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Concerns raised over all-military team tasked with probing military college

The Canadian Forces came under fire Wednesday for leaving academics and other non-military personnel off the team investigating the Royal Military College of Canada, which has been rocked by a series of troubling events in recent months.

That omission was not intentional, the senior officer overseeing the probe said Wednesday; the military had been considering ways to give civilian faculty at the college some type of advisory role on the team.

But in the end, said Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the team of eight current and former service members was convened specifically to address the college’s unique status as not just a school, but also a military unit.

“At the end of the day, this is the leadership of the armed forces looking at the unit environment of a unit of the armed forces,” Norman said in an interview. “And that’s our business.”

The review, announced Wednesday, was ordered by defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance following several suspected suicides and concerns about a sexualized culture at the prestigious school in Kingston, Ont.

Given the serious nature of the issues that have emerged in recent years, observers largely welcomed the decision to investigate the college, where future generations of Canadian military leaders have been groomed for the last 140 years.

But the absence of non-military personnel on the investigation team raised eyebrows.

The eight-member team is being led by retired vice-admiral Greg Maddison and retired major-general David Neasmith, and includes several colonels and chief warrant officers who are still in uniform.

“I’m always concerned when a committee is made up, in this case, entirely of military personnel,” said Julie Lalonde, who was verbally abused while giving a presentation on sexual assault prevention at the college in October 2014.

“I would say the same if this was a police review or what’s happening with the RCMP around workplace harassment. Clearly if these institutions had the capacity to create the necessary change, they would have done so already.”

‘Military investigating itself’

Lawyer Michael Drapeau, a retired colonel who now represents many military clients, including military college cadets, wants a coroner’s inquest following the suspected suicides of three students and a recent graduate over a four-month stretch earlier this year.

“I see this as a cover-your-butt exercise,” Drapeau said. “It’s being done in-house by the military for the military. And it will be seen by cadets as the military investigating itself.”

One faculty member, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals, cited a rift between the college’s military staff and civilian faculty, and questioned why someone from an outside university or college wasn’t asked to participate.

Investigators officially started their work on Wednesday and will spend the next two months looking at all aspects of the college, from the institution’s climate and culture to its academic programs and infrastructure.

‘Unique action’

The review will put a heavy emphasis on assessing the mental state of the college’s approximately 1,000 student cadets by looking at stress levels and available support, as well as overall morale levels.

It will also look at how staff are selected and whether they have the right training and qualifications to be working at the college, as well as the structure of the program.

Former chief of defence staff Tom Lawson, who served as college’s commandant from 2007 to 2009, said he was “heartened” that the military’s senior leadership was taking action to address the problems that have surfaced at the school.

“One must characterize the loss of several cadets in a relatively short period of time as unique in its tragedy, and in the effects these losses have had on the student body and staff,” he said.

“Therefore, it called for unique action.”

Article source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/royal-military-college-inquiry-panel-1.3833783?cmp=rss