the public be kept fully informed of its results.
  • Articles 1 and 2 of the European Convention of Human  Rights, when read together, require a proper and adequate official investigation into deaths resulting from the actions of stage agents, both in the use of lethal force, and also in situations arising from the negligence of agents that leads to a death. The Court also emphasizes four key components of an effective investigation: being given official sanction, independence, openness and expediency. 

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