Backgrounder Article from  National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces

Board of Inquiry - Allegation of assault of a civilian by Afghan National Security Forces and the Canadian Forces Response to such incidents

April 12, 2016 – Ottawa – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces


In 2008, Commander Land Force Doctrine and Training System (LFDTS) convened a Board of Inquiry (BOI) to investigate the allegations of assault of a civilian by Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) during the Canadian Armed Force (CAF) deployment in Kandahar Province in late 2006 and early 2007. More specifically, the BOI examined media reports that some Canadian soldiers who had served in Afghanistan had been told by their superiors to ignore incidents where Afghan soldiers and interpreters sexually assaulted young boys.

The BOI submitted the report to the Commander LFDTS for review in 2010. On 18 January, 2016, General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), approved the final report and accepted the Board’s findings and recommendations subject to a number of comments.

The BOI found no evidence that showed that anyone in the CAF operational chain of command had ever ordered troops to ignore the sexual assault of minors by the ANSF and noted that the CAF leadership “had an expectation that CAF members would act if they witnessed such acts of abuse”. The board did find some instances in which lower levels of the chain of command were informed of possible sexual activity between ANSF members and children, but that action taken was limited to the unit level and reports were not passed to higher command.  In some cases this was due to a lack of evidence, in others it was due to ambiguity regarding the CAF policy and the fact that troops were “under constant and deadly attacks… survival and combat were the primary missions and all other issues were secondary”.  Concrete action therefore only began after the chain of command became aware of the incidents through media reporting in June 2008. The BOI acknowledged these shortcomings, but also noted that at the time of these incidents, the CAF was “engaged in a very difficult and dynamic operation, involving significant loss of life and injuries, and that the number of serious issues requiring simultaneous resolution was high”.

The scope and complexity of the recommendations made by the Board were a significant factor in the length of time it took to review and approve the BOI report.  Competing CAF priorities were also were also a factor. However, the CAF did not wait until review completion to improve internal procedures, but rather took immediate action to rectify the most pressing shortfalls.  Many of the recommendations made by the BOI have been addressed or are in the process of being addressed by ongoing CAF initiatives.  More work remains in some areas, but a summary of the work completed or in progress related to the findings of the BOI is as follows:

Initial Actions

When senior CAF leaders became aware of media reports and the corresponding allegations, immediate action was taken to address any ambiguity regarding proper CAF actions and reporting.  General Hillier, then Chief of the Defence Staff, provided clear direction to the chain of command regarding the authority and potential responsibility to intervene in abusive situations during the Afghan mission. His remarks to the Commons Defence Committee in June of 2008 were widely quoted by media outlets. “We have all the authority we need… if somebody is being seriously abused and we are witness to it, we are not going to stand by,” said General Hillier, adding he'd just “reconfirmed that direction through the entire chain of command into Kandahar province.” The CDS direction was widely transmitted to the troops serving in Kandahar via the military orders process and senior CAF leaders raised the matter during discussions with deployed troops.

Pre-deployment training

The CAF took steps to improve the training and preparations of personnel scheduled to deploy overseas, including enhancing training on the law of armed conflict as well as improved cultural awareness training. Among several enhancements brought forward since 2007, the Canadian Army training system has further developed and implemented scenarios that require CAF personnel to analyze and act on ethical issues and international human rights violations, including reports of abuse of women and children in an area of operation. During pre-deployment training, commanders and soldiers are mentored on providing a proper and effective response to reports of alleged incidents of abuse or exploitation in various forms.

Ethics training

In 2013, the CAF issued a new Code of Values and Ethics. Ethics training programs for the CAF are reviewed regularly to ensure that ethics is an integral part of training and education curriculums at all levels of professional development. The CAF is also in the process of completing the second edition of Duty with Honour: The Profession of Arms in Canada, a manual first published in 2003, and revised in 2009 as a cornerstone document of the CAF professional development system. The manual presents the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of the Profession of Arms, how in practice it serves Canada and Canadian interests, and what it means to be a Canadian military professional.

Reporting of incidents

The CDS will direct that deployed CAF commanders report on any violations of applicable Canadian and international law, including Law of Armed Conflict and International Human Rights Law such as the use of child soldiers, torture, inhuman treatment, and sexual assault upon children and other vulnerable populations such as women, religious minorities and persons with disabilities. Further, the Code of Conduct is in the process of being amended to expand the current requirement for CAF personnel to report any violation of the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) to include direction to report sexual assault upon children and potentially other vulnerable populations, depending on the nature of the mission. Amendments to the Code of Conduct will occur in conjunction with amendments to the Intermediate Law of Armed Conflict Course (ILOAC), which has been under review since July of 2015.

Rules of Engagement

The recommendations made by the Board will be considered as part of a wider review of CAF the Use of Force manual which is currently underway. Rules of engagement (ROE), as orders to CAF personnel regarding their authority to use force, must be carefully tailored to ensure that any use of force by a CAF member complies with applicable law.

Integration of gender perspectives into military planning and operations

In January 2016, the CDS issued formal direction regarding steps the CAF is taking to further integrate gender perspectives into the analysis, planning, execution and evaluation of all CAF operations, as well as professional military education and training. CAF efforts are rooted in the UN Security Council’s call to the international community to take action on issues identified through the UNSCR 1325, and seven related resolutions.  One of the aims of these efforts is to ensure the protection of vulnerable populations in conflict zones.  The CAF recognizes that conflict, natural disasters, and humanitarian crises affect men, women, boys and girls differently. The integration of Gender Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) into the planning and execution of CAF operations is a means of improving operational effectiveness by further enhancing the CAF’s understanding of operating environments, and subsequently using this deeper understanding to adjust the planning and conduct of operations. To support this effort, the CAF is creating three gender advisor positions during the Annual Posting Season 16 (Advisors to the CDS; Commander Canadian Joint Operations Command and Commander Canadian Special Operations Command).

Activities to support the mental health of CAF Members

Over the past 10 years, the CAF has made tremendous strides in supporting military personnel who suffer from mental health conditions such as major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. The CAF provides mental health care through 37 primary care clinics, 31 of which have specialized mental health services. The CAF also operates seven Operational Trauma and Stress Support Centres (OTSSC).

CAF research efforts in mental health since 2010 have included the 2013 CAF Cross-Sectional Mental Health Survey, the Operational Mental Health Assessment, and the Operational Stress Injury Incidence and Outcomes Study.

The CAF introduced mental resilience training in 2009 through the Road to Mental Readiness program–helping to ensure that personnel and their families are best equipped for the stressors associated with deployment. The program, accessible to all serving CAF personnel and their families, helps them understand stress and its impact, mitigate mental strain, and recognize when to seek external support. The program also has an entire component designated to family members to provide guidance and skills to identify and meet the challenges related to a soldier’s deployment on CAF operations, and geographical family separation. It is also made available to families in remote locations or different time zones through interactive training via the web portal.

In late 2013, the Surgeon General issued his Mental Health Strategy, which set out seven strategic priorities accompanied by detailed action plans to further enhance the CAF’s mental health system over a five-year period. The CAF’s mental health program is recognized among its NATO allies and by civilian organizations for its robust approach to care; stigma reduction initiatives; mental health research; and, mental health training and awareness programs.

The CAF will continue to work with its allies and partners in civilian health care to determine the best treatment, awareness and prevention approaches for its population.

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