Canadian Forces troops arrive in Quesnel for forest fire duty in 2017. More armed forces were deployed in B.C. this summer to help with record wildfire activity. (Canadian Forces photo)

Following review, military police reopening 23 ‘unfounded’ sexual assault cases

That rate was higher than most civilian police forces.

The Canadian Armed Forces is re-opening nearly two-dozen cases of alleged sexual assault after reviewing dozens of files previously dismissed by military police as “unfounded.”

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.

That rate was higher than most civilian police forces, prompting defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance in April 2017 to order a complete review of all such cases to ensure they were properly investigated.

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.

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

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.

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.

Military investigators are now poring over the remaining 23 cases to see if additional evidence can be obtained and charges laid.

Lt.-Col. Kevin Cadman, the commanding officer of the military’s investigative service, is calling the review beneficial and ongoing work will ensure the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence have “the highest standard of policing service.”

In addition, the military is 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.

That panel was promised at the same time Vance ordered the unfounded cases to be revisited, but officials have cited privacy concerns for the fact it remains a work in progress.

Military commanders have grappled with the issue of sexual misconduct in the ranks since l’Actualite and Maclean’s magazines reported in April 2014 that a large number of military sexual assaults were being ignored or played down.

Retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps led an independent investigation into the issue and her explosive report, released in April 2015, described an “underlying sexual culture” in the military that was hostile to women and left victims to fend for themselves.

Vance and other commanders have since ordered a zero-tolerance approach, which has included kicking out dozens of military members and speeding up court martial for cases involving allegations of sexual crimes.

Canadian Armed Forces in the Okanagan to help firefighters

Related: Canadian Armed Forces prepare to leave B.C. after wildfires

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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