'It has to change:' Nova Scotia woman leads class action lawsuit claiming bullying, sex assault of military women
Glynis Rogers says she hopes to see the Canadian Armed Forces make concrete changes and address systemic issues of misogyny.
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A Nova Scotia woman leading a proposed class action lawsuit is hoping to “incite some change” after speaking up with personal and graphic allegations of misogyny, sexual harassment and assault in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).
A statement of claim against the federal government was filed Monday with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court by Halifax-based lawyer Ray Wagner, alleging the Attorney General of Canada is vicariously liable for the alleged misconduct.
“It honestly breaks my heart that … it almost feels like it’s the norm for the military and that’s not right. It has to change,” Glynis Rogers, lead plaintiff and former CAF member, said in an interview Monday.
Rogers, from Yarmouth, is the only plaintiff now but if the case proceeds the class could include any women who claim similar treatment.
After enrolling as officer in the CAF out of high school in 2006, Rogers attended the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, Ont. where she completed a Bachelor of Science in physics and math and graduated in 2011.
The allegations happened in her time at RMC, the claim reads, as well as job training in Greenwood, N.S., and following graduation until mid-summer 2012 at CFB Borden in Ontario, when Rogers was in the aerospace engineer officer basic course.
The suit alleges it was common for Rogers to overhear offensive comments from male CAF members, including superiors, that demeaned women. Rogers alleges she was called a slut on “numerous occasions,” heard other women called the same, and one time was slapped on her behind by a superior during training in Cape Breton.
The suit alleges female members were treated as “intellectually inferior.” In Rogers’ third year at RMC, after receiving a badge recognizing academic achievement, she alleges comments were made by men including “how did she get that?” or “she’s actually smart?”
In drill practice, Rogers alleges when women would call out commands men would make fun of their voices. On other occasions she alleges offensive comments were made towards pregnant women being accused of taking “advantage” of parental leave.
“It’s more the military culture, this misogynistic culture that causes these issues. Most women I’d assume would have at least some similar experiences,” Rogers said. “It’s almost ingrained.”
In Feb. 2012, the claim says Rogers was sexually assaulted by a male CAF member when he visited her room at CFB Borden, and began caressing her vaginal area while they watched a movie.
Rogers asked him to stop and moved away, but the claim reads he moved on top of her, removed her underpants and inserted his finger and then penis into her anus. The claim says Rogers repeatedly told him to stop but that the man persisted.
The claim says Rogers eventually reported the incident and the male member was found guilty, but he later appealed and was acquitted.
Constant exposure to harassment and a degrading culture towards women in the CAF impacted her “physical and mental health and feelings of self-worth,” until she was placed on permanent medical category and released from the CAF this August.
Although Rogers said having such personal details on the public record makes her feel “a little vulnerable,” she feels confident about why she’s following through with the suit.
“I think it will incite some change,” Rogers said.
“No matter what the outcome, if the military sees that this is a serious issue, that is my main goal.”
It’s especially tough for women still in the military to speak up about any harassment, Rogers said, since women often feel like they won’t be believed by their superiors and fear career repercussions.
Rogers said the current harassment prevention programs now aren’t working - “Operation Honour,” intended to address sexual harassment, is widely known in the military as “Hop On Her.”
“People makes jokes about the programs that are in place … They’re not actually doing their job. They haven’t had much impact,” Rogers said.
A spokesperson confirmed the CAF had been served with the lawsuit, and said the government is deciding its “next steps.”
“Often in dealing with cases like this, where there’s systemic abuse, you often have to hear the most horrible of circumstances before you realize the depth of the problem. And it can’t be dealt on a superficial basis,” Wagner said.
An eventual case would seek damages, Wagner said, but the amount wouldn't be determined until its known how many women decide to be part of the class.
Wagner said it will likely be sometime next year before they know if the suit will proceed. - with files from The Canadian Press