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Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance is seen at his office in Ottawa on Nov. 13, 2015.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

The Chief of the Defence Staff has thanked a former master corporal for helping to shine a light on a culture of harmful behaviour within the Canadian Forces and drawing attention to the inadequate response of military commanders to a sexual assault complaint she lodged in 2012.

In a statement released on Tuesday after Stéphanie Raymond was apprised of the findings of a confidential board of inquiry into her case, General Jonathan Vance praised Ms. Raymond "for having the courage and tenacity to identify a series of failures by her chain of command which were indicative of larger systemic issues."

Ms. Raymond spent two years pursuing her complaint before sexual assault charges were laid against her superior officer. Ms. Raymond was denied a promotion and then dishonourably discharged by the military in December, 2013, after the charges were laid.

While the board of inquiry found a failure to apply basic leadership principles in administering the complaint, Ms. Raymond and her lawyer, Michel Drapeau, said the confidential document goes further, tying the complaint to her lack of promotion and her dismissal.

But they said Gen. Vance wrote in a confidential letter that accompanied the report that there is not enough evidence to lead to the conclusion that the complaint and the dismissal were linked.

"The letter of Gen. Vance is totally absurd," Ms. Raymond said. "It's sad but not surprising. I think it is a dark finish for Gen. Vance but, for me, I agree with the conclusion of the commission of inquiry."

The report found that there was an institutional inability to grasp the impact of the incident on Ms. Raymond, a lack of communication with her throughout the process and the absence of follow-up to ensure her well-being. The military could not confirm the contents of either the report or the letter, saying they were covered by privacy laws.

The board of inquiry was ordered by Tom Lawson, the former chief of the defence staff, who looked into the case and found that the military treated Ms. Raymond unfairly. He offered her an apology, a promotion and compensation.

On the day in July, 2015, that he was sworn in as Canada's top soldier, Gen. Vance made it clear that sexual misconduct would not be tolerated under his command. A special investigation had found that such behaviour was "endemic" in the military and tolerated by senior leaders.

Gen. Vance quickly launched a program called Operation Honour to stamp out sexual misconduct within the Canadian Forces and, in April of this year, it was announced that 77 members were being released as part of that effort. Several charges have been laid. Even as Ms. Raymond received the report, Lieutenant-Colonel Stephan Popowych, an army staff officer, was charged with sexually assaulting a civilian in 1999, when he was a student at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.

Warrant Officer André Gagnon, who was accused of assaulting Ms. Raymond in a military building in Quebec in 2011, claimed the sex was consensual, although he admitted that she did not respond sexually as he touched her and undressed her. He was found not guilty.

Ms. Raymond insisted throughout the criminal proceedings that her name not be protected by the usual publication ban that applies to sexual assault victims. And she said on Tuesday that she has no regrets.

In his statement, Gen. Vance said many of the board's recommendations in her case had already been implemented through Operation Honour.

"Because of the concerns she raised," he said, "we are now better aware of how tremendous an impact harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour has on our people and we are taking decisive steps to ensure this type of situation does not reoccur."

Colonel Joseé Robidoux, who briefed Ms. Raymond about the findings of the board of inquiry report, said in a telephone interview that the report confirms that the change of policies resulting from Operation Honour are "on the right track."

But it also points to other measures that are required to ensure military leaders look after the members of the Forces who report to them "at all times," Col. Robidoux said. "We have a duty as leaders to look after our soldiers," she said, "but also to communicate what is happening."

Canada’s defence chief says efforts to eliminate inappropriate sexual behaviour in the Forces have yielded ‘tangible’ results. Gen. Jonathan Vance says reports of sexual misconduct are increasingly made by third parties.

The Canadian Press

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