A former major with the Canadian Forces Cadet organization is facing three sexual assault charges in civilian court after military police reopened a case three years after it was shut over lack of evidence, CBC News has learned.
Kenneth Richards, 70, a former major with the Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service (COATS), is facing three sexual assault charges filed by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Services (CFNIS) in July 2021.
The charges stem from a complaint filed in 2017 by a subordinate. CBC News has granted anonymity to the alleged victim at her request and is identifying her as “Cassandra.”
CFNIS investigators initially closed the investigation into Cassandra’s complaint against Richards in 2018 after interviewing just one witness, according to records from the investigation reviewed by CBC News.
Cassandra said new CFNIS investigators took another look at her case in early 2021 after she reached out to them with concerns about the outcome. She said she contacted military police after discovering an Ontario cadet unit hired Richards, who had by then retired, as a civilian instructor.
“The system is really stacked against people coming forward,” said Cassandra in an interview with CBC News.
Professional standards investigation on hold
COATS is part of the Canadian military’s reserves and is focused on the supervision, administration and training of Cadets and Junior Canadian Rangers — a pair of youth development programs for Canadians aged 12 to 18.
Richards is currently facing a jury trial with the Ontario Superior Court. No trial date has yet been set.
David Hodson, the lawyer representing Richards, said his client would not provide comment.
Five military police officers involved in the initial investigation of Cassandra’s complaint — including two who are now retired — now face a professional standards investigation that has been paused until the conclusion of Richards’ trial, according to records reviewed by CBC News.
Cassandra filed a complaint in August with the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) over how her case was initially handled. The MPCC, following standard procedure, sent the complaint to the military police professional standards office, which opened the investigative file.
The MPCC will open its own case if Cassandra is dissatisfied with the outcome of the professional standards probe.
Cassandra’s complaint named Maj. David Hitchcock, Warrant Officer Michael Bekkers and Sgt. Matthew Hackett. The three were members of the CFNIS unit at CFB Borden that initially investigated her complaint against Richards.
Another allegedly flawed investigation
CBC News recently revealed that Hitchcock and Bekkers were also involved in the allegedly flawed 2018 sexual assault investigation of a male private accused of sexually assaulting a female private in a broom closet at CFB Borden, located about 100 km north of Toronto. Hackett was peripherally involved in this investigation, according to records previously obtained by CBC News.
Hitchcock, the unit’s commanding officer at the time, signed off on a charge package compiled by Bekkers that recommended charging the private with sexual assault and forcible confinement. A regional military prosecutor rejected the recommendation.
A June 2020 MPCC assesment said the sexual assault investigation into the broom closet incident was “inadequate,” the charge package lacked a key detail and the way military police officers conducted interviews with the complainant and suspect “suggests a lack of experience and/or training.”
The alleged victim in the case, who CBC News identified as “Jane,” has since filed for a private prosecution with the Ontario Court of Justice to charge Oleksii Silin, now a corporal, with aggravated sexual assault and forcible confinement. Silin denies the allegations.
A hearing scheduled for late January will determine whether Silin will be formally charged.
An expert told CBC News that Jane’s case showed the military needs to allow for a civilian review of sexual misconduct cases at the request of alleged victims.
In an emailed statement, the Canadian Forces Military Police said “It will not comment on any individual member of the CFNIS.”
Transfer of military cases to civilian authorities
National Defence Minister Anita Anand pledged last year to transfer new military sexual misconduct cases into the hands of civilian authorities.
Louise Arbour, a former Supreme Court justice and UN Human Rights commissioner, recommended the change after she was appointed in 2021 to investigate the roots of military sexual misconduct as scandal engulfed senior Canadian Forces leadership.
Arbour told MPs last week during an appearance before a House of Commons committee that the military was “dragging their feet” on the change.
Civilian authorities have so far declined 40 of 97 cases sent to them by military police over the past years
Widespread sexual misconduct also afflicts the Reserve Force, according to findings by Morris Fish, a retired Supreme Court justice whose report on the military justice system was tabled on June 1, 2021, in the House of Commons.
Quoting 2018 Statistics Canada data, Fish’s report said that about 600 members of the reserves reported a sexual assault in the previous 12 months, totaling about 1,500 incidents. Women reported incidents at six times the rate of men, according to the report.
Fish recommended the Canadian Forces strike a working group to determine how best to hold reservists to high standards and make them accountable for “sexual misconduct and hateful conduct.”
The Department of National Defence said in an emailed statement that a working group “has been created and meetings have occured.” The statement said the recommendation was “complex and contemplates” changes to laws and regulations.
The department listed the reserve recommendation among a list of those it planned to begin implementing in the “short term” in a statement issued following the June 2021 tabling of Fish’s report.
Jurisdictional confusion plagued 2017 investigation
The 2017 investigation into Cassandra hit problems from the very beginning, according to Cassandra’s written complaint to the MPCC.
The military police investigators initially balked at opening the case over jurisdictional confusion — Cadets are considered part of reserve force members and, as such, fall under military justice jurisdiction in limited circumstances, including drills, training, when they are in uniform or on duty.
The investigation, led by Hackett and supervised by Bekkers, with Hitchcock as the commanding officer, interviewed just one witness and the complainant before officially closing the case 13 months after it started.
According to records from the investigation, Bekkers “conducted a detailed review” of the investigation and told Hackett to close the case because there was “no reasonable grounds to believe a sexual assault has been committed.”
Hitchcock filed a memo in May 2018 stating that the “lengthy investigation” had resulted in “insufficient grounds to lay charges.”
Three years later, the CFNIS assigned new investigators to the file who reopened the case at the end of February 2021.
This time, investigators interviewed seven witnesses and laid three sexual assault charges against Richards in civilian court. The charges stemmed from three incidents that allegedly occurred in February and April 2017.
Cassandra, who told her story twice to military police, is now preparing to tell it a third time in court.
“I asked myself the question, ‘What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?’ What I would do is tell my story and tell the truth about what happened to me,” she said in an interview with CBC News.
“It takes a great deal of strength to come as far as I have and it is in the face of great fear.”