The Military Police Complaints Commission is investigating whether military police altered information and threatened subordinates during a probe into a “misconduct” incident involving one of their own.
Chairperson Hilary McCormack decided on Aug. 3 to launch an investigation into complaints received by her office over the handling of an incident involving an allegedly intoxicated military police member and her children in March 2021.
“These complaints allege that the MP Unit’s leadership attempted to cover up the alleged misconduct of an officer of that Unit and improperly giving special treatment to the MP officer involved,” said a statement released on Wednesday announcing the investigation.
“The allegations in these complaints go to the very core of police values and ethics. They have the potential to undermine public confidence in the Military Police and their adherence to basic precepts of the rule of law: namely, the principle of equality before the law.”
According to the statement, the decision by the civilian watchdog to investigate comes after her office received complaints in July and April of this year alleging military police interference in the case.
Details are thin but the statement says the incident at the heart of the complaints occurred on March 10, 2021, at an unknown location. A military police officer, who appeared intoxicated, put her children in her car and allegedly attempted to drive them and herself home after leaving a restaurant.
Bystanders intervened, and stopped her from getting into the car, the statement says.
Local police arrived at the scene and called military police after learning the individual was an officer, and ultimately waived jurisdiction over to the military force.
Yet the watchdog’s summary of what happens notes that members of the military police quickly became concerned over how the military police unit’s commander and its sergeant-major were handling the case.
Specifically, the complaints alleged the military police investigator’s electronic report was altered without that person’s knowledge or agreement, and that the unit commander and sergeant-major “repeatedly advised the investigator that charges would not be laid regarding the incident.”
The incident was never reported to the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, which has jurisdiction, the statement noted, adding that there was also no report made to the Office of Professional Standards of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal.
As well, “subordinate MP Unit members were directed to not report the incident and threatened those who did so with reprimands and/or being posted to an MP Unit in another region of the country.”
Members of the military police unit filed complaints with the commission in late April 2021.
Then in July 2021, another complaint was filed alleging there was interference by military police in a child welfare investigation involving the same military police officer involved in the March 10 incident.
Under the National Defence Act, the chairperson of the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) has the authority to invoke what’s known as a public interest investigation, which can result in the report into the matter being made public and potential public hearings as well.
Such investigations are held when the chairperson has reason to believe “public confidence would be best served by a more independent and transparent procedure.”
In an explanatory note attached to the statement, McCormack explained her decision and said the allegations spoke to a “deliberate attempt” by military police leadership to cover up misconduct, “and to provide that officer with special treatment due to their status.”
McCormack wrote that the allegations suggest military police leadership “went to considerable lengths to pressure and intimidate its members into cooperating with the alleged cover up.”
“Such allegations of cover-up and special treatment based on personal status go the heart of public confidence in military policing,” she wrote in her reasoning.
“As such, this complaint must be considered to be quite serious indeed.”
The Canadian military has been gripped for the last eight months by allegations of high-profile sexual misconduct and a culture that sees military leaders and military police fail to take allegations of misconduct seriously, following exclusive reporting by Global News.
Experts have described the situation as an institutional “crisis” for the military.
At the heart of the matter has been military police handling of serious allegations against individuals with senior roles or prominent ranks, and a culture that was identified in a landmark 2015 report as effectively sweeping allegations involving the chain of command under the rug.
David Perry, a defence expert and vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said similar allegations have been seen in many civilian police forces and while there’s little reason to expect military police were immune, the allegations come at a particularly challenging time.
“The timing is definitely not very advantageous for an armed forces that are trying to reestablish some credibility generally and specifically in terms of how they can deal with investigations, and as well as restore credibility in the conduct of the members of the armed forces,” he said.
“Even people in those positions in other jurisdictions don’t always behave in ways that are totally above-board or totally appropriate but boy, the timing is not too great.”
Perry noted the allegations will drive home that “these issues do need some sunlight and that they do need some external involvement.”
“Because what’s happened within National Defence simply hasn’t measured up to expectations outside of National Defence,” he said.
Stu Kellock, a retired military police officer, called the allegations “quite concerning.”
“That is a very unusual circumstance when members of a particular unit complain about their chain of command to an outside organization that has jurisdiction over those investigations,” he said.
“How do you trust the military police to do the right thing objectively and in accordance with law when in fact there’s allegations of cover-ups of wrongdoing among themselves?”
Global News reached out to military police asking whether the unit commander and sergeant-major involved in the complaints are still being allowed to work on other cases during the probe.
Lt.-Cmdr. James Bresolin, a spokesperson for the military police, said no one has been suspended but that “the Military Police Professional Standards section is monitoring this file” and communicating with the complaints commission.
“The Canadian Forces Provost Marshal (CFPM) is collaborating fully with the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC), including providing all requested documents, and will continue to do so throughout this Public Interest Investigation,” Bresolin said to Global News.
“The Military Police remains committed to supporting the work of the MPCC and for fulfilling its obligation to remain accountable to the Canadian Public. Given the MPCC’s investigation is currently ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”