Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces

Date: September 2022

Program manager: Director, Centre for Social Data Integration and Development Director General, Social Data Insights, Integration and Innovation Branch

Reference to Personal Information Bank (PIB):

Personal information collected through the Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces is described in Statistics Canada's "Special Surveys" Personal Information Bank. The Personal Information Bank refers to information collected through Statistics Canada's ad hoc surveys which are conducted on behalf of other government departments, under the authority of the Statistics Act. "Special surveys" covers a variety of socio-economic topics including health, housing, labour market, education and literacy, as well as demographic data.

The "Special Surveys" Personal Information Bank (Bank number: StatCan PPU 026) is published on the Statistics Canada website under the latest Information about Programs and Information Holdings chapter.

Description of statistical activity:

Statistics Canada will be conducting the Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, on a cost-recovery basis on behalf of the Department of National Defence. The survey will provide insight on sexual assault, sexualized and discriminatory behaviours, and knowledge and perceptions of policies and responses to sexual misconduct. This will be the third collection cycle for the Department of National Defence on this topic; the survey is collected every two years, with the previous two cycles being 2016 and 2018 (the 2020 collection was postponed due to COVID-19).

The survey content includes questions on witnessing and experiencing inappropriate sexual behaviours, discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and incidences of sexual assault. It also includes questions about the characteristics of sexual misconduct behaviours and incidences, their impact and reporting of these experiences. Additionally, it contains questions on the age, sex at birth, gender identity, visible minority, Indigenous status, and disability of the respondent. The survey includes specific questions about military members and reservists and their rank over the past 12 months leading up to collection.

This data will be collected from all Regular Force members (approximately 56,000 members, with some exclusions) and members of the Primary Reserve (approximately 27,000) using an employee list provided by the Department of National Defence. This survey is conducted under the authority of the Statistics Act and the response rate is expected to be 30%. Although this collection is being performed for the Department of National Defence, there is no data sharing agreement nor any intent or plan to share any microdata from this survey with them; only aggregate results will be reported. As with previous cycles, SSMCAF 2022 is requesting an exemption from the Directive of Informing Survey Respondents (ISR) to remove the general statement related to data linkage.

Reason for supplement:

While the Generic Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) addresses most of the privacy and security risks related to statistical activities conducted by Statistics Canada and applied to the two previous cycles of the survey (2016 & 2018), this supplement describes the measures (see below, Mitigation Factors) being implemented for collection and access to the information for this cycle due to the sensitivity of the questions asked and the public scrutiny surrounding sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces following the release of the Independent External Comprehensive Review on the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces in May 2022 highlighting deficiencies around the management of sexual misconduct. This supplement also presents an analysis of the necessity and proportionality of this new collection of personal information.

Necessity and Proportionality

The collection and use of personal information for the Mental Health and Access to Care Survey can be justified against Statistics Canada's Necessity and Proportionality Framework:

  1. Necessity:

    The Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces will support the Department of National Defence's continued efforts to address and prevent sexual misconduct in its workplace and amongst its workforce. The content of the survey, including the personal information being requested, was deemed necessary for understanding, and, ultimately, preventing and addressing experiences of inappropriate sexual behaviours. Research suggests the risk of experiencing sexual harassment and victimization varies according to a number of factors, many of which require the collection of personal information, such as age. Gathering non-identifiable data would not enable the identification of these risk factors and would result in potentially ineffective interventions.

    Research on sexual misconduct has identified certain risk factors such as gender, education, income, visible minority status, disability status and marital status. The data will be analyzed according to these factors to determine if they are also associated with an increased risk of sexual harassment and victimization in the workplace specifically.

    This work has become even more necessary in light of the publication of the Independent External Comprehensive Review on the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces released in May 2022 highlighting deficiencies around the management of sexual misconduct. Notably, this report also highlighted privacy concerns around the Department of Defence's own sexual misconduct tracking and analysis system, further justifying the need for Statistics Canada, Canada's foremost statistical expert, to collect and analyze data independently.

  2. Effectiveness - Working assumptions:

    Conducting surveys is the only way to obtain estimates of both reported and unreported sexual misconduct. This is required in order to fully understand the scope of sexual misconduct in the workplace and to put in place preventative measures. This high quality, timely and relevant data will help inform workplace codes of conduct, as well as other policies, laws and programs designed to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct in the workplace. The survey is a census of individuals working for the Canadian Armed Forces. The expected benefit of the project will be proportional to the quality of the data.

