The Canadian Armed Forces are acting on their threat to fire anyone involved in serious sexual misconduct, announcing they are releasing 77 members as part of efforts to root out inappropriate behaviour in their ranks.
The new figure was unveiled on Friday in the latest progress report on Operation Honour, which is designed to put an end to sexual wrongdoing in the military. The initiative has recently grown to include efforts to reduce the number of criminal investigations of sexual assault cases in the forces that are closed after being classified as unfounded.
As part of the report, the CAF said the number of unfounded cases in 2016-2017 is down to 7.3 per cent of complaints. By contrast, the unfounded rate in the 2010-2015 period was nearly 29 per cent.
A Globe and Mail investigation revealed that one of every five sexual-assault allegations reported to Canadian law enforcement is dismissed as unfounded – a term used to mean police have determined no violation of the law occurred or was attempted.
The series prompted more than 50 police organizations, as well as the military, to review cases to ensure they were not closed prematurely.
Officials from inside and outside the military are taking a second look at 166 cases from 2010 to 2016, promising to reopen all of those that need further investigation.
"They [will] do this to look for potential errors and bias and offer suggestions on how we can improve," General Jonathan Vance, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said at a news conference.
Gen. Vance added that, as he promised last December, the Canadian Armed Forces are getting rid of members who have been found guilty of sexual offences in military and civilian trials. Since last January, 77 release notices have been issued, leading to the removal of 24 members to date. The remaining cases are still working their way through the system.
"My orders and my expectations were clear, and the consequences are now clear as well," Gen. Vance said.
He added that the Forces are also relying on administrative sanctions, such as warnings and counselling, as a way to change behaviour in less serious cases.
"We have a right in the Armed Forces to have the ethos and culture necessary to eliminate this [inappropriate behaviour] in our ranks," he said.
The CAF added that it is attracting a greater proportion of female recruits, an increase from 13 per cent to 17 per cent of the total in the past year. This has led to the "first positive growth in over a decade" of the proportion of women in the Canadian Forces.
According to the new numbers, members of the Canadian Armed Forces reported 504 cases of harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour in the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
The majority of cases involved jokes, belittling language and sexual imagery (281). Other reports included harassment (74), assault (47), voyeurism (seven), indecent exposure (six) and child pornography (three).
In addition, the Canadian Forces revealed that 288 cases were referred to military police in 2016-2017. In relation to the 267 cases that were deemed to be founded, the military police laid 64 charges that led to 30 summary trials or courts martial, with 27 guilty verdicts.
The military says its crackdown on inappropriate sexual behaviour has had a positive impact in its ranks, with greater awareness of the issue and a greater propensity for reporting cases of wrongdoing.
"Victims are coming forward to report, knowing that they will be provided the care and support they need. Recruits are being informed of the standard of conduct they will be expected to uphold and the consequences of failing to do so before they join the CAF," said the third progress report on Operation Honour.
More than 43,000 active members of the Canadian Forces, representing 53 per cent of the military, participated in a Statistics Canada survey last year that found a greater prevalence of inappropriate and unwanted sexual behaviour than in the general population.
About 1.7 per cent said they had been sexually assaulted in the workplace or by a fellow military member within the past 12 months. That compares with 0.9 per cent of all working Canadians who reported that they had been the victim of a similar type of assault in any context over the same period of time.