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Canada's top military police officer is citing privacy concerns for the fact the Canadian Armed Forces have yet to make good on last year's promise to revisit more than 160 cases of sexual assault previously deemed "unfounded."

Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press

Canada's top military police officer is citing privacy concerns for the fact the Canadian Armed Forces have yet to make good on last year's promise to revisit more than 160 cases of sexual assault previously deemed "unfounded."

Senior commanders announced plans last April to review the cases after an internal review found nearly one in three cases logged between 2010 and 2016 received the "unfounded" label – a rate higher than most civilian police forces.

Ten months later, however, the review has yet to take place, in large part because of Provost Marshal Brig.-Gen. Robert Delaney's plan to enlist the help of external advisers such as social workers to look at each case.

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Military commanders are still committed to reviewing the unfounded cases, Delaney told The Canadian Press, but are working through several questions and challenges associated with employing outsiders in the review, including how best to protect the privacy of complainants and whether to remove personal information from files.

Delaney said he ultimately agreed with advocates who said the files should not be redacted, and that he is currently working with federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien to devise the best approach.

"We are in the final stages now of drafting our version of a privacy impact assessment. Once that is complete, we are off to see the federal privacy commissioner again," he said.

"Once I get that check in the box, we can then sit down and say: Who are we going to have seated at the table?"

Much of the concern that has prompted the current focus on sexual misconduct within the military has revolved around complaints from victims that their cases were not handled properly.

Previously, many incidents would have been handled by less experienced military police officers at whichever Canadian Forces base or facility the alleged incident occurred.

Those procedures have been transformed since retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps's explosive report in 2015 blew up the military's assertions that it was doing a good job dealing with sexual misconduct in the ranks.

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One of Delaney's first orders after that report was to have the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service handle all sexual assault investigations. The result was an immediate decline in the number of unfounded cases.

But the fact the military is revisiting files that were labelled unfounded before that order was issued doesn't necessarily mean that police will be suddenly reopening dozens of criminal investigations, Delaney warned.

It's too early to know for sure, he said, and investigations will be reopened and pursued where possible.

But the majority will likely be reclassified as "founded, not cleared," the provost marshal said, meaning there was reason to believe a sexual assault occurred but there wasn't enough evidence to lay charges.

"When you code it as unfounded, you're saying that complaint is not a legitimate complaint," Delaney said. "So it means a great deal to them if I go back to them and say, 'We've done a review on this, and we actually coded your file inappropriately. It is a founded case.'

"My expectation is that it largely falls into the improperly coded category as opposed to the improperly investigated category. Largely because I know the scrutiny that goes into every one of these files."

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Military police received 193 reports of sexual assault in 2017, more than twice the 93 reported in 2014. There have also been more charges, with 44 in 2016 compared to 24 in 2014. The numbers for 2017 have yet to be released.

Military police are concluding about 62 per cent of reported sexual assault cases, Delaney said, which is close to the average for civilian police forces despite having room for improvement.

There has been a shift in policies in the year since The Globe’s investigation into how police handle sexual assault cases was published. Those who work daily with sexual assault victims, in policing, academia and victim support service, share what they’ve experienced.
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