VICE has obtained documents that prove that the Canadian Forces' cadet program has grappled with hundreds of cases of sexual assault, harassment, discrimination, and abuse. And according to these files, the program is often run by men with "less than stellar motives" in positions of power. Likewise the Department of National Defence has been panned for their inaction on this rampant issue.
Court records and documents obtained through Access to Information requests show that the military training program, frequently held on Canadian Forces bases across the country, has been rife with sexual assault and harassment. And though the military manages the program, investigations frequently fell through and charges were rarely laid.
The documents provided, which span over four decades, outline a culture of harassment and assault in the program, which is for prospective military recruits aged 12 to 18. Many of the cases involve older staff members, or Canadian Forces personnel.
The program is federally sponsored, and frequently held on Canadian Forces bases, but it is not directly a government program. Staff of the cadet program are not necessarily Canadian Forces members, but the program—which is especially targeted at troubled youth—frequently take place on military bases.
Nevertheless, military police were frequently called to investigate allegations against cadets, staff, and military personnel during the program. Other times, provincial police and prosecutors were given the cases—and, more often than not, they declined to pursue charges.
The issue has come to light thanks to an anonymous source who collected the thousands of pages of documents and brought them forward to VICE.
The Scope of the Problem
Pinpointing just how many cases of assault, harassment and abuse occurred in the program is virtually impossible.
While some records tabulate the number of cases in a given year, many others do not. The documents obtained by VICE cover about half of the last decade, as well as intermittent years dating back as far as the mid-1970s. Many of the documents that were released are heavily redacted to remove the identities of the individuals involved, and many of the details around the alleged acts.
Documents from the years 2000 to 2001, however, detail 312 cases requiring investigation. Amongst them is a litany of issues—fights breaking out, bullying, indecent comments and the like. The majority were resolved by apologies, warnings, or suspensions from the program.
But they also detail at least ten cases of sexual assault during the program that year.
In one case, a report reads: "One cadet sexually assaulted another. [Military Police] and RCMP investigated, cadet was RTU'd."
RTU is military acronym for 'Returned to Unit,' implying that an officer on training is sent back to their home base. In the case of criminal activity, it can mean that the officer is potentially being sent back to face criminal charges.
Another reads: "Cdt(M) forced himself sexually upon Cdt(F) in a hotel room & restrained her."
With respect to that case, the document reads that: "investigation complete. Admin action is-" but the rest is cut off.
Several of the cases did result in RCMP involvement, and charges being laid. While many were between cadets, one involved a male officer facing two charges for sexually assaulting a male cadet in his barracks.
Records from 2005 to 2006 detail 36 cases of sexual offences, mostly of sexual assault, with some prefaced by "(alleged)." It's not clear if those numbers are exhaustive, especially considering the already low rate of report for sexual assault in Canada.
One of the headers in the spreadsheet of all the year's instances of sexual assault is "action to take." Many of the cells read: "admin action?" Others say things like: "what if any follow up?" Only a couple of the cells make mention of a trial.
In 2011, a spreadsheet reported 18 cases of sexual offences, most of which were sexual assault, including one case of sexual assault with a weapon.
In that case, the documents read that: "the CFNIS [Canadian Forces National Investigations Service] is investigating." The document doesn't reveal the outcome.
Documents from other years did not contain tabulations of the number of sexual offences.
Many instances detailed in these documents indicate that either an investigation wasn't pursued, charges were not pursued, or the Forces sought administrative punishment instead of criminal sanctions.
The reports obtained by VICE are summaries and memos, not investigation reports, and are heavily redacted to protect the identities of individuals involved.
One memo details a sexual assault charge that was later dropped.
"RCMP was contacted and it was learned the sexual assault involved allegations of [REDACTED] placing his hands up the shirt of [REDACTED] and placing his hands on her breasts. After [REDACTED] were interviewed, [REDACTED] was [REACTED] re-interviewed, at which time it was learned that the Cdts were in somewhat of a relationship and she had not been truthful in her original interview. After learning of this information and determining that no sexual assault had occurred, RCMP advised they would not be pursuing any formal charges."
Another memo summarizes a case where a service member was charged, and pled guilty, to three charges, including sexual assault. This was an actual member of the Canadian Forces, as opposed to a quasi-military staffer with the cadet program.
"On the night in question, either 15 - 16 Jul 09, between 2300 - 2330 hrs, he was on duty in uniform and they had agreed to meet in the soccer field. He took her [REDACTED] and they [REDACTED] He repeatedly told her [REDACTED] to which she said "NO" after attempting to [REDACTED] and was [REDACTED] and again, she said "NO" she did not want to. [REDACTED] was beside her [REDACTED] told him "NO" [REDACTED]"
The service member saw no jailtime — he served 20 months probation and was banned from being in position of trust with girls under 16.
A history of abuse
The most damning part of the documents, which were obtained and released on Scribd by an anonymous person or group of people working under the pseudonym 'CadetAbuseAwareness,' is likely the raft of documents that cover the latter half of the 20th century.
