Editor’s note: A previous version of this story erroneously stated that the sex crimes unit of the Ottawa Police Service has 54 per cent female investigators on their team. The correct figure is 68 per cent.
There are 129 investigators working with the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service — the military police branch that primarily handles sexual misconduct allegations, and which has come under scrutiny in recent months over how it handles cases involving senior leaders.
But just 29 of those investigators are female, representing less than one-quarter of those on the team typically called upon to handle some of the most sensitive cases among its members.
“The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service is comprised of 23 per cent female investigators,” said spokesperson Lt.-Cmdr. Jamie Bresolin in an email to Global News.
“CFNIS, where these investigators reside, is the unit primarily assigned to probe allegations of sexual misconduct within the military police.”
The data mirrors larger trends in the makeup of both military police writ large as well as the broader membership of the Canadian Forces as a whole — despite efforts to increase the number of women in the military over recent years, the figures remain low.
One in seven members of the Canadian military as a whole identified as women in 2019.
In 2020, women made up just 15.8 per cent of regular force members and 16.6 per cent of reservists, for a total representation of just 16 per cent.
Similar numbers appear in the military police overall as well. In 2015-2016 female members made up 14 per cent of total military police, a number that has risen in the years since to 16.9 per cent in 2016-2017, 24 per cent in 2017-2018, 24 per cent in 2018-2019, and 25 per cent in 2019-2020.
Victims and survivors of sexual misconduct in the military have testified repeatedly over the last three months about how they say they were left shaken by recent experiences of trying to report allegations of sexual misconduct to male military police investigators.
Their testimonies came as two parliamentary committees study the problem of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces following reporting by Global News in February that has prompted multiple allegations of high-level sexual misconduct against senior leaders in the military.
Emily Tulloch, an aviator, shared her experience trying to report sexual misconduct with the House of Commons status of women committee on April 20, saying that her interactions with military police were “dreadful.”
“These so-called interviews felt more like interrogation. During these interviews, I felt that investigators were not treating me like a human being. I was just another case file to them. There was no empathy or humanity,” she told the committee.
Tulloch said the experiences left her “with a lot of questions about how military police should conduct their investigations.”
“I also believe that an officer of the same sex of the victim should conduct the interview. In my situation, it wasn’t offered that I could speak to a female officer until halfway through my interview, when I started crying,” she testified.
“Even then, the military police said they would have to reschedule for the next week, because there was no female officer available.”
Maj. Kellie Brennan, one of the women at the heart of allegations against Gen. Jonathan Vance, testified before a subsequent meeting of that committee that she was interviewed for two days by only male investigators, and that they brushed off her concerns about this.
“They mentioned that their many years of service meant they were very capable of doing it,” she said.
But that’s not always the case for those trying to report, Brennan testified.
“This isn’t the ideal setting for a woman to speak about the matter for the first time. It’s difficult to speak about the matter. The victims aren’t accompanied by a resource person who could be there for them.”
The military justice system is among the problems that former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour is tasked with studying in the independent, external review announced by the government last week.
The low number of female investigators with the CFNIS appears at odds with the approaches taken by several major Canadian civilian police forces, which have a much higher proportion of female investigators on sex crimes units as well as predominantly female supervisors responsible for them.
A spokesperson for the Ottawa Police Service told Global News the sex crimes unit for the city, which handles cases of sexual assault and also handles cases of child abuse, is made up of 24 investigators.
“Of those, there are currently six male investigators, thirteen female investigators, two male supervisors, and three female supervisors,” said spokesperson Const. Mike Cudrasov in an email.
That translates to roughly 68 per cent female investigators on that team.
Sgt. Steve Addison, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department, did not provide specific numbers for the force’s Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit but said it is “made up of 50 per cent women.”
“The deputy chief, superintendent, and inspector who oversee the unit are also women,” he added.
A spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service said their sex crimes unit is made up of 55 per cent male and 45 per cent female investigators, while the senior leadership team for the unit is evenly split.
“While the Service recognizes that every sexual assault survivor has the right to choose if they are interviewed by a male or female officer, the priority of all our members is to provide a professional, sensitive and survivor-focused response,” said Connie Osborne, manager of media relations.
“Accredited sex crime investigators work in every division across our city as well as our dedicated Sex Crimes Unit.”
All three said their sex crimes investigators take a trauma-informed approach to their investigations.
The Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) refused to disclose the data for its investigators.
“Our investigators in sex crimes listen to the victims, empathize a lot and show goodwill,” said a spokesperson. “You can be sure that we are sensitive with the fact that some victims prefer to speak with female.”