Reservist acquitted of sexual assault sues military for millions of dollars in damages

Categories: Canada



Canadian Armed Forces is facing two lawsuits this year claiming negligent investigations

Posted: April 25, 2023
Last Updated: April 26, 2023

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A reservist is suing the Canadian Armed Forces after being acquitted of sexual assault. Sgt. Orman Savage is suing for $11 million, alleging the military’s handling of his case was ‘vindictive, reprehensible and malicious.’  2:44

WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.

A Canadian reservist acquitted of sexual assault more than a decade ago is now reviving a $11 million lawsuit against the military alleging that investigators mishandled his case.

An Alberta judge originally found Sgt. Orman Savage guilty of sexually assaulting a military reserve student in 2004 at an Edmonton armoury.

A female student testified in court that Savage, an instructor at the time, sexually assaulted her in a bathroom stall after a party celebrating the end of a military course, court transcripts show.

Savage served five months behind bars out of his three-year sentence before his conviction was overturned on appeal and a retrial was ordered. 

A jury ruled in 2009 that Savage was not guilty.

His wife, Diane Savage, said she’s been writing to top military commanders for years — including Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre — asking for an official apology, more back pay and reimbursement of their legal fees.

Those letters went nowhere, she said.

“It’s been a horrifying experience,” Diane Savage said. “It’s caused a lot of financial grief, a lot of emotional grief.”

 “My husband is innocent … Why do we have to fight so hard for this? It’s frustrating, it’s upsetting.”

As an active member of the military, Savage is prohibited from speaking out publicly against the military, she said. His lawsuit claims the military’s handling of his case was “so harsh, vindictive, reprehensible and malicious that they are deserving of punishment.”

Savage’s lawsuit is one of two major lawsuits the Canadian Armed Forces is facing this year that accuse the military of botching sexual assault investigations and causing irreparable reputational damage to the accused.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the senior military commander who once led Canada’s vaccine rollout, filed a $6 million lawsuit in March after he was acquitted of sexual assault. Fortin’s lawsuit named a series of top military leaders and politicians as defendants, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

WATCH/ Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin suing Trudeau, federal government over his termination 

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Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin is suing the prime minister, federal government and other high-ranking officials over his termination from Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout task force. Fortin was fired after he was charged with sexual assault in 2021, but has since been acquitted.  2:39

Megan MacKenzie, the Simons Chair in International Law and Human Security at Simon Fraser University, said it’s a trend for military members in the U.S. to sue alleged victims or institutions after being acquitted of sexual assault or misconduct in order to recover their reputations or legal fees.

“I’m wondering if this is the start of a trend in Canada,” said MacKenzie, who led an international research project studying military sexual misconduct in various countries, including Canada.

MacKenzie said the lawsuits may force the military to take more care with its investigations — but they also could discourage victims from reporting sexual assaults because of the threat of being sued personally.

Citing U.S. research on military sexual violence, MacKenzie said 80 per cent of victims don’t report military sexual misconduct and less than 2 per cent of the cases that are reported make it to court.

“It can send a signal to those 80 per cent of victims who don’t come forward to reaffirm that it’s not worth coming forward,” said MacKenzie. 

Amended $11 million lawsuit

Savage’s lawyer, Kathryn Marshall, said she also fears such lawsuits could have a “chilling effect” on victims of sexual assault. 

She said she struck out the complainant’s name when she amended the lawsuit served to the military last week. 

“In this particular case, the important thing for me and Mr. Savage is holding the military to account and getting them to right a wrong,” said Marshall.

Savage first filed a statement of claim in 2011 seeking $1 million from the military, the complainant and a key witness. It remained dormant in court for years as he tried to address his case with the military and find a lawyer. 

Marshall said she made efforts to resolve the matter out of court but the military rejected her requests. 

The newly amended lawsuit alleges the Canadian Forces National Investigative Services (CFNIS) conducted a “negligent” investigation.

“As a result of the actions of the Defendants, the Plaintiff suffered from major depressive disorder, loss of reputation, mental anguish and trauma, humiliation and injury to his dignity,” says the amended statement of claim, dated February 24, 2023.