Included are documents from a lengthy investigation into sexual assault at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, in Quebec.
One note attached to the cover of the 1981 report reads: "This is the final report on [REDACTED] the CIL [Cadet Instruct List] officer who prepared young cadets for his advances by administering tranquilizers."
Another note reads: "Yet another CIL officer molesting the cadets entrusted to his command. The investigation is continuing."
One memo summarizes a cadet's allegation: that the staff member molested him while he slept, then, once he woke up, offered a pill to help "calm him down."
The subsequent report repeats that story, from multiple cadets, over and over. Some of the pages are illegible, and are heavily redacted.
"When he approached the cadet and asked him what was wrong, the cadet responded that he had a problem and that he wanted to talk to an officer. [REDACTED] when he suggested that the cadet go see the [REDACTED] the cadet responded that he was the problem and that he had made some propositions and that he wanted him to take some drug."
A summary of that investigation reads that the unnamed staff officer allegedly molested at least four cadets.
Further interviews mention that the staff member had been the subject of similar accusations three years prior.
The reports also detail an initiation by a staff member called "Grand Schtroumpf"—French for "Papa Smurf." While the details of just what consists of that initiation are redacted, except for the fact that it also involves a "Petite Schtroumpf," it was approved by at least one other staff person on the base, and involved a bucket of cold water. While it may not have been sexual in nature, a number of the male cadets who participated later reported that the staff member crawled into their bed.
The documents do not explain the outcome of that investigation.
By comparison, a report from seven years later contains details of one cadet's allegations that a staff member came into his tent, and touched him sexually. The investigator, with the military police, reports that the staff member was arrested nine days later.
These historical documents, which range from 1974 until the mid-1990s, appear to be only a small selection of the overall records.
An exchange of letters from 1991 appears to highlight the internal logic on tackling sexual harassment in the cadet program.
K.R. Foster, chief of the reservists and cadets in the Eastern Region, wrote a letter to the chief of defence staff, forwarding a handful of investigation documents which, he says, "reveal some disturbing occurrences within the leadership of the CF Cadet system." The letter recommends overhauling the staff selection process.
"This subject was discussed recently at the annual meeting of the National Cadet Advisory Group, which I chair. The representatives of the Cadet League share your concerns, but are equally concerned at accusations, lack of support for the accused by DND and the impact this is having on attracting volunteers."
While Huddleston does acknowledge the need to improve the quality of staff being recruited, he also notes that "any youth organization will always attract some of those people with less than stellar motives. Accordingly, our best defence and best damage control will continue to be the education of cadets, thorough and fair investigations of complaints, and swift justice for those found guilty."
"However, we must remain sensitive to the potential for false accusations and ensure that CIL officers are protected against unwarranted damage to their careers and reputations. The Regional Cadet Officers have been encouraged to discuss these issues in [Chief Officer's] seminars and in CIL training courses to ensure that CIL officers are aware of all facets of the problem and that they understand not only the correct way of dealing with cadets but also those circumstances or actions could potentially be misinterpreted and lead to false accusations."
Going to the courts
Also included in CadetAbuseAwareness' cadre of documents is a collection of court rulings from the past several years dealing with sexual assaults in the cadet program.
Several involve statutory rape charges, where a staff member—usually in their early-20s to mid-30s—develops a relationship with a cadet under 16.
Others, though, involve repeated issues of sexual assault.
In one, former cadet staff member Danny Davis was sentenced to more than two years in prison for sexually assaulting three teenage boys.
Another case involves three attempted rapes taking place in the span of an hour. Each time, A.M. Lough—an air force technician who was staying on the same base as the cadets—broke into the room, beat the cadets, held them down, and tried to force sex. He was caught, but not before assaulting one 18 year-old cadet.
The uploader of the documents added a note at the top of the court documents—"Cadets at camp are often told they cannot close or lock their doors for 'fire safety' reasons."
Many cases highlight just how frequent the abuse could be, and how the abusers could go on for so long without getting caught.
Conrad Sundman pleaded guilty to assaulting 14 boys over an eight -year period. Gordon Thomas, also a teacher, was found guilty of molesting 14 of his students and cadets over a 20-year period.
The issue was turned into a class action lawsuit in 2002, with the Vancouver Supreme Court approving an application to sue the federal government for "systemic negligence" when it came to investigating and preventing sexual assault in the cadet program from the mid-1960s to 1970s.
The Department of Defence eventually settled with 81 former cadets for $10 million.
VICE requested an interview with Minister of Defence Rob Nicholson on the matter. The request was refused, but his office did provided a statement, reading:
"Since 2006, our Government has continuously fought on behalf of victims and enhanced the laws in this country to combat sexual assault. The Canadian Armed Forces take the issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment very seriously. All allegations reported to the Military Police are investigated. Where appropriate, charges are laid and individuals are prosecuted. Sexual misconduct will not be tolerated within the Canadian Armed Forces."