Military cites privacy concerns for slow progress in review of unfounded cases
OTTAWA — Canada’s top military police officer is citing privacy concerns for the fact the Canadian Armed Forces have yet to make good on last year’s promise to revisit more than 160 cases of sexual assault previously deemed “unfounded.”
Military commanders are still committed to making good on last April’s promise by enlisting the help of outside advisers such as social workers and other experts to look at each case, Provost Marshal Brig.-Gen. Robert Delaney said in an interview.
“I need independent eyes on my files so they can do a legitimate review to see: Did we get it right in the context of how we investigated that particular allegation, how we concluded that file, how we coded that file?” he told The Canadian Press.
Senior military commanders announced plans last spring to review the cases after an internal review found nearly one in three cases logged between 2010 and 2016 received the “unfounded” label — a rate higher than that of most civilian police forces.
Ten months later, however, the review has yet to take place, in part because it has prompted its own questions and challenges — how to protect the privacy of complainants, for instance, and whether to remove their personal information from the files.
Delaney said he ultimately agreed with advocates who said the files should not be redacted, and that he is currently working with federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien to devise the best approach.
“We are in the final stages now of drafting our version of a privacy impact assessment. Once that is complete, we are off to see the federal privacy commissioner again,” he said.
“Once I get that check in the box, we can then sit down and say: Who are we going to have seated at the table?”
Much of the concern that has prompted the current focus on sexual misconduct within the military has revolved around complaints from victims that their cases were not handled properly.
Previously, many incidents would have been handled by less experienced military police officers at whichever Canadian Forces base or facility the alleged incident occurred.
But the fact the military is revisiting more than 160 files doesn’t necessarily mean that police will be suddenly reopening dozens of criminal investigations, Delaney warned.
It’s too early to know for sure and investigations will be reopened and pursued where the opportunity exists, he said.
But the majority will likely be reclassified as “founded, not cleared,” the provost marshal said, meaning there was reason to believe a sexual assault occurred but there wasn’t enough evidence to lay charges.
“When you code it as unfounded, you’re saying that complaint is not a legitimate complaint,” Delaney said. “So it means a great deal to them if I go back to them and say, ‘We’ve done a review on this, and we actually coded your file inappropriately. It is a founded case.’
“My expectation is that it largely falls into the improperly coded category as opposed to the improperly investigated category. Largely because I know the scrutiny that goes into every one of these files.”
- Lee Berthiaume
News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2018
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