Nfld. & Labrador

Victim says military misconduct still not taken seriously

A former peacekeeper from Newfoundland and Labrador says the Canadian military doesn't take sexual misconduct seriously — and she doesn't know if conditions will ever improve for female military personnel.
Retired vet Lesleyanne Ryan pictured on guard duty in Bosna, 1994. Ryan says the military has done little to address complaints of sexual misconduct. (Submitted)

A former peacekeeper from Newfoundland and Labrador says the Canadian military doesn't take sexual misconduct seriously — and she doesn't know if conditions will ever improve for female military personnel. 

Lesleyanne Ryan of St. John's is a retired Canadian Armed Forces veteran who reported being assaulted by a superior in 1994.  

In an interview with The St. John's Morning Show on Friday, Ryan said she wasn't surprised to hear that inappropriate sexual conduct in the Canadian Armed Forces is still a serious problem. 

Ryan said years of misconduct has created a vicious cycle in which women who speak out are unlikely to get promoted, and female recruits are hesitant to enlist.

"It's part and parcel with everything I've experienced while I was in [the military] and afterwards," she said.

"I heard today that the minister said they would implement [the report's recommendations]. For me, I'll believe it when I see it."

Ryan's sexual assault took place during the end of her tour in Bosnia.

"By the time it happened, I was already experiencing some of the early signs of PTSD, and this really broke the camel's back," she said. 

"I can see why they never charged him because what he submitted was not what I said.- Lesleyanne Ryan, retired military vet

Ryan filed a complaint and, a few months later, urged a fellow colleague to do the same when the woman revealed she was raped by the same man who allegedly assaulted Ryan.

Ryan said that colleague was dissuaded from making a public complaint. 

"She said no because she had gone to a lawyer," said Ryan.

"He had said because she had been drinking more than the two beer limit, she'd be charged for having done that. And, as a reservist, if she had been charged, her career would have been over."

Victim shaming 

A Maclean's Magazine investigation in 1998 prompted many sexual assault and harassment complaints, like Ryan's, to be reviewed. At the time, Ryan said she felt optimistic the military would make the necessary changes. Now, she's not so sure. 

The recent slew of FHRITP incidents involving television reporters makes Ryan doubtful the macho military mindset will change. 

"This stuff goes on all the time in the military," she said.

"If you're not going to stop a guy from doing it in front of a camera, how do you stop a guy from doing it on exercise or anywhere else when he knows he'll get away with it? And that's the problem. They know they'll get away with it, they know the women get blamed."

While Ryan's pleased with the report's recommendation to provide victims with an independent centre to report their complaints, she said she feels it's still not enough. 

"A start would be more women in the higher roles," she said.   

Military police procedure  

Ryan says she believes she would still be in the military today had she not spoken out about her alleged abuse. The stress of the incident led her to drop out of law school.

"The harassment from peers and supervisors, it eventually got to the point I had to get out," she said.

Marie Deschamps, a former Supreme Court justice and author of an inquiry into sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces, speaks at a news conference in Ottawa on April 30. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
Ryan said her case was riddled with bias because it was conducted by military police, and not an independent investigator like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

"I got a hold of my investigation through Access to Information and I was blown away as to how incompetent the investigation was," she said. 

"I can see why they never charged him, because what he submitted was not what I said. I wasn't even given a chance to sign off on [my statement], so they took a verbal complaint, sent it up, didn't bother to have me check what they had written down. What came back was not what I said."

Ryan said women who speak out about military misconduct have a lot to lose.  

"I was lucky that when I did get out, I was covered under Veterans Affairs and I came out with a pension, so I managed to put my life back together," she said.

"But today, another woman in the same position would get out, they would have nothing. They would have very little in terms of financial support, medical support, psychological support and, in those terms, it's gotten worse."

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