Presentation by Tamara Lorincz, “Canada’s Invisible War: Exposing Violence against Women in the Canadian Military”
“Canada’s Invisible War: Exposing Violence against Women in the Canadian Military”
Presentation by Tamara Lorincz, Board Member of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace
Panel: Confronting Military Sexual Violence: Challenging Militarized Security
Commission on the Status of Women 57th Annual Conference
Monday, March 4, 2013
Taipei Economic and Cultural Center (TECO)
1 East 42nd St (just east of Fifth Ave), 4th Floor
This month, I am reminded that this year marks the 10-year anniversary of the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq and NATO’s war and occupation of Afghanistan. In both countries, Canada had regular and Special Forces operating alongside the U.S. and NATO. In both countries, civilian women and their loved ones were tortured, raped, injured and killed during these long brutal illegal and immoral wars. I do not want to diminish in any way the violence against women – innocent civilians – inflicted by the military by focusing my comments today on violence against women within the military.
For a number of years, I have been tracking violence against women in the Canadian military. Here are some headlines over the past three years: “Canadian Forces captain jailed for sexual assault of teenage cadets”; “Canadian Forces sergeant facing child porn charges”; “Domestic violence up in Canadian military families”; “Former military medic faces new sex charges” and “Canadian Military Officer Sentenced To Life For Murders and Rape” – this last headline is the gruesome 2010 case of Colonel Russell Williams who raped and suffocated Corporal Marie France-Comeau who worked with him at CFB Trenton and Jessica Lloyd who lived near the military base.
Last year, when this documentary “The Invisible War” came out in the U.S., I did further research to gain a better understanding of violence against women in the Canadian military. I collected material through Access to Information in the areas of sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.
Let me first provide some basic statistics to compare and contrast the U.S and Canadian militaries:
In the U.S., women comprise 14% of the military’s 1.4 million active members.
In Canada, it is similar; women comprise approximately 12% of our Armed Forces’ 68,000 regular and reserve members. Of these women approximately 100 are in combat positions. Since 1989, women have been able to serve in combat roles in the Canadian military.
I’d like to note that in January, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted the defacto 1994 ban, which had prevented women from serving in combat roles in the U.S. military. This is not a cause for celebration of gender equality, but of grave concern.
It was in 2006 that Canada’s first female soldier Captain Nichola Goddard was killed in combat in Afghanistan. Journalist Valerie Fortney wrote her biography entitled Sunray: The Death and Life of Captain Nichola Goddard. Fortney was given access to the Captain’s private letters that she had written to her husband. Those letters revealed rampant sexual harassment and assault of military women on Canadian bases in Afghanistan. This is a quote from one of Goddard’s letters, “There were six rapes in the camp last week, so we have to work out an escort at night.” The journalist also described how Goddard tried to “shake off the tension of living in a fortress where men outnumbered women ten to one.”
However, from 2004 to 2010, the Canadian military admits to having investigated only five reports of sexual harassment or assault in Afghanistan. I received a copy of those case summaries through Access to Information, which were heavily redacted, and are not consistent with the numbers that Captain Goddard told her husband.
It was later reported by Postmedia News that when Fortney, the journalist who wrote the biography, tried to learn more about sexual harassment and assault on Canadian military bases, she “hit a brick wall.”
This is consistent with what the Federal Office of the Ombudsman for Victims of Crime determined in its 2009 report that included a section on Sexual Violence & Harassment in the Canadian Military. The report states:
There is research from the United States that suggests that one in seven service women in the U.S. military will experience sexual assault while in the military and that more than 80 per cent of these will not be reported. One-third of female veterans seeking health care through Veterans Affairs have experienced rape or attempted rape during their service. While direct comparisons to the U.S. experience cannot be drawn, the Ombudsman felt that there were enough similarities to cause concern. Despite improvements to the environment for women in the [Canadian] military, it is impossible with current data to determine the reality of sexual assault and harassment in the [Canadian] Forces and how secure victims feel in coming forward.
The Ombudsman recommended to the Minister of National Defence that the total level of sexual violence in the military be more accurately determined for both reported and unreported cases and that there be a review of educational programs and supports for victims. I have written to the Minister to ask what he has done to fulfill the Ombudsman’s recommendations, but I have, unfortunately, not yet received a reply.
In the latest Judge Advocate General’s annual report for 2009-2010 it was stated that there were 84 charges of a sexual nature laid against 51 accused dealt with by court martial. The Judge Advocate General is the legal branch of the Canadian Forces and reports to the Minister of Defence.
In Canada, over the past three years there have been other critical reports which have addressed violence against women in the military that have been released to the media through Access to Information, but those reports are not available directly to the public.
For example, the Canadian Military Police Criminal Intelligence Program 2009 report on domestic violence found that there was a dramatic increase – 100 incidents reported each year in 2007 and 2008 – that coincided with military personnel returning from combat in Afghanistan. The Military Police recommended that the Department of National Defence do an immediate review.
The Military Police also looked at the cases of sexual assault in the cadet program. These are young women who are particularly vulnerable under an older male chain of command. From 2004 to 2008, there were 219 reported incidents resulting in 156 charges laid for sexual interference, luring a child, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, invitation to sexual touching, and procuring prostitution.
In January 2011, the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal released an internal report on criminal charges filed against soldiers and civilians associated with the military that revealed a high rate of sexual assaults against children and child pornography. The Provost Marshal oversees the Forces’ Military Police.
Yet after all these internal reports, the Department of National Defence claims that incidents of sexual harassment and assault are minimal as it did this past November when the department was asked to appear before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women.
Though the Department does have directives against sexual misconduct and harassment, such DAOD 5019-5, and has training and awareness programs, the problems persist.
Just recently a former Canadian military medic has been charged with additional 20 offences for sexual assault and breach of trust against more young women on two different bases from 2002 to 2009. In 2011, this medic, Chief Petty Officer James Wilks, was sentenced to nine months in prison for sexually assaulting three young female recruits. The Department of National Defence is now facing a civil suit brought by one of the young women. She is claiming that the military failed to enforce its policies and to monitor its members.
There is no doubt an “invisible war” in the Canadian military – it is comprised of sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and child pornography.
At the end of the documentary, all of the former female U.S. soldiers concluded that “If they would have known of the risks they would not have joined the military.”
It is precisely because of the military’s patriarchy, hierarchy, use of armed force (weapons), and prevalence of violence against women that make it an institution that is not safe for all women.