The Sexual Assault Review Program (SARP) External Review Team (ERT) recently released its report that examined unfounded sexual assault cases in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) from 2010-2018.
Intending to validate the unfounded coding, and conduct a substantive review of the investigation, the ERT concluded that none of the unfounded cases, cases where it was deemed no crime was committed, were reopened for investigation, nor were their outcomes changed.
“The implementation of independent file reviews is quickly becoming recognized as a best practice in sexual assault investigations across Canada. It’s heartening to see the Canadian Forces working, along with other levels of policing, for transparency and accountability to survivors who take on the difficult task of reporting. During the review, we saw many strong examples of CFNIS rapport-building with complainants, and a commitment to deepening the service’s knowledge of trauma-informed interviewing, to encourage victims to come forward,” said Sunny Marriner, project lead – Violence against Women (VAW) Advocate Case Review.
“My goal as an advocate is to ensure that regardless of where or to what force a survivor of sexual violence reports in Canada, the same standards of investigation and transparency are applied. The work of CFNIS’ External Review Team is a good first step in that direction,” added Marriner.
While reviewing the files, the ERT found that Military Police investigators developed a good rapport with the victims.
Marriner, along with facilitators from the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS), a civilian crown prosecutor specializing in sexual assault prosecutions, a team leader from the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre in the Department of National Defence, and a primary care nurse with the Canadian Forces Health Services Group conducted the reviews over a ten-day period in December 2018 and a five day period in May 2019.
“Being part of the External Review Team was a unique opportunity to share feedback and make recommendations regarding best practices in the field of sexual violence and trauma. Trauma-informed investigations are beneficial both for the individual who is reporting the sexual assault, as well as for investigators, in helping them lead more productive sexual assault investigations. The Sexual Misconduct Response Centre looks forward to future collaboration with the CFNIS in this capacity,” Elizabeth Cyr, team leader, Sexual Misconduct Response Centre.
The second phase of the review also included representatives from a member with Children Protection Aid Society and a member representing the national Cadets and Junior Canadian Rangers.
“I was privileged to be involved with this important Canadian Armed Forces initiative to review historical unfounded sexual assault cases, including cases involving young persons and pleased to see the positive progress that is being made to ensure that investigations are conducted and coded appropriately. It is reassuring to know that the External Review Team observations will be considered and incorporated into future CFNIS training and potentially with more education-oriented toward investigating cases involving youths,” said Captain Elizabeth Hailstone, National Cadet Junior Rangers Support Group.
Members of the ERT also provided their opinions to the Commanding Officer of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service in areas such as policy, training, interviewing, CCJS coding, investigative techniques, infrastructure setting, and legal considerations.
According to a Department of National Defence press release, the observations were well received and are being analyzed with a view to implementing the lessons learned.
“I am very pleased at the progress of the ERT to date and their professionalism and commitment to assist us in continuing to elevate investigative standards and quality of services to victims. Their efforts will, in no small part, assist us in continuing to improve our investigative processes and support to victims,” said LCol. Kevin Cadman, Commanding Officer, Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.
The press release noted, “Any member who has experienced or witnessed harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour of any kind in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has a range of options available to him or her. For more information regarding available services, please visit the Operation HONOUR site.”