August 30, 2016 / 7:57 PM / 4 years ago

Sexual offense complaints in Canada military up 22 percent: report

TORONTO (Reuters) - The number of sexual offense complaints in the Canadian Armed Forces will increase 22 percent this year, but that is a “positive indicator” because it means more alleged victims are speaking up, according to a military report released on Tuesday.

Canada's Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance takes part in a news conference upon the release of a progress report on addressing inappropriate sexual behaviour in the Canadian Armed Forces, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

The progress report was the second on Operation Honour, a military program to tackle the issue started in 2015 after an external investigation said the Canadian Armed Forces had an underlying sexualized culture hostile to women and gays.

Western militaries are increasingly coming under scrutiny for their handling of sexual offences. A Pentagon report in May said sexual assaults in the U.S. military are still underreported.

According to the Canadian report, the military saw 106 founded complaints for incidents in the first six months of this year, which it said was a 22 percent increase without providing a comparative figure.

A Department of National Defence spokesman later said the number of complaints in the second half of the year will likely be the same. That means the projected total for this year, 212, will be about 22 percent more than the 174 from 2015.

“This increase appears to be a positive indicator that military members are more aware of the problem and more confident in stepping forward and reporting incidents,” the report said.

The investigation from 2015, by a former Supreme Court justice, found a broadly held perception in the lower ranks that those higher up condone inappropriate sexual conduct or are willing to turn a blind eye.

Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance said the new progress report shows Operation Honour has been working, and said he felt encouraged.

He told a news conference in Ottawa that as result of investigations between April and July this year, 30 people received “career-impacting” punishments.

“Those who do not see the wisdom of what we are trying to accomplish and choose not to modify their negative behavior will be compelled to do so or they will be released,” he said.

Reporting by Ethan Lou in Toronto; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler

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