Insiders say the Forces have covered up a 1987 assault
MYSTERY AT GAGETOWN
Insiders say the Forces have covered up a 1987 assault
On Oct 2, 1987, a woman named Connie went to the singles quarters at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick, convinced she was going to become a movie star. Two soldiers in the base bar had persuaded the 23-year-old woman that all she had to do was pose for what they called “Sunshine Girl-like” photos. “They told me to do this pose and that pose—I figure they were legitimate,” says Connie, who asked that her surname not be used. “I did some of the poses. Towards the end, I sensed something was wrong.” Over the next four hours, Connie—whom a psychologist earlier that year had described as functioning within the “limits of borderline intelligence”—says she was repeatedly violated, vaginally and orally, by at least five soldiers in the Royal Canadian Regiment. When word of the incident spread, it became the subject of an intense military police investigation that ended with no disciplinary action taken—and with allegations by military police sources that Canadian Forces brass covered it up. Last year, military police launched a second investigation into the case, and now members of the Maritime branch of the National Investigation Service, the country’s top military police unit, are contemplating yet another review.
When the June 1 issue of Maclean’s mentioned that the rape of a mentally handicapped woman by five soldiers at Gagetown had been hushed up, military authorities denied it vehemently.
Retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie, the base commander from 1988 to 1990, stepped forward to say that “the Gagetown incident has been examined in depth and appears to be a huge fabrication.” Acknowledging that he had no direct knowledge, MacKenzie said that military sources “in low places” had re cently informed him that the woman was not mentally handicapped, that she and her common-law husband did not want any charges laid in what amounted to consensual sex, and that a New Brunswick Crown attorney came close to laughing concerned military police out of his office because he thought there was no case. “Maybe nymphomaniac becomes mentally disturbed over 10 years?” MacKenzie told The Toronto Sun, explaining how the facts may have been twisted over the years.
When contacted by Maclean’s last week, MacKenzie stood by his explanations and his sources. “Based on the information they gave me and where they got it, I trust they gave it to me accurately,” he said. “I have no reason to doubt them.” But a three-week investigation by Maclean’s, including interviews with Connie, her parents, her husband at the time
of the incident and military sources, reveals a story that differs drastically from the account MacKenzie says was given to him.
Connie never got past Grade 6 in rural Nova Scotia. Her learning difficulties prompted her parents to take her for a brain scan at age 9 or 10. She was deemed mentally slow, says her mother, who still lives in Nova Scotia and describes her daughter as “a sweet, kind person who doesn’t know there’s a big bad world out there.” In late 1983, Connie married a man who enlisted in the military the following year. She moved with him to Gagetown in 1985. They had one child who is being raised by grandparents. The marriage ended when Connie was unable to cope during her husband’s frequent absences on manoeuvres. She left him—and moved in with another soldier. In 1986, she had a second daughter.
The New Brunswick ministry of health and community services took that child under its care after bruises and lacerations were found on her back, apparently because the baby was carried in a duffel bag in the back of the couple’s vehicle. The ministry arranged for a psychological assessment of Connie that concluded she was unfit to mother the child because, in the words of the psychological assessment, she was “significantly handicapped in the intellectual sphere.” In some tests, Connie’s results “fell in the mentally retarded to borderline range.” She also had a “submissive” personality, and was further described in the report as “obedient, easily led, accommodating [and] easily upset by authority.”
Now living on welfare at the home of her in-laws in a Quebec village, Connie recently spoke to Maclean’s for two hours about the events of Oct. 2,1987. At times, her stories were incredible, but at other times she volunteered minute factual details that other sources later confirmed. At some point during the photo session, she said,
she was told she had to do sexual acts. “That’s when I was saying this is a little far-fetched,” she said. “That’s when I did my struggle to get away.” As soldiers filed into an upper room to have their way with her, she said, they forced her head down on them. Her right arm, she said, was later tethered to the bed, and she claimed she had to use blunt scissors to cut herself loose while a soldier was out in the hall bragging about his exploits. She pointed to a scar on her arm where, she said, the scissors she used on her binding slashed her arm.
