The Royal Military College of Canada was told two years ago that senior cadets were sexually assaulting younger students, but the man who brought the problem to the attention of the institution's leaders says his warnings received little more than a lackadaisical response.
Michel Drapeau, a lawyer and retired military colonel, could see in 2013 that the military college had a very big problem on its hands. Young women were enrolling in the storied school in Kingston, Ont., in the hope of eventually serving their country – but instead were having their lives and career plans torn apart by sexual assaults being perpetrated by senior male cadets.
More than 10 female cadets, most of them in their late teens, had turned to Mr. Drapeau for help. In every case, he said, the allegations "were a lot more than [inappropriate] touching."
The women, who feared that lodging a formal complaint with the school would make them pariahs on campus and in the eyes of military leaders, did not want him to bring their assailants to justice. Instead, Mr. Drapeau said Thursday, they needed legal protection to prevent the military from expelling or demoting them as a result of the psychological toll.
The girls were "either being suspended or they had failed a year and they were being told, 'You can't stay in the college,'" he said, "or they were no longer going to go into the trade they were supposed to go into and they were facing a release."
Mr. Drapeau had not been asked to pursue criminal action. But he also could not let the situation continue.
So, on June 3, 2013, he wrote to the president of the school's board of governors to say he had become aware of incidents of sexual assault and harassment against an unspecified number of young women. Third- and fourth-year cadets, he explained, were using their position of authority and lack of supervision to exploit those in junior years.
"This problem is compounded by the perception that the RMCC chain of command is allegedly acting in a detached and indifferent manner to, not only the risks, but also to the known existence of some of these occurrences," Mr. Drapeau wrote. "This perception has, in my opinion, led to a perceptible lack of trust in the RMCC chain of command by a number of victims of sexual abuse or sexual harassment."
The president of the board of governors, he said, responded by saying the matter would be investigated when classes resumed in the fall.
"I was furious," said Mr. Drapeau. He then sent a copy of his letter to Brigadier-General J.G.E. Tremblay, the commander of the college, and to Peter MacKay, who was minister of defence, saying he hoped the matter would receive more immediate attention.
It is unknown whether Mr. MacKay saw the letter, but he did not respond. Brig.-Gen. Tremblay replied in writing on June 14 saying he takes allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault at the school "extremely seriously" and that he would be looking into the matter.
But, Mr. Drapeau said, there was no further correspondence from the college. Nor have the cadets reported any changes in the school culture since he sounded the alarm.
The school did not return requests for comment on Thursday, the day a major report on "Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment" in the Canadian Forces acknowledged the problems at Canada's military colleges along with issues in the military at large.
The report said college "participants reported that sexual harassment is considered a 'passage obligé,' and sexual assault an ever-present risk. One officer cadet joked that they do not report sexual harassment because it happens all the time."
When young cadets start their military careers in an environment where sexual assault is tolerated, it is little wonder that it continues after they graduate, said Mr. Drapeau. Just this week, he brought two more assault cases to the attention of commanders, he said.
"I took one of the victims to be interviewed by the military police yesterday, and to say that she is destroyed would be an understatement," Mr. Drapeau said.
He also acted for Stéphanie Raymond, a corporal in the reserves who complained that she had been assaulted by a superior officer. The man was acquitted after arguing he sincerely believed she had consented to sexual relations – a case that has been appealed by the prosecution.
But "Stéphanie illustrated in many many respects what I have seen in so many of these other cases," Mr. Drapeau said.
When Corporal Raymond complained about having to work in the same office as the man she had accused of assaulting her, the military first put a curtain between their desks. Then it moved her an hour's drive away. And, finally, it discharged her.
Earlier this year, General Tom Lawson ordered an investigation into the way Cpl. Raymond had been treated. She was also given a postrelease promotion, a decoration and a certificate of service.
Ashley Bickerton, a student at the University of Ottawa who this week defended a doctoral thesis about military assaults, said that despite the promises made by senior offices after the release of the new report, she does not believe the military can be relied upon to tackle the issue seriously.
"I think that has been proven time and time again that, when it comes to investigating themselves, they are not equipped to do so. That in fact, there is a culture of denial in the military," said Ms. Bickerton.
Mr. Drapeau agrees. Of all of the cadets who came to him saying they had been sexually assaulted at the school, only one is pressing a complaint against the cadet she says was responsible.
"I am not surprised at the fear, the lack of confidence," Mr. Drapeau said. "It's a culture." And the military "is not making the structural changes that we need," he said.