External Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces - Programs and External Resources

Marie Deschamps, C.C. Ad.E.

External Review Authority

March 27, 2015

8. Programs and External Resources

An impressive number of programs are offered to support members who are victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault. They range from moral support, to medical and legal services. There is wide variation, however, in terms of how available such services actually are to members in need, and the degree to which they provide effective support.

8.1 Chaplains, Nurses, Social Workers and Physicians

Chaplains, nurses, social workers and physicians are present in every base, and are the most readily available resources for distressed victims. While interviewees identified limitations to the help victims received from these individuals, they remain an important resource.

8.1.1 Chaplains

In accordance with the Queen’s Regulation & Order on the provision of chaplains, every CO must make a chaplain available to base, unit or element members. 334 The ERA met with chaplains on each visit to bases. Notably, different chaplains appeared to have very different perceptions about what their role should be in relation to incidents of sexual harassment and assault. For example, on some bases the chaplains described themselves as having a passive role, offering mostly religious support and a listening service. On other bases, chaplains described a proactive role, sometimes even acting as an advocate for victims.

While members acknowledged the availability of chaplains, several appeared not to have had positive experiences. For example, a number of lower rank female members stated that they had had to ask permission from a superior in order to visit the chaplain, and were questioned on why they needed to resort to a chaplain. This resulted in the stigma of “crying padre”335 and a loss of confidentiality. Further, many members felt that the actual help that they were able to obtain from their chaplain was limited. For example, one interviewee stated that the chaplain had offered to “pray for him”,336 another was advised not to pursue a complaint in order to avoid harming her career,337 and yet another interviewee believed that the chaplain had subsequently passed on her confidences to her CO.338 It was clear to the ERA that base chaplains are not trained counsellors, and the actual support they are able to provide depends on the natural aptitude and willingness of the individual, rather than on any institutional approach.

Despite these criticisms and the fact that the help they provide is insufficient, however, the services of chaplains remain a comforting resource for many members.

8.1.2 Nurses and Social Workers

CAF members are also entitled to medical care, which may frequently follow from sexual harassment or assault. Medical care includes the support not only of physicians, but also of nurses and social workers. On almost all bases, nurses and social workers provided valuable information to the ERA. They appear to be able to inspire the confidence of the victims and to be able to support them more than any other support person in the CAF.

Many nurses and social workers who participated in the interviews described what they perceived as the lack of importance the CAF attaches to incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault. A number of social workers deplored being limited in the scope of the services they could offer. They felt that victims need the help of an advocate, a role that they were not equipped to play. Furthermore, while social workers appear to be an invaluable resource, they normally only become involved when a victim is seriously distressed and has been referred by their medical care unit. Indeed, while according to the policy, mental health crisis service can be obtained directly from the base medical clinic, members tend to go to their unit clinic first, which delays treatment. The advanced state of distress in which some nurses found victims illustrates the harm that may occur to the victim as a result of not being given support in a timely way.

Another difficulty with accessing medical services is the loss of confidentiality that results from having to attend the medical facility (which is usually centrally located, and often subjects the victim to public view) while waiting for care, and the stigma attached to being identified as having a “medical issue”.339

Overall, the ERA found that nurses and social workers are a precious resource for victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault and, at times, for distressed respondents or accused.

8.1.3 Physicians

The ERA notes that few physicians were open to speaking about incidents of sexual harassment or assault. In many instances, they indicated that they had never seen a case of either sexual harassment or assault which, in at least several cases, seemed to indicate a clear lack of transparency given information the ERA learned from other sources. 340 These claims were therefore troubling, and raised questions with respect to the willingness of the physician to address instances of sexual harassment or assault, or the training the individual had received. Such concerns were compounded by the reports of some interviewees who told the ERA that when they reported a sexual assault to a physician, they were met with scepticism rather than support.341

The ERA notes that physicians could be an important source of support for victims, however, if

8.2 Other Victim Support Services

Under the Military Police Victim Services Program, “every victim shall be provided with regular and continuous contact from the MP,” and “victims of sexual assault shall be afforded additional consideration.” The MP must be in regular and continuous contact with the victim to “discuss any assistance requirements and to update the status of the case.”342 Similarly, according to the policy, a Victim Assistance Coordinator should be appointed to act as a point of contact for all victims who have been assigned a CFNIS investigator. A flyer that is distributed on bases contains a list of services and contact information on victim support services.

Despite the clear policy of providing support to victims of sexual assault, interviewees reported a high rate of dissatisfaction with respect to victim support. 343Victims reported not being appropriately informed about the progress of the military justice process, and not being given adequate emotional support. 344 Victims also reported not being properly prepared for court appearances.345 Indeed, the Military Police Victim Services Program appears not to even be in use in a large number of cases. In sum, while, on paper, a number of mechanisms have been put in place to support victims, the ERA found that the reality is an ad hoc approach that fails to meet the needs of many victims in a variety of ways.

In addition to the Military Police Victim Services Program, other services are available on a handful of bases, such as Military Family Resource Centers, which sometimes take an active role in providing assistance to victims of sexual harassment and assault. Other examples include a resource center offering advocacy services for female victims of assault, partly funded by a provincial government. Again, however, these services are ad hoc and not available to many victims.

A number of help lines are also available to members, both local and nationwide. For example, the Canadian Forces Member Assistance program, in partnership with the Employee Assistance Service of Health Canada, offers a 24-hour a day, year-round crisis line. Members can also access the Canadian Forces Health information line to obtain guidance on how to access health care services.

