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Military sexual assault trials have high acquittal rate despite zero-tolerance policy, study finds

Soldiers tried for sexual assault are acquitted in military courts far more often than defendants in civilian courts who face the same charges, a new report says.

Even those charged with violent sex-crimes are sometimes allowed to plead guilty to minor military offences and then walk away with nothing more than a fine and reprimand.

Elaine Craig, a law professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has recently completed the first scholarly examination of the prosecution of sexual assault by the Canadian military’s legal system. She says in her report that since General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, launched a zero-tolerance policy called Operation Honour in 2015, only one soldier has been convicted by a military judge of sexually assaulting a female member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

A second conviction was overturned on appeal and is now being examined by the Supreme Court of Canada.

During the same period, nine of the military’s 14 sexual-assault trials resulted in acquittals on all charges. That is an acquittal rate of 64 per cent, which is “insanely high,” Prof. Craig told The Globe and Mail in a telephone interview. (The acquittal rate between 2010 and 2018 was 48 per cent.)

By comparison, the acquittal rate for sexual assaults tried in civilian courts was just 5 per cent in the years since Operation Honour began, says her study, which will soon be published in the Dalhousie Law Journal.

She did not suggest reasons for the difference.

Meanwhile, many alleged sexual assaults by members of the Armed Forces are not tried as such, Prof. Craig said, because the accused is permitted to plead guilty to lesser disciplinary offences that are allowed under the National Defence Act, such as conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline, which does not always result in a criminal record.

It has been nearly four years since Gen. Vance introduced Operation Honour to combat what a study by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps described as a “sexualized culture” within the Forces that is conducive to sexual harassment and assault.

Although the number of military members who say they were sexually assaulted within the past year is virtually unchanged from 2016, Gen. Vance has spoken positively about the way the military justice system handles sex crimes.

Source: The Globe And Mail




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