Canada

Answering the call

JOHN GEDDES,STEPHANIE NOLEN June 8 1998
Canada

Answering the call

JOHN GEDDES,STEPHANIE NOLEN June 8 1998

Answering the call

Canada

JOHN GEDDES

STEPHANIE NOLEN

Three young naval officers turned up for training at Canadian Forces Base Borden last week, the creases in their blue shirts knife sharp despite the hot sun. The first thing on their agenda was sexual harassment training—with Borden staff passing out copies of the latest issues of Maclean’s, detailing reports of sexual abuse in the military. “This is the first thing we talked about,” one of the cadets said. From the highest offices of the Canadian Forces in Ottawa, to the bars on the most isolated bases, the topic of the treatment of female soldiers topped the discussions. And even as many members of the military said that the allegations of rampant sexual assault and harassment were overblown, other women stepped forward—either to Maclean’s or to the new special toll-free hotline opened by Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Maurice Baril on May 28—to tell their stories. Among them was one former air defence technician who says she was raped by another soldier in 1993. “I used to recommend the Forces to people,” she says. “Now I’m not so sure. I’m not sure they are going to change.”

As rank and file soldiers argued over the seriousness of the

Forces’ sexual assault problem, their top general debated the same issue with his own conscience. In an interview with Maclean’s, Baril said he is still not sure what to make of the allegations. While he hopes the media scrutiny will prompt more victims to come forward, he also said he resents the fact that suspicion has been cast on every man in a Canadian Forces uniform. The general worried as well about the impact of the allegations on morale—especially at a time when Canada’s military was only beginning to recover from the battering its reputation took during the Somalia affair. But Baril spoke optimistically about the possibility of clearing the air. The positive thing, he said, is that some victims may now decide, ‘To hell with this—I’m going to speak out.”

Baril’s plea on May 19 for victims to call him, or to tell their stories to social workers, chaplains or medical officers on their bases, has already been taken up by some women. As of the end of last week, seven had contacted his office, while another seven had called the special toll-free hotline. Those cases are now being reviewed. (A total of seven women spoke to Maclean’s', some of them also turned to the military with their stories.) And just how vigor-

The military responds to allegations of sexual abuse

CANADA.

ously the new investigations are pursued is in the hands of Canadian Forces Provost Marshal Col. Patricia Samson, the blunt-spoken, 22-year Forces veteran who heads up the military police.

In an interview, Samson said members of the military’s National Investigation Service are looking into every case of assault discussed in Maclean’s with enough detail to allow for a follow-up, including those in which previous investigations did not lead to charges. They are also examining cases in which senior officers are alleged to have interfered with military police to save assaulters from prosecution. Samson touted the NIS, set up last fall to handle serious and sensitive cases, as the key to making sure these new inquiries are beyond reproach. “No one can try to influence the NIS,” she said, stressing that the 110 officers in the new service ultimately answer only to her—not to officers in the regular chain of command.

Last week, Samson released a report on the activities of the military police in 1997, revealing that they had investigated 145 sexual assaults and other “sexual related incidents” during the year.

The report, the first of its kind to be made public, provided a statistical profile of sexual crime in the military. It showed that 52 per cent of sexual offenders investigated by the military police were serving in the regular

Forces, with the rest divided among reservists, the cadet corps, civilians employed by the department of national defence, and others. Of the victims, however, only 13 per cent were full-time Forces members. Teenage cadets were the most frequent targets of assault, victimized in an alarming 26 per cent of the cases investigated. Civilians made up 24 per cent of the victims, military dependants 13 per cent and reservists 10 per cent, with the rest made up of DND employees and others.

Samson drew a contentious conclusion from her statistical overview: that the sexual assault rate is substantially lower in the military than among the rest of the population. (The overall Canadian rate of sexual assault last year was 89 incidents for every 100,000 people, well above the incidence of 64 for every 100,000 in the Forces.) In varying degrees, that has been the position put forward by other military spokesmen, from Defence Minister Art Eggleton down to some of the rawest recruits. But critics say many incidents of sexual abuse in the military go unreported because women are afraid they may not be taken seriously—or will be further victimized for speaking out in an atmosphere that prizes the code of silence. And even those who doubt the allegations that abuse is rampant within the Forces admit that some problems cannot be ignored.

Among them are the statistics about sexual assaults involving cadets. A1992 study by the military cadet organization—run jointly by

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the DND and the Army Cadet League of Canada—found at least 150 cases of reported sexual assault in the organization between August, 1987, and December, 1991. The study, portions of which were obtained by Maclean’s, also noted that “it is evident that numerous incidents have not been reported to” cadet headquarters. Lt.-Col Gary Merritt, director of the air cadets, says all the cases listed in the study were investigated and turned over to civilian police, but that the cadet organization nonetheless found the report “shocking and disgusting” and took immediate action, implementing new reporting and abuse prevention measures. About 55,000 young people across the country are members of the cadet organization; Merritt says no study has been made since 1992 to determine whether the number of assaults has changed.

Retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie, meanwhile, stepped forward last week to refute the allegation, made by military sources and reported in the June 1 issue of Maclean’s, that a 1988 case of sexual assault at CFB Gagetown involving five soldiers and a woman—described by one source as “mentally defective”—had been hushed up. MacKenzie, who was the commander at Gagetown in part of 1988, said in an interview last week that he had no recollection of any such incident. But after the allegation appeared in Maclean’s, he said, he asked “people in low places” about it— and determined that the incident had apparently been nothing more than a party, “which over 10 years has grown disproportionately into something that it wasn’t.” To the best of his knowledge, MacKenzie said, five men did have sex with one woman, but it was consensual—and the woman was not mentally handicapped. “Stop calling it rape,” MacKenzie told Maclean’s. “It might be immoral and unethical to you and I, but it was not illegal.”

MacKenzie says he learned that the authorities got involved when photos of the incident came to the attention of military police, who launched an investigation. It was halted, he says, when the woman and her husband did not want it pursued—and because a civilian prosecutor said there was no case. Capt. Guy Ingram, in charge of base security at Gagetown in 1988 and now a teacher at the security training school at Borden, also says that the investigation ended, as far as he can remember, “because we had a lack of evidence.” But he also says it was initiated because of a “complaint”—although he says he cannot recall the details. Last week, Baril said that the allegations are being investigated by the NIS.

At Borden, meanwhile, a training base that has earned a reputation as one of the worst spots for sexual assault, young female soldiers scoured base stores last week for copies of Maclean’s. “It’s worrying,” said one, “really shocking.” All four young women said they were confident that the military leadership is committed to fixing the problems—and that they will have careers largely free of harassment. “We feel it is being addressed, and they’re doing OK,” one of them noted.

The Forces are encouraging women to a their compli

“But yeah, we’re concerned. It’s all anyone is talking about.”

Most male members of the Forces at Borden said the allegations came as a complete shock to them. And among female members, opinion was evenly split between women who said they had experienced some level of harassment—although nothing like the experiences recently described in Maclean’s—and those who said they had never been troubled by sexual harassment or abuse. Some reacted angrily, saying the reports painted a vicious picture of the military and its male soldiers that is unfounded—and that they resent being perceived as abuse victims. One even said she fears the stories have jeopardized her ability to do her job: “Now, all of my male colleagues and my staff are afraid to even look at me in case they end up in some harassment case. Men I work with aren’t even going to talk to me.”

But new victims continue to come forward. Tannis Babos-Emond was a 19-year-old trainee army cook when, she says, she was raped by another soldier on a deserted road near Borden in 1983. She says she did not report the rape for fear that no one would believe her. Terrified and guilt-stricken, she quit the military months later and did her best to put the rape out of her mind—until last week. “I always blamed myself, because I never tried to fight him, and I never said anything,” says Babos-Emond, now married and living in Cold Lake, Alta. “So Monday morning, I just picked up the phone, called the military police in Borden and said, ‘I have something to report to you.’ ” They referred her to CFB Cold Lake, where military police called the NIS. Babos-Emond also called the new 1-800 line. The next day, the NIS sent a team of officers to interview her. “It took three hours and it was rough,” she says. “But they were nice, and I think they’re on my side.” NIS staff are now trying to track down the man who allegedly raped her, and have told her charges will be pressed if the investigation is successful.

For some women, these new investigations may be the way to heal old wounds. One former supply technician who called Maclean’s last week said she started to confront the darkest aspects of her 8V2-year military career after she read the stories of the other women. She says she was raped four times, and forced to perform oral sex once, during the first 18 months she was in the Forces. The assaults occurred at CFB Shearwater in Dartmouth,

N.S., where she was sent as a 19-year-old private after basic training. “The first time, two guys were fighting over me at a party, and I thought it was a joke,” she recalls. “Then one picked me up and threw me over his shoulder. I hit my head on a concrete wall and I was knocked out and I woke up in bed with him on top of me.” She never reported any of the assaults. The irony of her situation, she says, is that she joined the military to flee from an abusive home—“I went out of the frying pan into the fire”—and says she now thinks she was targeted for abuse because the men around her sensed her vulnerability. Traumatized and depressed, but still keeping her secret, she finally quit the forces in December, 1994— and now intends to call Baril’s hotline.

Master Cpl. Suzie Fortin called the 1-800 line last week. Fortin, an army supply technician at CFB Kingston, Ont., last year successfully pressed charges against a senior non-commissioned officer. She reported harassment (comments such as the suggestion that she should spread his sperm on her face to clear up acne) and an assault in which he pinned her to her desk and shoved his hands down her shirt in January, 1996. In a bitter irony, her attacker was the designated harassment officer for her unit—the man to whom she was supposed to report such abuse. Although the assault charges against him were stayed in a court martial, he was found guilty of five counts of contravening “good order and discipline” last October. Fortin, a 19-year-veteran of the military, continues to be happy with her career.

But Fortin says she wants Baril to know what she went through to win that case: she had to continue to work with her attacker, and says she was discouraged from proceeding at every turn. “I called the complaint line, and they were great, they wanted to know how they could help and what I need,” she says. “They’re waking up now. They are going to know, this was done to me, and it was wrong, and how I suffered for the way the case was handled.” Fortin hopes that by forcing the military to confront her experience, she will smooth the way for other women who wish to join up. “I’m doing this for others,” she says. “I don’t want them to be naive. And I don’t want them to be afraid.”

With JOHN NICOL in Toronto