Army attempted to transfer 62 sex offense cases to civilian police – but half were dismissed

Military police in Canada have attempted to transfer 62 sexual assault cases to civilian police forces since last fall, but about half of those cases have been denied and returned.

The Canadian Armed Forces have released new figures in response to inquiries from CBC News and the release of a scathing independent report into the current crisis of sexual misconduct in the military.

Canadian Armed Forces Provost Marshal Brig.-Gen. Simon Trudeau confirmed that the military had attempted to transfer 49 new sexual offense cases to civilian police since November 2021. Police forces accepted 22 of the cases and dismissed 27.

The military police also attempted to transfer 13 open files to the civilian police; nine of these files are currently under investigation and four cases have been refused.

“The transfer and referral of cases raises a wide range of complex issues,” Trudeau wrote in a statement on the numbers, which were current as of May 30.

“Some agencies were unwilling to accept investigations for reasons that reflect the diversity of law enforcement contexts in Canada.”

The numbers show the challenges the military faces trying to follow through on an interim recommendation by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbor to transfer military sex offense cases to civilian investigators.

On Monday, Arbor released a far-reaching final report calling for the Canadian Forces to be permanently stripped of their power – granted in 1998 – to investigate and prosecute sexual offenses among service members.

Arbor called on the military to turn over sex offense records to civilians as part of its interim recommendations last fall — recommendations Defense Minister Anita Anand accepted in November 2021.

Now Arbor wants a permanent change that would involve revoking the military’s jurisdiction so that civilian police departments and the courts deal exclusively with cases of military sexual misconduct. She said it would provide “more fairness for victims”.

Some civilian police forces resist accepting cases

Arbor has expressed serious concerns that the military is “eager to maintain” its jurisdiction. She also pointed out at a press conference on Monday that civilian police forces “have already, surprisingly, in my view, expressed in some cases some reluctance to exercise jurisdiction that they currently have.”

“Civilian police forces and prosecuting authorities already have full jurisdiction to investigate sexual offenses involving CAF members, including those committed on defense property,” Arbor’s report said.

“While some external police forces were open to receiving files almost immediately, others refused to accept any files involving CAF members.”

Arbor’s report says that at the provincial level, some chiefs of police associations and the OPP commission “joined the list of denials.”

The BC Urban Mayors Caucus sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Anand in January warning that “the civil justice system is currently overwhelmed with its ability to be on the front lines in the fight against the pandemic. of COVID-19”.

The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police has warned the province’s Solicitor General that taking on military sexual misconduct cases could open the door to a large number of historical sexual offense complaints, the report says. of Arbour.

WATCH: Louise Arbor discusses turning over sex offense files to civilian police

Arbor discusses recommendation for civilian police review of military sexual misconduct

Former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbor explains why she recommends that civilian police be tasked with ongoing oversight of cases of military sexual misconduct.

The group also said investigators should be trained in the military context and expressed concerns about investigators’ access to military documents, the report added.

The Quebec Association of Police Directors said it would not be able to accept military records without the approval of the province’s public safety minister, Arbor wrote, while the Association of Chiefs BC Police has recommended that police departments refuse to accept military records until legal and procedural issues are resolved.

The RCMP began accepting cases earlier this year

Not all police forces resisted.

Anand said the RCMP began accepting cases from the military in January. The Quebec Ministry of Public Security has been advising police forces in the province to accept new cases since February. Several local police forces have also accepted cases on an ad hoc basis, Anand said. The Winnipeg and Thunder Bay police services, as well as the Nottawasaga Ontario Provincial Police, are three examples cited in Arbor’s report.

“We have made substantial progress in returning investigations to civilian police departments,” Anand said in a statement to CBC News on Thursday.

“As Ms. Arbor points out in her report, some jurisdictions have encountered difficulties. To that end, I am writing again to provincial and territorial partners this week about the way forward.”

Anand said she plans to create an intergovernmental body to manage the transfer of cases. Arbor said that shouldn’t be necessary.

WATCH: Defense Minister Anita Anand reacts to Louise Arbor report

Anand reacts to a report on the Canadian military

National Defense Minister Anita Anand said she accepts the recommendations of a report by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbor on the Canadian military.

Arbor estimates in his report that taking over military cases would leave civilian police forces in most provinces and territories with only about 20 additional sexual assault investigations per year, according to military statistics from 2016 to 2021. Ontario is the exception; Arbor’s report indicates that police services in that province may have to deal with about 70 cases a year.

Arbor also said she estimates that about 30 sexual misconduct cases are tried each year in the military court system across the country. Civil courts handle more than 2,300 sex offense cases a year, she said.

“We’re seriously talking about 30 cases a year across the country,” Arbor said at Monday’s news conference.

Arbor cited the example of impaired driving cases. She said that while military and civilian authorities both have jurisdiction over such cases, the military is “happy to let the civilians” deal with them.

Elaine Craig of Dalhousie University is an expert in sexual assault law and conducts research on the Canadian military justice system. She said she found it “very disturbing” that civilian police forces had dismissed so many military records.

“I think it’s important to emphasize that the civil system has always had full jurisdiction,” Craig said.

“It seems to me that the civilian police forces who accept these cases … are doing their job and those who refuse them, seeking more money or task forces or whatever, are failing in their responsibilities. And, frankly, in the absence of these survivors.”

Expert calls for changes to the National Defense Act

Michel Drapeau, a long-time military law expert and retired colonel, argues that the only way for real change to happen is for the government to amend section 70 of the National Defense Act to prohibit the military from prosecute sex offenders.

Drapeau said that as long as the military maintains jurisdiction in law, civilian authorities have the ability to say no and refuse cases.

“The only way to make sure this is 100% done is to change Section 70 and make sexual assault one of the offenses the military has no jurisdiction over,” said Drapeau. . “It’s that simple.”

Article 70 stipulates that the military cannot try servicemen accused of murder, manslaughter and a range of other offences.

Anand called Arbor’s request to permanently transfer the cases to civilians as a “system-changing recommendation” that the government would consider “seriously” while the interim measure is in place.

“I am writing again this week to provincial and territorial partners on the way forward…. I am steadfastly committed to ensuring that those who have been victims of sexual misconduct receive the support they deserve,” Anand said.

The Canadian Forces Provost Marshal said the military police are currently transferring cases to civilians in a “deliberate and carefully planned manner” and that “the primary concern is supporting victims throughout the process.”

“Our goal is for civilian police services to investigate all criminal sexual offenses allegedly committed by a CAF member over which they have jurisdiction,” the brigadier-general wrote. Trudeau in a statement.

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