A month after the incident, military police were called to a base bar named Dundee’s to deal with Connie, who was disturbing patrons with apparently wild stories about what had happened to her. Military policeman AÍ White decided that what she was saying warranted further questioning, and took her back to the base police station. Her story led to a lengthy investigation that turned up the negatives of the photos taken during the incident, and put five soldiers under suspicion of sexual assault—with a victim incapable of true consent.
The sexual assault case was brought to local Crown attorney William Kearney, who himself pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges in 1993 and received a five-year sentence. Now out of jail and retired, he told Maclean’s he cannot remember the incident, but he objected to the suggestion he would have ridiculed the case. “It looks like they’re trying to wish-wash it, and they’re trying to get the prosecutor in there just to show he didn’t think much of it either,” Kearney said. “No matter how pathetic she was, it should have, at the very least, gone through a court martial. At the very least. It’s not a laughing matter.”
One of the soldiers implicated in the incident, and who agreed to speak to Maclean’s anonymously, said the sex had been consensual, and there had been no coercion or restraining. “Nothing like that,” he said. ‘Yelling,
screaming—there was none.” He acknowledges taking some of the photos, although he says he did not have sex with Connie. “Nobody thought they were doing anything wrong,” he said. “A respected police officer was there. That stuff happened almost every weekend. Does that mean all those women were mentally deficient, too? It was a party gang bang. Universities do it all the time and nothing happens. The military does it and we get hammered.”
In fact, according to the original military police report, the five soldiers all admitted to knowing they had sex with a mentally unfit woman. But none of them were ever prosecuted, and some were soon posted to other bases (a common way of handling such cases, according to police sources). Among them was a military policeman who was promoted from master corporal to sergeant and sent to Halifax. Now working in the security field in Nova Scotia, he admits to being in the singles quarters that day, but denies having sex with Connie. As for his promotion, he said it was already in the works.
Col. Dennis O’Brien, who at the time was commanding officer of the five suspects, denies that any deliberate attempt was made to scatter the soldiers. He says he has a vague memory of the details, but did not actively get involved in the case. He adds that the military policeman in his regiment was “very highly rated that year,” and despite having his badge temporarily suspended because of the incident, deserved his promotion in a 1988 merit review.
Retired brigadier-general AÍ Geddry, who was base commander on Oct. 2,1987, and during the first seven months of the investigation, says he has no knowledge of any aspect of the case. However, he added that in those days the military had a “wash-your-dirtylaundry-in-the-family” attitude. ‘That’s how the military world
'Nobody thought they were doing anything wrong’
was,” he said in an interview. “We can see now that wasn’t a terribly good attitude to take. That is why many times a lot of this stuff was going on but the bosses didn’t hear too much about it because subordinates wanted less hoo-ha. Therefore, we ended up with a lot of coverups right up until the recent past.”
To the chagrin of investigators, the initial inquiry elicited no action from commanding officers. The second was launched in 1997—sparked by letters from three concerned soldiers to thenDefence Minister Doug Young contending that the first investigation was ignored. “There’s a lot of coverups when it comes to sexual offences down here,” says one of the Gagetown insiders who wrote Young, and who agreed to speak to Maclean’s on condition of anonymity. He claims that the original investigators were directed to go to the local Crown attorney— not to have charges laid, but to have civilian jurisdiction waived. “Once it went back to the military, it went the way everybody else wanted it to go,” he says, “which was to bury it. The only way we’ll find out the truth about Gagetown is if someone holds an inquiry.”
Connie, meanwhile, left Gagetown for CFB Petawawa with her second husband in 1990. When that marriage also ended in divorce three years later, she began a relationship with another soldier until he physically abused her. Now 34, she recently remarried, this time to a civilian. Connie says she doesn’t know what happened to the investigation. “All I heard was an anonymous person put an end to it.” Both Connie and her husband at the time of the incident, who now lives in British Columbia, say they never requested that the case not be pursued. When she now looks back on her time in Gagetown, Connie describes it as emotionally “distraughting.” She says she is glad to be away from the military— and the events that transpired on Oct. 2, 1987. □
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