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960 soldiers reported being sexually assaulted last year

Last Updated Nov 28, 2016 at 11:15 am MDT

Soldiers wait for their medical assessments at the Ottawa International Airport on March 6, 2015, as troops return home from deployment in West Africa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Nearly 1,000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces reported being sexually assaulted over the past year –and one-quarter of women say they’ve been targeted at least once during their careers, a landmark Statistics Canada survey of sexual misconduct in the military has found.

That rate of sexual assault represents about 1.7 per cent of military personnel dramatically higher than the comparable rate of 0.9 per cent for the general population.

The survey, the first of its kind in Canada, was commissioned last year by Gen. Jonathan Vance, Canada’s chief of the defence staff, after a retired Supreme Court justice identified a highly sexualized culture in the military that was hostile to women.

“I expected the results of this survey would be sobering, and they are,” a stone-faced Vance told a news conference shortly after the results were released.

“I am extremely disappointed…. Actually, I am more motivated than ever to eliminate this behaviour and its perpetrators from our ranks.”

Some of the incidents identified in the report took place after Vance publicly acknowledged the problem, promised action and warned Canadian Forces members it would not be tolerated, he noted.

“My orders were clear; my expectations were clear,” he said, promising perpetrators would be appropriately disciplined. “I’m happy if they leave our ranks permanently,” he added.

The Statcan survey also found full-time female personnel were four times more likely to be assaulted than their male counterparts.

That ratio was even higher –nearly one in 10– for female personnel in the part-time reserve force.

“Women who were victims of sexual assault in the past 12 months were most likely to identify their supervisor or someone of a higher rank as the perpetrator of the assault (49 per cent),” the study says.

“In contrast, male victims most commonly identified a peer or peers as the person(s) responsible (56 per cent) for the assault.”

The study also found that more than 25 per cent of women surveyed “reported having been victims of sexual assault at least once since joining the Canadian Armed Forces, significantly higher than the proportion of men.”

“Despite the occurrence of inappropriate sexualized and discriminatory behaviour within the Canadian Armed Forces, most members had positive perceptions of the way sexual misconduct is or would be addressed in their unit,” the survey says.

“About 8 in 10 members strongly agreed that complaints about inappropriate sexual behaviour are (or would be) taken seriously and that this behaviour is not tolerated in their current unit.”

That said, “36 per cent of men and 51 per cent of women reported believing that inappropriate sexual behaviour is a problem within the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole.”

Vance ordered the survey in an effort to quantify the extent of the problem of sexual assault and misconduct in the military.

“I deeply regret the past,” he said. “I and my senior leaders are working tirelessly to make things better in the future.”