Number of complaints over sexual offences in Canada's military up 22 per cent: Report

Canada's Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance speaks during a news conference upon the release of a progress report on addressing inappropriate sexual behaviour in the Canadian Armed Forces, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on Aug 30, 2016.
Canada's Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance speaks during a news conference upon the release of a progress report on addressing inappropriate sexual behaviour in the Canadian Armed Forces, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on Aug 30, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

TORONTO (Reuters) - The number of sexual offence complaints in the Canadian Armed Forces will increase 22 per cent this year, but that is a "positive indicator" because it means more alleged victims are speaking up, according to a military report released on Tuesday (Aug 30).

The progress report was the second on Operation Honour, a military programme to tackle the issue started in 2015 after an external investigation said the Canadian Armed Forces had an underlying sexualised culture hostile to women and gays.

According to the Canadian report, the military saw 106 founded complaints for incidents in the first six months of this year, which it said was a 22 per cent increase without providing a comparative figure.

A Department of National Defence spokesman later said the number of complaints in the second half of the year will likely be the same. That means the projected total for this year, 212, will be about 22 percent more than the 174 from 2015.

"This increase appears to be a positive indicator that military members are more aware of the problem and more confident in stepping forward and reporting incidents," the report said.

The investigation from 2015, by a former Supreme Court justice, found a broadly held perception in the lower ranks that those higher up condone inappropriate sexual conduct or are willing to turn a blind eye.

Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance said the new progress report shows Operation Honour has been working, and said he felt encouraged.

He told a news conference in Ottawa that as result of investigations between April and July this year, 30 people received "career-impacting" punishments.

"Those who do not see the wisdom of what we are trying to accomplish and choose not to modify their negative behavior will be compelled to do so or they will be released," he said.

Western militaries are increasingly coming under scrutiny for their handling of sexual offences. A Pentagon report in May said sexual assaults in the US military are still underreported.