OTTAWA – A military law expert says fallout from the lurid spectacle of the Jian Ghomeshi trial could make the Canadian military’s effort to stamp out sexual misconduct much harder.
Retired colonel Michel Drapeau says the grilling that the alleged victims received in the witness box will almost certainly give pause to women thinking about stepping forward to report a crime, particularly those in uniform.
“The trial will probably set back the clock for victims that might be thinking of coming forward,” said Drapeau.
One of Ghomeshi’s accusers is former actress Lucy DeCoutere, who is also now a training and development officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force and based in Halifax.
Ghomeshi has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
DeCoutere faced tough cross-examination about her relationship with the 48-year-old former CBC Radio host, and the trial comes as the military struggles to get more alleged victims of sexual misconduct to come forward through a newly established crisis centre.
The country’s top military commander, Gen. Jonathan Vance, has made it clear there will be zero tolerance for abusive behaviour of any kind within the ranks, and he recently released an update that says eight investigations into inappropriate actions have been launched.
Vance declined comment on how the Ghomeshi case might affect the military’s effort, citing the ongoing court case.
The progress report from National Defence shows the crisis centre received 206 phone calls, emails and texts, of which 99 were requests for information — a figure Drapeau interprets as a sign that victims are still hesitant.
He says reluctance to report sexual violence or inappropriate advances is more intense for people in uniform because there’s a greater potential impact on the victims’ careers than there would be in the general population.
There is also the added disincentive that members of the military are not covered by the federal Victims Bill of Rights, introduced by the former Conservative government, Drapeau said.
Military tribunals such as courts martial are deliberately excluded under the law. Through the legislation, victims of crime can expect to be kept informed by authorities about the progress of their case. They’re allowed to speak in court and give victim impact statements.
Drapeau says it’s sad and ironic that people who fight for freedoms overseas are “disenfranchised at home.”
A spokeswoman for National Defence, Maj. Holly-Anne Brown, says the military justice system has safeguards and procedures built into it that are meant to protect victims’ rights, including written policy directives that require uniformed prosecutors to consider victims’ views in the handling of a case.
Last June, the Conservatives introduced legislation that would have created a military victims bill of rights, but the legislation died when the election was called.