A number of base organizations also distribute pamphlets listing available services in the community.346 Concerns with respect to the general mental health of members has also received increased attention in recent years, and information provided to members in that context often

includes referral information for chaplains, medical services, and the Members Assistance Program help line, as well as local civilian resources.347

At the RMCC in Kingston, a Peer Assistance Program (PAG) was created a number of years ago. The ERA met with several participants who had had experiences with, or were involved in, the program. Overall, the ERA was impressed with the training that the participants receive and the support they appear to be able to provide to their distressed peers, and suggests that further research be conducted into the effectiveness of PAG and the possibility of extending the program to other locations.

While there appear to be a number of programs available to victims of sexual assault, the difficulty most interviewees complained of is that information about services is hard to find; victims do not know who to turn to or where to find relevant information. Recruits indicated that they do not have access to the CAF website and, more generally, a number of interviewees criticized the fact that there is no website where information on all available resources is centralized. The amount of information a victim receives therefore varies widely depending on who they ask and where they are located. While a few female officers indicated that they had sometimes been able to identify signs of distress in lower rank women and offer support, most interviewees who reported incidents to the ERA indicated that they had hidden these incidents from their peers and supervisors.

8.3 External Resources

Members of the CAF also have access to external resources such as the Ombudsman for the Department of Defence, and the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). For the following reasons, the ERA found that these bodies provide little support or assistance to victims of sexual assault.

The CAF Harassment Advisor Manual indicates that the Ombudsman may act as a resource in the resolution of a complaint:

  • The Ombudsman is independent of the chain of command and is accountable directly to the Minister. If a complaint is made to the Ombudsman about the handling of a complaint, the Ombudsman may review only the process, to ensure that the individual or individuals are being treated in a fair and equitable manner.348

The Ombudsman takes the position that the institution has no jurisdiction over sexual assault matters, but that he does have jurisdiction to review the harassment process.

Despite the ERA’s efforts, the Ombudsman declined to participate in the Review. In any event, of the interviewees who had communicated with the Ombudsman’s Office, none had found it helpful. In some instances the Ombudsman refused to investigate a complaint,349 or did not follow-up on initial correspondence.350 In other cases, interviewees considered that this was not a useful avenue to pursue, based on a perception that the institution would not help vindicate the rights of a complainant.351 The ERA concludes that the Office of the Ombudsman is not a resource that is designed to help victims with either legal or emotional support, and should not be referred to as a resource for victims who need help before, during, or after a complaint of sexual harassment or assault.

A second external resource sometimes cited by the CAF is the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Members are told that they are free to go to the CHRC to seek redress in relation to complaints of sexual harassment. The difficulty with this channel is that the CHRC will only accept a complaint if the member has first exhausted all internal avenues within the CAF. In other words, the complainant will generally have to take the complaint up the chain of command and through the grievance process before the CHRC will accept his or her complaint. In fact, statistics provided to the ERA indicate that no harassment complaint—which would include a complaint of sexual harassment—was referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal between January 1, 2009 and July 18, 2014.352

8.4 Avenues for Improvement

There is no substitute for the internal resources described above. Victims, and sometimes the respondent, need support, and chaplains, nurses, social workers and physicians will often be one of the first professionals a victim will see after an incident has occurred. They therefore play a critical role in supporting victims and providing necessary medical care. These services therefore need to be maintained and strengthened. In particular, the responsibilities of chaplains, nurses, social workers and physicians should be enlarged and the scope of their role in assisting victims of sexual harassment and assault should be clarified. These individuals should be given additional training with respect to supporting victims of inappropriate sexual conduct; physicians and chaplains in particular should be given additional training to assist distressed members in a sensitive and appropriate manner.

Further, the numerous other ad hoc resources for victims need to be coordinated. The responsibility for coordination should rest with the center for accountability for sexual assault and harassment. In addition, CASAH staff should be available to help advocate for victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. In the case of sexual assault, the advocate could replace the Victim Support Coordinator and monitor how the victim’s needs are met. The advocate should be given responsibilities, such as accompanying the victim to give statements, contacting the relevant police authority for status up-dates on the case, etc. To be clear, the ERA does not recommend that a single position of “advocate” be created to coordinate support services. Rather CASAH staff should include a number of advocates who would be available to actively guide and advise victims who are navigating the complaint and investigation processes.

Recommendation No. 9

  • Assign responsibility for providing, coordinating and monitoring victim support to the center for accountability for sexual assault and harassment, including the responsibility for advocating on behalf of victims in the complaint and investigation processes.

334 QR&O 33.06
335 Focus group: female lower rank; Coordinator interviews
336 Volunteer contribution
337 Volunteer contribution
338 Focus group: female reserve, female lower rank; Coordinator interviews; Volunteer contributions
339 Focus group: female trainees; Coordinator interviews
340 Coordinator interviews
341 Focus group: PAT mixed gender given appropriate training and instruction as to the CAF’s expectations in that regard.
342 Victim Assistance Program, document provided to the ERA by CAF
343 Volunteer contributions
344 Volunteer contributions
345 Volunteer contributions
346 For example, the Defence Community Wellness Advisory Team of Esquimalt distributes a crisis pamphlet listing local resources such as the Victoria Women’s Sexual Assault Center.
347 Coordinator interviews
348 Harassment Advisor Manual, p. 20
349 Volunteer contributions
350 Volunteer contribution
351 Coordinator interview; Volunteer contribution
352 Manual count provided to the ERA; Coordinator interview

Page details

Date modified: