The number of reported incidents of sexual assault and misconduct within the ranks of the Canadian military declined in the last fiscal year, according to a new statistical report released Tuesday by the Department of National Defence.
A sexual assault tracking system was instituted following a scathing independent review, conducted four years ago by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, which found inappropriate behaviour and a hyper-masculine culture were rampant in the Canadian Forces.
This third annual report from National Defence shows the number of reported incidents during the 2018-19 fiscal year have declined to 302 from 413 the previous year.
It represents, perhaps, one of the few bright spots in the military’s ongoing campaign to eliminate sexual misconduct, which has been characterized in an avalanche of stories and court cases.
“Our collective efforts are beginning to yield results,” Commodore Rebecca Patterson, the defence department’s director general of professional military conduct, said in a statement.
She said they still need more data before declaring that the reduction in reported cases is a trend, but she cautiously suggested “that members are witnessing and experiencing less sexualized and discriminatory behaviour.”
The new report stands somewhat in contrast to a Statistics Canada survey, released in May, which suggested there has been little change in the number of members of the Canadian military who said they reported sexual assault and misconduct.
That assessment came from a massive 2018 survey of regular force members which found 900 individuals — or 1.6 per cent — reported being victims of sexual assault, compared to 1.7 per cent two years ago.
‘The duty to report’
This new National Defence report noted that while the overall number of reported cases had declined, there was a sharp increase, in the last fiscal year, in the number of cases that were flagged to authorities by the victim’s supervisor — (15.2 percent of the cases in 2018-19 compared with 9.2 percent, the previous year).
That is significant because the auditor general last year criticized the practise of incident reporting by commanding officers, and even bystanders.
Under defence regulations, members of the military have what is known as “the duty to report” and face sanctions if they do not speak up about misconduct the moment they become aware of it.
That, the auditor said, resulted in unintended consequences and could make victims less likely to step forward. In an interview with The Canadian Press earlier this year, the country’s top military commander, Gen. Jonathan Vance, said the department was looking at ways to provide better support and to empower victims when they, or someone else, reports an incident. The requirement, however, will not be rescinded.
‘It takes time to build trust’
Last month, the Liberal government agreed to settle a class action lawsuit launched by plaintiffs who alleged they were the victims of sexual misconduct in the military.
The claim was launched by seven former military members on behalf of thousands of men and women and the settlement is expected to cost as much as $900 million.
Patterson said change takes time.
“Although progress has been made, it takes time to build trust and achieve lasting results — this issue is deeply rooted in society and present in a wide range of organizations,” she said.