The Department of National Defence faces another lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct, this time involving schoolchildren. The Army Cadet League, the longest-running federal youth program, is named in a $5 million lawsuit alleging it employed a pedophile.
"It implemented and maintained a system which was designed to cover up the existence of such behaviour if such behaviour was ever reported, and it failed to protect the plaintiff," lawyers wrote in a claim filed in Ontario Superior Court. The allegations are unproven, reported Blacklocks.
Canadian courts have convicted and sentenced Cadet League instructors for sexual interference in the past but dismissed civil claims by victims. The Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in 2018 rejected a civil suit involving a 13-year old schoolgirl after concluding sexual misconduct by a volunteer "was initiated and conducted outside the facility used by the cadets."
In the Ontario case, a former Sudbury cadet alleges a male officer repeatedly molested him as a 13-year old boy. The allegations date from 1973.
Lawyers wrote the Army Cadet League failed to conduct background checks at the time and had no system to investigate allegations of child abuse. "It denied the existence or alternatively was willfully blind to the existence of the behaviour," read a Statement Of Claim. Lawyers in the case declined to comment.
The defence department said it currently screens volunteers and officers in the cadet program. "Canadian youth organizations have a moral, ethical and legal obligation to put in place a process to prevent wrongdoing or abuse of youth entrusted to their care," the department said in a statement.
The Army Cadet League dates from 1879. Declining membership saw enrollment in army, navy and air cadets fall to 53,000 members by 2018 compared to 76,000 Girl Guides and 63,000 in the Boy Scouts of Canada.
The defence department subsidizes the Cadet Leagues with a $916,000 yearly grant. "Misconceptions, particularly regarding the perceived militaristic nature of the program as well as the time required and the sense that cadets are for a specific type of person are driving down interest in joining," said a 2018 defence department study Public Awareness And Perceptions Of The Cadet Program.
Researchers found one in ten Canadian teenagers surveyed "think that joining the cadet program means they must join the military when they turn 18," said the report. "Given the negative views of many of the militaristic aspects of the program – the uniform, climbing the ranks, being seen as child soldiers, etcetera – dispelling this myth would create a clearer understanding of the programs and its benefits."
Only 29 percent of teenagers surveyed expressed an interest in becoming cadets. More than a third, 39 percent, called it "too militaristic."