Sexual misconduct in the military ‘downplayed,’ says woman leading lawsuit

A former military officer from Nova Scotia says she hopes the proposed class action lawsuit announced this week will eradicate gender-based discrimination in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Glynis Rogers of Yarmouth, who took medical dismissal at the end of August, is now the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. Systematic and sexual discrimination, harassment and abuse “almost happened on a daily basis,” she told CBC’s As It Happens on Tuesday.

“I feel the severity of sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual discrimination in the Canadian Forces has been continually downplayed,” Rogers said.

Any woman who claims a similar experience could become a member of the class, if the case proceeds. As of Monday, the military had been served with the lawsuit

The Canadian Armed Forces has been under scrutiny for sexual misconduct within the ranks over the last few years. A former Supreme Court justice called such behaviour “endemic” and tolerated by military leaders. In response, the force launched Operation Honour to change the culture. 

That operation has instead come to be known as a joke — and is called “Hop On Her,” Rogers said.

‘We have to work harder’

Rogers began her career a decade ago when she joined the regular force straight out of high school. In court documents, she said discriminatory treatment began not long after. 

As a student at the Royal Military College of Canada, she said she and other female classmates were treated as intellectually and physically inferior. 

“It’s almost like we need to prove ourselves more than male members,” she said. “We have to work harder and be in better physical shape than male members in order to gain respect.”

The statement of claim, filed by Halifax law firm Wagners, alleges members mocked her with comments like “she’s actually smart?” when she won an academic award.

Rogers graduated with first class distinction with a bachelor of science in physics and mathematics.

A review of the Royal Military College was announced earlier this month after a number of suspected suicides and allegations of sexual misconduct.

Acquittal ‘destroyed me’

According to court documents, Rogers spent summers working in Greenwood, N.S., and moved to Borden, Ont., to learn to take the basic aerospace engineering course as a second lieutenant.

There, she said women were belittled, called emotionally unstable, and subjected to other demeaning comments and behaviour.

It was at Borden where Rogers alleges a male colleague assaulted her. A military court conviction was overturned on appeal.

That acquittal “destroyed me,” she said. 

“I began sleeping all the time. I was severely depressed. I wouldn’t eat. It had severe emotional consequences.”

‘Incite the necessary changes’

She had originally held off reporting what happened because she feared retaliation. In the end Rogers said going through the two court cases damaged her career.

The subsequent few years of mental health issues led to her medical release in August, she said.

Her proposed class action suit alleges that female military members, due to discrimination based on gender, suffered physical, psychological and emotional harm, and may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and depression.

“I believe this suit will bring attention to these systemic issues and incite the necessary changes to eradicate gender-based discrimination in the Canadian Armed Forces,” Rogers said.

‘Shouldn’t feel normal’

The suit alleges the Canadian Armed Forces failed to provide adequate victims services, reporting mechanisms, promoting meaningful sanctions and training to prevent assaults.

She pointed to an “engrained” culture, which she said was reflected by offhand comments, like that of former Gen. Tom Lawson, who while in his position of Chief of the Defence Staff linked sexual misconduct to “biological wiring.” The senior officer quickly backtracked his comment as an “awkward characterization.”

“This shouldn’t feel normal,” Rogers said. “It shouldn’t be the norm in the military. It shouldn’t be the norm in our culture.”

Earlier this fall, two class action suits alleging systemic sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse pushed the RCMP to offer a historic apology to female officers and civilians. The massive settlement is expected to cost up to $100 million.

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