An Examination of How the Canadian Military's Legal System Responds to Sexual Assault
Although the Canadian military has been conducting sexual assault trials for over twenty years, there has been no academic study of them and no external review of them. This review of the military’s sexual assault cases (the first of its kind) yields several important findings. First, the conviction rate for the offence of sexual assault by courts martial is dramatically lower than the rate in Canada’s civilian criminal courts. The difference between acquittal rates in sexual assault cases in these two systems appears to be even larger. Since Operation Honour was launched in 2015 only one soldier has been convicted of sexually assaulting a female member of the Canadian Armed Forces by Canada’s military legal system. (One other conviction was overturned on appeal and is pending before the Supreme Court of Canada.) In addition, plea bargains in which accused individuals can avoid Criminal Code convictions by pleading guilty to military specific discipline offences like drunkenness, conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline, and disgraceful conduct have been used in some cases involving aggressive sexual attacks. Sanctions for even these serious sexual attacks involved fines and reprimands. Last, the decisions of military judges in some cases suggest a critical failure to recognize the Canadian military’s culture of hostility to women documented in the Deschamps Report. Together these findings raise the following question: regardless of the outcome of the current constitutional challenge to courts martial proceedings in Canada (in R v Beaudry),† should the military’s legal system continue to maintain jurisdiction over sexual assault cases?
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Elaine Craig Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law