Domestic violence up in Canadian military families

A CBC News investigation has found a disturbing rise in domestic violence among soldiers returning from deployment in Afghanistan.

Rates spike after Afghanistan missions

Families reunite in Petawawa, Ont., after troops return from Afghanistan. Transitioning from the field to back home is a struggle for many soldiers. (CBC)


  • Some families stuggling with domestic abuse feel abandoned by military
  • Psychology experts believe increase is partly due to post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Military says it has programs to help support soldiers on their return home

A CBC News investigation has found a disturbing rise in domestic violence among soldiers returning from deployment in Afghanistan.

Domestic violence on Canadian military bases has climbed steadily in recent years, coinciding with the return of soldiers who carry physical and psychological battle wounds home.

The problem exists in military communities across the country, but is acute at Ontario's Canadian Forces Base Petawawa where a spike in cases was noted after troops returned from Operation Athena in Afghanistan in 2007.

Military police documented the trend in a 2008 report that was not released, but that CBC News has obtained through Access to Information.

In the report, the independent police service notes a five-fold jump in reported cases of domestic violence after Operation Athena, when Canada's role in Afghanistan changed and troops experienced ongoing casualties.

Recommendations included reviewing psychological services for soldiers and their families. But the study was shelved.

Psychology experts believe the rise in domestic violence is directly linked to physical and emotional trauma suffered by soldiers in Afghanistan, especially post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

The Canadian Forces say although that may be possible, there isn't any concrete proof the two are linked.

"We found, unfortunately, some methodological flaws in the way some of that military police data was collected and analyzed," said Col. Jean-Robert Bernier, Deputy Surgeon General with the Canadian Forces.

That dismissal angers some families struggling with domestic violence in the aftermath of service in Afghanistan, who say they feel abandoned by the military.

Afghanistan changed father of four

More than a quarter of Canadian Forces troops return with some kind of "operational stress injury" or psychological problem — ranging from anxiety and depression to substance abuse.

Among those psychologically wounded, one in six will develop PTSD, a condition that triggers recurring feelings of intense, prolonged fright, flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, insomnia and aggression.

Roger Perreault is one of them.

"Ever since I've come back, I feel like I've lost everything, employment, life as a whole," says Perreault, a Warrant Officer in the Canadian Infantry based in Petawawa.

The father of four developed PTSD after he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2006, where he was severely injured by an improvised explosive device, and watched friends die.

His symptoms include insomnia, a short temper and nightmares. He has attacked his wife Fran in the middle of the night. 

"The only thing I remember of that, it's like waking up and being on top of her, and then my hands around her throat," he recalls.

Fran says her husband is a good father, but changed in Afghanistan.

"I've got that stigma attached to me now," she said. "I'm ashamed of it. We're treating it and I think we're the brave ones because we're confronting it."

Canadian Forces says more studies needed

Roger and Fran Perreault firmly believe that their family is not alone in their ordeal. They say they know many military homes struggling to cope with PTSD-related violence.

Several U.S. studies have documented a four-fold higher risk of violent behaviour among PTSD sufferers.

But the Canadian Forces is skeptical about American research.

"They have [found] a slight correlation, but this is new research that needs to be investigated," said Col. Suzie Rodrigue, head of social work with the Canadian Forces.

Rodrigue points out the military has "robust" programs already in place to help, counsel and support soldiers transitioning from the field back home.

The Perreault family says those services have fallen short for them and they've scrambled to find adequate support.

They have to travel out of town for weekly marriage counselling. One of their daughters waited a year to get an appointment at a local counselling centre, where she only gets one session a month.

It's not enough, Roger Perreault says.

"I wish someone would just sort this out for our injured guys."