    Other surveys of a similar nature have been carried out by Statistics Canada, such as:

    • Survey of Sexual Misconduct at Work (SSMW) (PIA);
    • Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS);
    • Survey of Individual Safety in the Postsecondary Student Population (SISPSP) (PIA);
    • General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization, 1999, 2004, 2014, 2019; and,
    • General Statistics Survey (GSS) at Work and Home.
    These surveys provide valuable insights and are also used to study the prevalence of sexual harassment over time.
  3. Proportionality:
    Proportionality has been considered based on the following elements – sensitivity and ethics:
    • Sensitivity: The Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces is a voluntary survey, and the collection method is similar to other voluntary household surveys. Due to the fact that this information is submitted voluntarily, the risk related to the high sensitivity of this data collection method is considered low. However, the nature of the questions in this survey are of a more sensitive nature. As such, additional mitigation factors (see below) are being implemented to ensure that the collection methods are proportional to the needs for the data.
    • Ethics: The Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces has been developed using past, similar surveys as precedents to determining best practices, in particular to assist victims in accessing support and to reduce response burden. Additional steps are being taken to reduce burden and assist the Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces respondents (see below, Mitigation Factors).

    Data collected through the Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces will contain only the variables required to achieve the statistical goals of the survey. The public benefits of the survey findings, which are expected to inform policies, programs and support services aimed at improving workplace culture and work-related settings, are believed to be proportional to the potential privacy intrusion for this voluntary survey. The results will be used to inform policies and training to promote culture change and future support services for those affected by sexual misconduct.

  4. Alternatives:
    Few sources have gathered data on self-reported sexual victimization in the workplace. In 2016, the General Social Survey provided some insight on sexual harassment in a survey focused on the larger topic of Canadians at work and home. In 2017, Insights West, a market research firm surveyed women exclusively on whether and how often they experience sexual harassment at work. That same year, Employment and Social Development Canada surveyed 1,000 people and held public consultations to better understand the types of harassment behaviours that take place in Canadian workplaces. However, no other quality sources report comprehensive and in-depth information such as the characteristics, impact and reporting of these incidents or the industries and settings in which they occur. Furthermore, existing crime data available from administrative data sources are limited to officially reported events that meet the threshold for criminality and are known to significantly underrepresent true rates of sexual victimization in the population. As such, data gaps exist and more information is needed in order to help guide policies, laws, programs and support services that prevent and respond to these behaviours in the workplace. Additionally, considering the potential bias in the Department of National Defence's own reporting and analysis system, no viable data alternatives exist that could provide such information on the Canadian Armed Forces population specifically. Finally, despite previous cycles of the Survey on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces providing similar insight, the issue persists, necessitating this regular data collection; it will also provide more up to date information than the previous 2018 cycle, as regular collections allow for time-series analyses which may provide even greater insight in the form of trends and comparisons.

Mitigation factors:

This content has undergone in-person testing, including a voluntary round of sensitivity testing to identify and address potential sources of harm for future respondents. As expected, some questions were considered sensitive by the test respondents but the overall risk of harm to survey participants was deemed manageable through the mitigating actions outlined here.


All respondents will be informed that their participation is voluntary before being asked any questions.

Access to personal information

Statistics Canada has established that answers collected from survey respondents will not be disclosed to the Department of National Defence or Canadian Armed Forces members. As with previous cycles, the master files for analysis will be placed in Research Data Centres (where all data sets have been stripped of personal details such as names, addresses and phone numbers that could be used to identify particular individuals), with additional clear restrictions preventing employees of the Department of National Defence or members of the Canadian Armed Forces from accessing. Furthermore, all results from analysis conducted at Research Data Centres is vetted by Statistics Canada, thus ensuring confidentiality of the survey respondents from their employer.

Support Services

Since survey questions may evoke emotional reactions from the respondents, contact information for support services and resources for victims of sexual violence will be made available to respondents in various forms, including in material communicated in their workplace, material included on the survey questionnaire and on the Statistics Canada website.


At the end of the survey questionnaire, we have included an open question to understand the experience and impact that the survey had on respondents. We hope to be able to draw the same conclusions that other surveys on the topic have made: that although this topic is a difficult one, respondents appreciate being heard, feel valued and believe there are benefits to the survey.


This assessment concludes that, with the existing Statistics Canada safeguards, any remaining risks are such that Statistics Canada is prepared to accept and manage the risk.

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