'A place of fear and dread': case illustrates impact of harassment in military
Unwanted advances result in demotion and fine for warrant officer who admitted disgraceful conduct
Her name is Sgt. L. And she told her harasser's court martial that his behaviour had left her unable to lead or manage troops and had her seriously considering leaving the military.
Sgt. L. read her extraordinary victim impact statement at a hearing which resulted in a demotion and fine for the warrant officer who drunkenly touched her buttocks, followed her into a female washroom and kissed her face and neck even as she said "no" and "stop" several times.
'She now feels unable to fulfil her duties'
The sentence was pronounced last summer but has not been widely published. A charge of assault was withdrawn, but the offender admitted to charges of behaving in a disgraceful manner and conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline in harassing Sgt. L.
The reasons for his demotion are worth considering, given a vow this week by Canada's top soldier to punish or expel abusive perpetrators from the military, in the wake of a Statistics Canada survey on sexual assault and "inappropriate sexualized behaviour."
Chief Military Judge Col. Mario Dutil, who heard Sgt. L.'s case, decided to print her victim impact statement in its entirety.
"The court finds that it is important ... to reproduce this statement to highlight how this type of behaviour and conduct had a genuine prejudicial effect on the victim, both personally and professionally, but also on the Canadian Armed Forces," Dutil wrote.
"She now feels unable to fulfil her duties and responsibilities in the Canadian Armed Forces as a result of these events."
'She said 'no' and 'stop' several times'
The incident happened at a regimental mess dinner in March 2014.
According to a statement of circumstances included in the ruling, the incident began when the intoxicated warrant officer — a long-serving reservist described as a "strong leader" — approached Sgt. L. and "asked to have a picture taken with her and asked her to show her legs."
"Sgt. (L) laughed off his comment and declined to show her legs but agreed to take the picture," the ruling says.
He later asked to sit on a couch with her and "slipped his hand underneath her buttocks. She stood up to avoid his touch, moved a few feet away and joined another conversation."
The warrant officer followed her, "then slapped her buttocks. Sgt. L. glared at him and told him that his actions were inappropriate."
As the night progressed, the warrant officer began to follow Sgt. L.. She felt uncomfortable and went into the female washroom. Once in a stall, she texted a friend. When she emerged from the stall, the warrant officer was there.
"She pushed him out of the way, but he put his arms around her, held her tight and did not let her go," the ruling says.
"He kissed her face and neck. She said 'no' and 'stop' several times but he kept moving her backwards towards the stall. When she had her back to the door of the stall, she was able to use her arms to hold on to the side of the door frame and yelled at him to stop."
'I cried most of the way home'
According to Statistics Canada, a quarter of all women in the armed forces reported sexual assault at least once in their military careers.
Nearly 80 per cent of members in the regular force saw, heard or personally experienced behaviour in the past year, including inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communication, sexually explicit materials, unwanted contact or suggested sexual relationships.
In her victim impact statement, Sgt. L. says that in her first few weeks back at work after the incident "I felt my whole world had been turned upside down ... a place where, prior to that night, I would start smiling as soon as I walked in the door — became a place of fear and dread."
She was required to have an escort, so she would not be in close quarters with the man she had accused. At one point, she says she asked that they be able to attend company meetings on an alternating basis, so they wouldn't be together. Her request was initially denied.
She no longer felt comfortable in the mess shared by sergeants and warrant officers.
"I lost all the networking opportunities that happen in a mess, making my job that much harder," she said.
As the anniversary of the mess dinner where the incident occurred approached, Sgt. L. said she had to decide whether to attend again. Eventually, she decided that she "had as much right to be there" as he did.
The warrant officer didn't attend.
"I still had a terrible time," Sgt. L. told the court martial.
"I couldn't help but relive the events of the previous year, so that was a shadow on my mind the entire evening. Basically, I arrived, ate dinner, stayed until the speeches were done and then left. I cried most of the way home."
'The opposite of what I have felt'
At one point, she said she found it "a bit ironic" to see the focus on harassment and assault in the military with the release of a scathing report by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Marie Deschamps "given that I was in the middle of the process but hadn't heard much about a trial."
Sgt. L. told the court martial she ultimately left for another base "where I felt welcomed, appreciated and comfortable working, which is the opposite of what I have felt ... these past two-plus years."
But even there, she told the court martial, an incident arose in which she decided her own experience had left her unable to manage a sexual harassment complaint involving two of her students.
"This affirmation speaks highly of the prejudice caused to her, but also to the Canadian Armed Forces," Dutil wrote.
In sentencing the warrant officer, Dutil noted his 24 years of service and record of leadership as a mentor "who has made a significant contribution to ... the Canadian Armed Forces."
He pleaded guilty to disgraceful conduct and his wife told the court he has sought counseling, including marriage counseling, as well as guidance from their local church.
The warrant officer's rank was reduced to sergeant, and he was fined $1,000.
- This story has been updated to remove details which might have identified the victim.