Canadian military colleges have a sexual misconduct problem, new data suggests

Click to play video: 'Federal court approves $900M settlement for CAF sexual misconduct victims'
Federal court approves $900M settlement for CAF sexual misconduct victims
A federal court has approved a $900-million settlement for victims of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. – Nov 25, 2019

Canadian military colleges appear to have a sexual misconduct problem, according to new data released Thursday by Statistics Canada.

The report found that 68 per cent of students at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont., and the Royal Military College Saint-Jean in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., have either seen or been the victim of unwanted sexual behaviour during their time at the schools.

Those unwanted behaviours most commonly included “sexual jokes, inappropriate discussions about sex life and inappropriate sexual comments about appearance or body.”

Female students were also six times more likely to experience unwanted whistles or catcalls than males.

The report found that six times as many women as men were sexually assaulted while students at the military colleges — 28 per cent versus 4.4 per cent — and that 15 per cent of women at the schools had been sexually assaulted in the last 12 months.

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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan issued a statement in response to the report on Thursday, saying he was “deeply concerned” by the findings.

“This report shows that too many officer-cadets have experienced sexual misconduct or discrimination. Even one instance of sexual misconduct or discrimination is too many,” he said.

“That is completely unacceptable and has no place in our institutions or our country.”

He added the government will take “all action necessary” to make the institutions safe.

The Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces also issued a statement calling the behaviour identified in the report unacceptable.

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“Our message to those who have experienced sexual misconduct is this: sexual misconduct is not tolerated in the CAF,” the statement said.

“We must and will do better to ensure that all instructors, staff and officer cadets are aware of their responsibility to create a safe and accepting space for all those at Canadian military colleges. Sexual misconduct runs counter to our military ethos and to the national values the CAF upholds and defends.”

READ MORE: Former Royal Military College student charged with sexual assault

The findings come five years after a report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps documented an “underlying sexualized culture” in the military and noted that it was especially harmful to female and LGBTQ2 members of the Canadian Forces.

The federal government last year reached a deal worth $900 million to compensate the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.

READ MORE: Canadian Forces instructor in Quebec charged with sex assault involving student

The new data from Statistics Canada also mirrors the findings of a study it released last month on the number of post-secondary students in Canada who have witnessed or experienced unwanted sexual behaviour, pegging that number at 71 per cent, with women most likely to be impacted.

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Statistics Canada noted in its report released Thursday that the conversation about inappropriate conduct sparked by the Me Too movement in 2017 has led to growing awareness about the “continuum” of harmful and unwanted behaviours.

These behaviours, the report noted, do not need to be criminal to have harmful effects on the people who experience them and create negative cultures in institutions and workplaces.

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