A report examining suspected suicides and allegations of sexual misconduct at the Royal Military College of Canada found several problems at the prestigious institution prompting Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance to call for immediate action.
Canada’s top soldier said Wednesday he is promising to bring changes to the 140-year-old college by improving medical and food services for cadets on campus, adding more support staff and investing additional dollars to fix critical infrastructure at the school, including the library and dormitories.
“I am delighted to report there is no one single cause for concern,” Vance told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “But I think it’s fair to say periodically an institution as important as RMC needs a really close look to make sure we are really delivering to the future of the armed forces.”
He said the college and two other military schools will be brought in under his command. The 227-report was commissioned in November following a number of suspected suicides and reports of sexual harassment at the college.
The review was led by retired vice-admiral Gregory Maddison along with seven other current and former military officers who examined everything at the college from its institutional culture to its academic programs. It contained 79 recommendations, all of which have been accepted by Vance for implementation.
“The overall climate at RMC has been influenced by a decade of resource pressures and higher priorities at the strategic level, which has resulted in RMC operating in an environment that has generally placed a lower degree of priority on the College,” the report found.
The review also examined the mental health of the college’s approximately 1,000 cadets and found significant levels of “negative” stressors affecting students and the need for increased levels of support staff. It also highlighted “inconsistent leadership” at the school.
“The negative stressors centered on inconsistent leadership within the Training and Cadet Wings, unintended negative consequences in the implementation of defined leadership progression levels, the questionable quality and utility of the Professional Military Training program, the coordination and time management of the Four Pillars program, and the state of repair of some of the college infrastructure,” the report said.
The review team also found that while some cadets were aware of certain stresses they were hesitant to come forward.
“Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to those that seek or want to seek assistance as many are concerned about being perceived as being weak or having a problem if they do solicit help,” the report said.
The report did not specifically look at several suspected suicides, which are the subject of a separate Boards of Inquiry being carried out by the military.
The military is investigating the sudden deaths of three Royal Military College cadets between May and August of 2016. Harrison Kelertas, 22, and Brett Cameron, 20, died on campus within two weeks of each other, while Matthew Sullivan, 19, died in August in Saint John.
A separate inquiry is also being conducted into the death of RMC graduate, Sub-Lt. Eric Leclerc, 39, who died June 18 after an incident at CFB Borden, near Barrie, Ont. He had been training at Borden for roughly five months after finishing his studies at RMC.
The report also looked into allegations of sexual misconduct at the college and found that female cadets said they felt safe at the college.
A 2015 report from Retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps found that sexual harassment was considered a“passage obligé” or rite of passage at RMC, and sexual assault was an “ever-present risk.”
Vance told reporters there were no “systemic or endemic” causes for concern around recent sudden deaths and allegations of sexual harassment.
“I am also convinced there is nothing specific or unique to RMC that would contribute to suicidal ideation or sudden death,” Vance said. “There are things that can be done to improve the quality of life for cadets, to reduce the negative stressors while still maintaining those incredibly high and important standards that they need to maintain while they go off an perform their roles in the armed forces.”
Some of the report’s recommendations surrounding mental health include resiliency training and a mental health support program.
— With files from the Canadian Press