WARNING: This story contains distressing details about suicide. It also includes details of the sexual assault allegations that may be triggering.
The Military Police Complaints Commission of Canada (MPCC) will conduct an investigation into the handling of a sexual assault complaint against an air force flight instructor who subsequently took his own life.
The watchdog agency received three complaints about the way military police conducted their investigation into allegations against Maj. Cristian Hiestand in November 2021.
Two of the complaints came from the family of the air force officer and Afghan war veteran. The third came from a former military officer who was serving at the time in the military police detachment handling the Hiestand case.
Hiestand was charged with two counts of sexual assault, days after ending a tumultuous short-lived relationship with a civilian woman.
The charges were filed by military police in Saskatchewan provincial court less than a week after he broke off the relationship and five days after authorities received a complaint from the civilian woman in question.
Breaking: profiled the Hiestand case a year ago.
The MPCC initially denied an investigation request made by Hiestand’s sister, Andrea Shorter. Commission Acting Chairwoman Bonita Thompson reversed that decision Thursday.
“The totality of the allegations of misconduct listed above are, in my opinion, serious enough to lean in favor of conducting a [public interest investigation]particularly given that these issues have arisen in the context of a sexual assault investigation,” Thompson wrote in a decision released Thursday morning.
“The MP’s handling of sexual assault allegations has been a topic of particular public attention and concern in recent years.”
Thompson said complaints from the defendant’s parents and sister suggest a connection between the handling of the sexual assault investigation and Hiestand’s suicide in January 2022.
The family alleges “rush to judge”
“The MP’s responsiveness and sensitivity to mental illness has been a topic of particular interest to the MPCC in previous years. [public interest investigation]”wrote the acting commissioner.
The family alleges that the military police officer handling the case refused to allow Hiestand to tell his side of the story and did not look at a text message exchange between him and the complainant, material he believed would provide more context and support his claim of innocence.
Legal experts have said there is no law or obligation on law enforcement (military or otherwise) to interview suspects. The trend in sexual assault cases has been to file the charge as part of the legal system’s “zero tolerance” policy toward such crimes.
The family’s complaint to the watchdog maintains that the military police were in a “rush to judgment” due to the current political and social climate.
The third complaint, by former military police officer Muhsin Warsame, calls into question the conduct of two high-ranking non-commissioned officers (NCOs), a non-commissioned officer and a sergeant, who were in charge of the detachment.
Warsame, who said he was present at the time of Hiestand’s investigation but now serves in another police service, claimed, among other things, that noncommissioned officers assigned inexperienced military police officers to interview the complainant.
He also said that an unidentified man was allowed to attend the woman’s interrogation and that the sergeant leading the detail was drunk when he showed up on his day off when the investigation into Hiestand began.
The military police watchdog said it will “postpone for the time being” interviewing witnesses for its public interest inquiry because the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal is still conducting a review of the professional standards of the officer who accused Hiestand. That review has continued without resolution since May 2022.