The Canadian Armed Forces’ Board of Inquiry (BOI) released a long overdue report on April 12 regarding allegations of sexual assault of Afghan children. The report investigated allegations that Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members were told by superiors to ignore incidents of sexual assault of minors by Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) soldiers.
The report concluded that there was no evidence that CAF personnel were told by superiors to ignore incidents of sexual assault and that “this accusation was vehemently denied by every CF member interviewed.” However, the report did state that the CAF could have taken better action to prevent such cases from happening.
“At the same time, the Board finds that within the CF contingent deployed in Afghanistan, sufficient information existed as early as 2006 to warrant action on the possible sexual abuse of minors by the ANSF,” stated the report.
The report stated that because, in several instances, no one reported the incidents action could not be taken.
“The principal reason for this is that there were numerous communication failures within the mid-level chain of command; specifically in the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Kandahar, ITF-Afg LEGAD, CEFCOM LEGAD and by a member of the Land Staff,” added the report.
The BOI acknowledged, however, that the CAF was engaged in a dynamic and dangerous mission and under constant attacks.
The report is a result of a series of articles published in the Toronto Star in 2008. The articles claimed that several Canadian soldiers had witnessed sexual assault of Afghan minors by ANSF soldiers but could not intervene as the chain of command had ordered soldiers to ignore this behaviour. The articles further alleged these soldiers developed post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) as a result of witnessing this incident and failing to intervene. The main source of these articles was Cpl. Travis Schouten, who was deployed to Afghanistan between Sept. 2006 and Feb. 2007.
The report does confirm that CAF soldiers witnessed or suspected incidents of sexual assault, including incidents of genital fondling and oral sex.
The BOI began working on the report on Oct. 7, 2008, and submitted its findings in Jan. 15, 2010. The report has taken six years to be released.
“The scope and complexity of the recommendations made by the Board were a significant factor in the length of time it took to review and approve the BOI report. Competing CAF priorities also impacted the completion time, which was offset by the fact that several initiatives were addressing the most pressing shortfalls in the interim period,” stated a press release issued by the CAF.
The report made several recommendations to change policy and rewrite the Code of Conduct to include Human Rights Law and incorporate ethics. It also advised that the CAF Use of Force manual also needed amendments.
“I welcome the findings of the BOI and acknowledge that work needs to be done on several fronts, including the length of time it has taken us to release this report. However, I am pleased to note that the Canadian Armed Forces has already acted on many of the recommendations, which will help contribute to the safety of vulnerable populations in current and future theatres of operations,” said Gen. Jonathan Vance, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
The CAF has already taken a number of actions over the years to meet the recommendations. Some of the actions taken by the CAF include a directive issued by the then CDS in June 2008 to report and intervene in incidents of sexual abuse of Afghan children. The CAF also made improvements to pre-deployment training, including enhancing training on the law of armed conflict and cultural awareness training.
In 2013, the military issued a new Code of Values and Ethics and in 2016 the military launched an initiative to further include gender perspectives in the planning, execution, analysis and evaluation of CAF operations.
**Feature Image taken by: Sergeant Matthew McGregor, Canadian Forces Combat Camera**