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Canadian Forces create investigative team to tackle military sex crimes

A Canadian flag sits on a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. The Forces have created a special team of investigators to handle sexual crimes.

Lars Hagberg/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Canadian Forces have created a special team of investigators to handle sexual crimes after concerns were raised last year that military police didn't have the skills and experience necessary to deal with such offences.

Brig.-Gen. Rob Delaney, the military's top police officer, announced the creation of the new 18-member team during a ceremony at Canadian Forces Base Trenton on Tuesday.

Team members have been given specialized training to better investigate crimes and support victims, officials said. They will be deployed to six locations across Canada to respond whenever and wherever an alleged sexual offence takes place.

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"Our job as military police is to protect the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces and their families," Delaney said in a statement.

"The creation of the Sexual Offences Response Team and the increase in personnel to tackle these crimes will enable us to better support victims of sexual misconduct and ensure timely, professional investigations."

Military police investigated 280 alleged sexual crimes in 2015 and during the first six months of 2016. They laid 49 charges, although it's unknown how many resulted in convictions.

Retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps sharply criticized the military police service in her scathing report last year on sexual misconduct in the forces.

While she said military police officers were dedicated, "many were confused about the relevant policies, insensitive to the problem of sexual assault, lacked training on the basic elements of the offence (including the legal concept of consent), and were unaware of the available resources to support victims."

Some have suggested that criminal investigations dealing with sexual offences should be left with civilian authorities.

But military police commanders have pushed back against that suggestion, noting that they are the only ones with the jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed by military personnel on missions abroad.

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"So if we don't have enough experience to do them now and you take it away from us completely, how are we going to do them over there and what service are we going to provide to the victims then?" Lt.-Col. Brian Frei, the deputy commander of military police, told The Canadian Press in a recent interview.

"The answer is not to give it to somebody else. The answer is to invest in the (military police) and give us the ability to build that experience, and that's what we're doing with the standing up of that sexual response team."

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