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Canada Sending Military Sexual Assault Cases To Civil Courts

There is a black eye on Canada’s Military; and it’s not due to lack of funding or purchase orders of military helicopters or planes gone bad.

In a Government Census, approximately 25% of women serving in the Canadian Military reported being sexually assaulted during their military careers.

Pause and think about that stat long and hard.

Nearly 1 out of every 4 women serving in Canada’s military has been sexually assaulted in their military career.

That statistic is mind blowing! Any other industry would be completely shut down if that’s how women are treated in the workplace. You would have police, government officials and activist groups swarming the employer to the point they would not be able to function. It would be a business and PR nightmare. In the age of cancel culture; this employer would be ruined beyond the point of no return.

But what happens when that delinquent workplace is a public institution; like the Canadian Military?

We can’t stop shopping or boycott the Canadian military.

I suppose that people can withdraw for service, or simply not enlist to serve in the Canadian Military because the work environment appears to be less than optimal; particularly for women. There are other noble ways to serve and to protect one’s country. But the Canadian Military needs people so so many things. The Canadian armed forces does not run on robots or cheap migrant labour. How does the Canadian Military attract Canadians to enlist and serve the country with such bad PR? More importantly, how does the Canadian Military attract women to fill the ranks?

All good questions. Thankfully, I’m not the Minister of Defence.

But, the Canadian Military has taken a step forward by commissioning a report from former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour which examined sexual assaults in the workplace. The Honourable Justice Arbour has recommended that sexual assault cases which were normally heard before Military Courts be transferred over to Civilian Courts where they will be heard by ordinary, non-military judges who routinely hear civilian sexual assault cases. In plain English this means that a special military Court will no longer preside over sexual assault cases arising out of military service. These cases will be heard in regular courts by regular judges.

But it’s not just a transfer in the Court system from Military Courts to Civilian Courts. It’s also a transfer of the investigations from Military Police to Local Police. This is almost more important than the transfer in the Courts. You can’t have the military policing it’s own. There needs to be some separate between the Judge, Jury and Executioner in relation to the Accused. The way it has been presented to the public is that the Military Police and the Military Court system are too close to those being accused of the crimes.linkedin-2-300x300

This is an important first step towards transparency and justice for victims of sexual abuse within Canada’s military.

Thus far, 62 sexual offence files have been transferred from Military Police to Local Police and to Local Courts for investigation and prosecution.

In her Report, the Honourable Justice Arbour estimated that approximately 30 sexual offence cases are tried by military courts across Canada per year. In stark contrast, regular civilian courts hear approximately 2,300 sexual offense cases per year. That means that only around 30 cases would be added to the civilian court load which hears around 2,300 such cases per year.

When there was pushback about transferring military sexual offense cases to civilian Courts, the Honourable Justice Arbour pointed to drunk driving cases.

Military Police and Military Courts do not handle drunk driving cases for military personnel. These are handled by civilian police and in civilian courts. We don’t have any push back when it comes to civilian police and civilian courts handling such cases; so why should there be resistance when it comes to sexual assault cases?

How to get real change is by amending section 70 of the National Defence Act:

Offences not triable by service tribunal

 A service tribunal shall not try any person charged with any of the following offences committed in Canada:

  • (a) murder;

  • (b) manslaughter; or

  • (c) an offence under any of sections 280 to 283 of the Criminal Code.

This section states that Military Courts cannot hear any of the offences detailed above. What needs to be added to this list are sexual assault and sexual offences under the Criminal Code. If amended, that would mean that these offenses would need to be heard as a matter of law (and not recommendation), by civilian courts.

What prompted me in writing on this topic was the recently front page story in the Globe and Mail how the majority of sexual assault victims don’t trust the police; and fail to report the assault to the police as well. The assailants get away with what they’ve done; and the victims have to live with the grief, pain and suffering for the rest of their lives. When or if they do choose to stand up and make a complaint; so much time has passed that often people don’t believe what they have to say. They are questioned as to why it has take so long for them to come out and share their story.

If this is the case for ordinary people reporting their assault to ordinary police; just imagine how difficult it is for military personnel to come out and make a report to military police who are seen as protecting their own. If the complaint gets investigated, it’s then heard within a special military court which is owned and operated by the Canadian Military itself. How does this make any sense. This is exactly why the Honourable Justice Arbour has made recommendations that these types of complaints be handled by regular police officers and by regular Judges who have no ties to the military and who are not perceived as looking out for their own. This has been a folly of the Canadian Military Justice system for victims of sexual abuse which has been going on for long enough. We are all glad to see that changes are being made, but more needs to be done.


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