The statement of claim alleges the investigation was biased, the crime scene wasn’t taped off and investigators interviewed the complainant and a key witness together and at the same time.

“They didn’t hear him out. They didn’t listen to his side of the story,” said Marshall. 

CBC News asked the Department of National Defence for a response to the allegations in the lawsuit. In a media statement, the department said that “due to privacy considerations and to ongoing litigation, we are not able to provide comment on the remaining questions.”

Sgt. Orman Savage after he was reinstated to the military in 2016. When Savage was acquitted in 2009, he said, “I’m glad to see that this nightmare is over.” (Supplied)

Savage also filed a complaint with the Military Police Complaints Commission detailing similar concerns. The commission investigated and issued a final report in 2013 that concluded Savage’s claim that the investigation was incomplete and unprofessional was “substantiated in part.”

The commission’s final report, viewed by CBC News, said “there is no question it is always preferable to conduct witness interviews separately and out of the presence of other witnesses” to “avoid or minimize the risk of potential ‘cross-contamination’ of their recollections of relevant events.”

The report also concluded there were “unnecessary” delays in interviewing other witnesses and a “failure to seal off the crime scene and at least explore the possibility of collecting further useful physical evidence.” The commission found a series of other deficiencies, including a failure to interview other witnesses. 

The Military Police Complaints Commission concluded four other claims Savage made were “not substantiated.” They include the claim that the investigator was biased and acted unprofessionally when she called Savage’s home and visited his workplace to execute a warrant to obtain his DNA.

The commission’s report ordered the military to review its training standards and technical direction when handling sexual assault cases. It said the Canadian Armed Forces agreed to follow through.

WATCH/ Military sexual misconduct investigations should move to criminal courts, report says

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In a new report, former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour says the Canadian military should permanently move sexual offence investigations into civilian criminal courts, citing past mismanagement of sexual misconduct allegations and an overall resistance to change.  2:49

‘He had a black mark put on him’

Savage’s wife said her family’s experience has been “traumatizing.”

Diane Savage said she had to move her children out of schools to keep them safe. She also said she lost a jewlery business and her husband has struggled to get work in his civilian job as a master electrician ever since the allegations first surfaced 19 years ago.

“He had a black mark put on him,” she said.

She said her family took out a line of credit and has spent more than $250,000 on legal fees defending her husband — money she said she wants to see reimbursed.

“Our expectations were that the military would do the right thing,” she said. “That they would handle the back pay situation, handle all of the clearing of his record, putting things back into place as though it had never happened.”

Diane Savage says her family has gone through a “traumatic” experience. (Samuel Martin/CBC News )

After his acquittal in 2009, Savage applied for reinstatement to the military. It took seven years for the military to give him his job back, Diane Savage said. 

The military conducted its own review and in 2014 reported that “based on a balance of probabilities, there is no evidence to clearly state that Ex-MCpl Savage has breached the CAF sexual misconduct policy.

“The lack of corroborating evidence essentially reduces the matter to Ex-MCpl Savage’s statements against the alleged victim’s statements.”

The lawsuit alleges Savage received some back pay and is still owed $180,000 plus interest.

The lawsuit also seeks $1 million for punitive damages, $5 million in damages for breach of contractual good faith, and $5 million for an alleged negligent investigation. 

Hundreds of pages of transcripts viewed by CBC News detail how the criminal case unfolded at court. The alleged victim’s name is protected under a publication ban. She left the military after reporting her allegations and said she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

CBC News attempted to contact a family member of the complainant over Facebook and LinkedIn for comment, but has not yet received a response.

Sgt. Orman Savage is suing the Canadian Armed Forces for millions of dollars in damages over how it handled the investigation after he was accused of sexual assault. (Submitted by Diane Savage )


Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC’s Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa who focuses on enterprise journalism for television, radio and digital platforms. She was recognized with the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered rampant allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military involving senior leaders. You can reach her confidentially by email: or

With files from Sarah Sears

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