Sexual-misconduct lawsuit against Armed Forces alleges 'reckless' conduct

A class-action lawsuit filed in Ontario over alleged sexual misconduct in the Canadian military suggests the Armed Forces were negligent in controlling the behaviour of some its members. The case is one of several to hit the courts following the release of a Statistics Canada report last month that painted a bleak picture of sexual assault and abusive behaviour in the Forces.

3 former military members spell out allegations of sexual assault and institutional indifference

Nadine Schultz-Nielsen, who served in the navy between 2001 and 2013, is part of a class-action lawsuit filed in 2016. (Submitted by Nadine Schultz-Nielsen)

Three former members of the Canadian military who are part of a proposed class-action lawsuit over sexual misconduct have laid out — in precise, stark terms — their allegations of abuse.

A statement of claim in a case involving three former members of the Forces was filed Monday in Ontario Superior Court. It says some of the complainants were actively discouraged from reporting incidents.

The plaintiffs — Nadine Schultz-Nielsen, Larry Beattie and Amy Graham — filed the claim on behalf of all former and current members of the military alleging sexual assault, sexual harassment and abuse of authority. They are also suing on behalf of family members who may have suffered as a result of a loved one's trauma.

"The conduct of [Canadian Armed Forces] members was reckless, arrogant, high-handed and abusive, and showed a callous disregard for the rights of the plaintiffs and class members," said the court filing, obtained by CBC News. "This conduct is reprehensible and deserves punishment."

The suit is asking for $1 billion in damages, although judges rarely impose the maximum damages sought by plaintiffs. 

The federal government has not filed a statement of defence in the case.

One of the lawyers involved in the case, Andrew Astritis, says as many 150 other possible claimants have contacted his firm since the notice of action was filed a few weeks ago.

"Those are individuals who've come forward and want to share their story, but some don't want to speak publicly because of the traumatic elements involved here," Astritis told CBC News.

Notices of action have been filed in three other class-action cases involving the sexual misconduct scandal that has seized the military: One was filed in Nova Scotia, another in northern Ontario and a third initiated in British Columbia.

"What I think this demonstrates is that there is a real endemic problem here that reaches across the country," said Astritis.

The impending court battles come just a few weeks after National Defence released the results of a Statistics Canada survey that shows nearly 1,000 members of the military claim to have been sexually assaulted within the last 12 months.

In April 2015, retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps released a report that said sexual misconduct within the ranks was endemic and many members — mostly women — were subject to assaults, harassment, degrading jokes and unwanted touching.

Canada's chief of defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, has responded with a comprehensive program to stamp out misconduct, known as Operation Honour.

Pattern of abuse

The claim put forward Monday alleges that men have also been subject to abuse and outright attacks.

Larry Beattie, a former sailor aboard HMCS Skeena, claims he was forced into sex with another male crewmember while on operation in the Caribbean in 1979. He was 18 at the time and says he was attacked in the shower on at least 10 occasions and threatened "that he would be thrown overboard with the garbage if he told anyone."

Beattie says he never reported the incidents because it was one of his superiors who assaulted him.

"I kept it to myself for years and years," he said. "My coping mechanism was alcohol. It was readily available on board ships, so I drowned my sorrows and cried myself to sleep not knowing what to do." 

The court records also state that Amy Graham claims to have been repeatedly sexually harassed after joining the military in 2004. She was apparently pressured to go on dates with her chief warrant officer a year later.

Graham, a communications research officer, was sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier in a hotel room following her tour of Afghanistan in 2010. Her attacker was charged just recently and pleaded guilty last month to an administrative charge, rather than a criminal charge. The soldier, whose identity was not listed in the court records, was demoted and fined $2,500.

Nadine Schultz-Nielsen, a medic, claims she was repeatedly grabbed and touched without consent while serving aboard HMCS Iroquois in 2002, according to Monday's filings. When she went to report some of the incidents, she alleges no action was taken and "was subject to retaliation for coming forward."

The Ottawa law firm Raven, Cameron, Ballantyne & Yazbeck is representing the three complainants.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.