Roughly 145 cases of sexual misconduct allegations involving Canadian Armed Forces members so far could be transferred to civilian police to investigate.
Defence Minister Anita Anand announced last week she would act on a recommendation to transfer military sexual misconduct cases to civilian police to investigate and to civilian courts for prosecution.
The Office of the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal shared the number of cases under consideration for transfer to the civilian justice system with CBC News on Friday.
“This number could change as each case progresses and is assessed,” Lt.-Col. Jamie Bresolin, spokesperson for the provost marshal’s office, told CBC News.
Bresolin said military police are now reviewing each investigation to see which cases should be handed over. The cases that will be transferred involve sexual assault allegations or other criminal offences of a sexual nature, the office said.
The government has not yet set up a process to transfer cases to the civilian judicial system. The provost marshal’s office said it is “already engaged” with senior leaders at the RCMP and police chiefs across Canada on a path forward. Another meeting is scheduled for later this month.
In the meantime, military police investigators are continuing to investigate sexual misconduct cases to determine if charges can be laid under the National Defence Act, Bresolin said.
The Canadian Forces National Investigative Unit (CFNIS) currently investigates allegations of sexual assault and misconduct in the ranks. CFNIS has come in for intense scrutiny this year related to the ongoing sexual misconduct crisis.
Since early February 2021, at least seven senior military leaders have been investigated by CFNIS over allegations of sexual misconduct. Three others were placed on leave over their handling of sexual misconduct files. Another commander was subjected to a unit disciplinary investigation.
One of those senior military leaders investigated by CFNIS is Canada’s top commander, Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Art McDonald, who is on leave with pay while the Prime Minister’s Office considers his future.
McDonald denied the allegations and launched a public campaign for reinstatement, saying he was exonerated because charges were not laid and he should get his old job back.
In response, military police issued a rare statement saying the lack of charges did not mean the allegation was unfounded. The government is now reviewing the case. The position of chief of the defence staff is a governor-in-council appointment — meaning the prime minister can dismiss McDonald at any time.
Anand’s move to transfer military sexual misconduct cases to the civilian justice system was based on an interim recommendation by retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour.
The government tasked Arbour with reviewing the sexual misconduct crisis and drafting a final report.
Arbour issued a letter to Anand’s predecessor Harjit Sajjan at the end of October saying recurrent allegations of historical sexual misconduct against senior military leaders led her to “conclude that immediate remedial actions are necessary to start restoring trust” in the Canadian Armed Forces.
She said that during her review she heard from sexual misconduct survivors who said they were skeptical of the independence and competence of military police.
“This perception is pervasive in the CAF and the DND and, I believe, a large segment of public opinion,” wrote Arbour. “It has created serious mistrust in the military justice system and, in particular, in the investigative phase.”
In a joint statement, the Canadian Forces provost marshal and the director of military prosecutions said that the shift of case files to the civilian system is “appropriate and necessary” and although military police investigators and prosecutors “possess the professional skills, dedication and competence,” it’s not enough to “build and maintain” trust in the system.
Arbour’s recommendation is based on a key finding in former Supreme Court justice Morris Fish’s landmark report on the military’s justice system, released in June.
Fish said sexual misconduct cases should be handed over to civilians until more protections are in place for victims.
Anand said that the transfer of files to the civilian system is a temporary measure right now, but if Arbour finds during the court of her investigation that it should be permanent, the government will act on that recommendation.