For the past two decades, the military has received several public warnings about the deep-seated crisis of rampant sexual misconduct in its ranks. Astonishingly, in response to this crisis affecting both the safety and integrity of soldiers, sailors and aviators as well as the reputation of the institution, in 1998 Cabinet transferred the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults to the military to “enable the military to deal with the incidents swiftly for the sake of unit cohesion.” In plain language this meant that ‘unit cohesion’ – an euphemism for military control – was to take precedence over the safety, integrity and dignity of soldiers.
Last week the Auditor General weighed in with a report aimed at determining whether the military actually have taken adequate measures to cope with the issue of sexual misconduct including the provision of support to victims of sexual misconduct. The AG report is anything but satisfying. The AG concluded that the military has not always dealt with the reported incidents in a timely, consistent and respectful manner. As a result, some victims chose not to report an incident or withdraw their complaint because they were not convinced that the investigations would lead to concrete results. The AG report is a clear signal that the military simply cannot solve this twenty years’ crisis on their own.
Parliament must now assume leadership to both provide military members with a safe workplace allowing them to maintain their physical and mental integrity and to preserve the character and reputation of the armed forces as a disciplined, professional force. As a matter of priority, legislative changes must be made to ensure that victims of crimes be immediately entitled to the same protection afforded to every other individual in Canada under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. Secondly, the National Defence Act must be amended to return jurisdiction for sexual assaults to civil courts