News / Canada

Former medic guilty of sex assault, breach of trust for breast exams on recruits

OTTAWA — A former medical technician has been found guilty of one count of sexual assault and three counts of breach of trust for conducting inappropriate breast exams at several Ontario military recruiting centres.

A five-member panel of serving military personnel handed down the verdict against former petty officer James Wilks in a military courtroom in Gatineau, Que., on Friday after several days of deliberations.

The panel found Wilks not guilty on four other counts of breach of trust. A military judge will sentence Wilks on May 24.

It's the third such conviction for Wilks, who said on the stand last week that he had conducted thousands of medical exams on prospective military recruits during his more than 25 years in uniform.

Wilks spent nine months behind bars after being found guilty of sexual assault and four counts of breach of trust in December 2011 for unnecessary and inappropriate breast exams on three women.

He was sentenced to another 30 months in 2013 after being convicted of 10 counts of sexual assault and 15 of breach of trust involving complaints from 16 women. That conviction is currently under appeal.

Wilks retired from the military for medical reasons in April 2011, before the first charges were laid.

The most recent convictions stem from breast exams that Wilks conducted on three women while working at military recruiting centres in London and Windsor in 2009.

The women said Wilks asked them to bare their breasts during routine medical exams for prospective recruits, even though breast and genital exams were not part of the recruit screening process.

One also said he fondled her breasts under the pretence of conducting an "optional" breast exam.

The women's identities are protected by a publication ban.

Wilks took the relatively unusual step of testifying in his own defence last week, during which he denied having conducted any breast exams.

Prosecutors wanted to present Wilks's full criminal record in court, but military judge Col. Mario Dutil would only let them say he had been found guilty of one charge of sexual assault and one of breach of trust in the last six years.

Friday's conviction comes as the Canadian Armed Forces grapple with what retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps has described as a sexualized culture that is hostile to women.

In a 2015 report, Deschamps described bad behaviour as "endemic" in the military — an institution she said was steeped in a macho culture that left women fearful to report abuse.

Defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance has since taken a hard line on any sexual misconduct, including threatening to kick out anyone found guilty of inappropriate behaviour.

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