After 14 months, DND inquiry into sex complaint case still in limbo

Marie Deschamps, a former Supreme Court justice and author of an inquiry into sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces, speaks at a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, April 30, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – A military board investigation into the handling of a high-profile sexual misconduct case is complete, but remains under review by the commander of the Canadian Army more than a year after it was ordered at National Defence.

The board was convened by retired general Tom Lawson, the country’s former top military commander, on Jan. 28, 2015, to demonstrate that the Canadian Armed Forces was taking the issue of sexual assault and abuse seriously.

It was ordered alongside an investigation by retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, who concluded last spring that bad behaviour was “endemic” in the military — an institution steeped in a macho culture that leaves women fearful to report abuse.

The internal inquiry examined how the military responded to the allegations and grievances of former master corporal Stephanie Raymond, who alleged she was raped by a superior and then driven out of the army in 2013 for reporting it.

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Raymond’s case was among a handful featured in a published report in May 2014 that helped spark the Deschamps report. The accused superior officer was tried by the military justice system and acquitted that same year.

A defence spokesman said the inquiry report is being examined by Lt.-Gen. Marquis Haines, the commander of the army, and will need to be signed off by Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff.

Vance has made important strides to combat abuse and sexual misconduct, but risks undermining that progress if the military is seen to be dragging its feet on its own internal inquiry, said Toronto lawyer Emma Phillips, who was counsel to the Deschamps review.

“I expect there are probably a number of members, a lot of members, who are waiting to see — and are perhaps skeptical about — whether the commitment made by the leadership to bring about change is genuine,” Phillips said in an recent interview with The Canadian Press.

“If it is seen to be stalled, I think that sends the wrong message and it can damage the efforts made by the Armed Forces, which appear to be very genuine.”

As part of the effort to stamp out abuse, a military crisis centre was established. It received 204 telephone calls, emails and texts between September and December last year.

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Of those, eight allegations of sexual misconduct have become the subjects of investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.

The figures were contained in a progress report released by Vance in February.

While it had a significant political impact, members of the military are not necessarily watching the public discourse as much as they are the internal details.

READ MORE: External report on sexual misconduct in military now with top soldier

The board of inquiry is a technical investigation, not a criminal proceeding. It examines military procedures — whether they are sound or in need of revision. And in the case of Raymond, it is expected to pass judgment on how her superiors dealt with her allegations and subsequent appeals for justice.

Aside from the inquiry being a bellwether, Phillips said it’s important the findings of the investigation be made public, within the limits of privacy and national security.

“There is a considerable public interest in having this kind of report made public,” she said. “The report could give us continued and greater insight how these incidents and allegations are treated and dealt with in the military.”

National Defence has had a spotty history of releasing board of inquiry reports.

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In high-profile investigations, such as the fatal fire aboard HMCS Chicoutimi and friendly-fire deaths in Afghanistan, censored copies of what went wrong and the findings were made public.

In other cases, such as the investigation into the handling of the death of Cpl. Stuart Landridge, the report was withheld and released only after a public outcry.

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