Letters: 'I am appalled so little has been done to help protect women'

Maclean's readers write in

Former military medical technician James Wilks (left), a petty officer second class who is now retired, arrives at a court martial in Gatineau, Que., on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. Wilkes is charged with 11 counts of sexual assault and 18 counts of breach of trust under the National Defence Act. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Former military medical technician James Wilks (left), a petty officer second class who is now retired, arrives at a court martial in Gatineau, Que., on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. Wilkes was charged with 11 counts of sexual assault and 18 counts of breach of trust under the National Defence Act. (Fred Chartrand/CP)

Protecting those who protect us

I vividly recall reading your four issues in 1998 on the subject of rape in the military and am appalled so little has been done to help protect women against the monsters among us (“A war with no end in sight,” National, May 5). Let’s hope Canada will care more after your terrific article, “Our military’s disgrace” (National, May 5), which is the best piece of journalism I’ve seen in decades. Thank you. I feel deep respect for writers Noémi Mercier and Alec Castonguay, but mostly for retired master corporal Lise Gauthier and the other victims who enlisted in our armed forces, were trained at a cost of millions and served Canada around the world—only to have their comrades sexually attack them?! This was criminal bullying at a systemic level. Women in the military and police must not have to worry about self-protection from their comrades.

Peter S. Storms, Meritorious Service Cross, Aurora, Ont.

As parents of an Afghanistan veteran wounded in action, we were absolutely appalled by this article. As long as Canadians merely tolerate ignorance and slaps on the wrist for these perpetrators, we are almost as guilty as they are. Our hearts go out to Stéphanie Raymond, the brave lady on the cover, as well as Cheryl Ross and others described in this story. May the perps rot in hell if justice isn’t forthcoming.

Carol and Ernest Pagnacco, Waterford, Ont.

Thank you for shedding light on these horrific ordeals. I am so very proud of the ladies who have the courage to share and bring forth their traumas!

Charlotte Greenall, Dundurn, Sask.

I, too, was a victim of sexual assault in the military, back in the 1980s. When I finally had the confidence to make a complaint in late 1996—something I would argue is even harder for men than women in that environment—the military police first tried to bury it after a botched one-year investigation. I was greatly helped, however, by your coverage in 1998. This made it possible for me to credibly threaten to take my story to the press if the investigation wasn’t reopened. It was, and the findings substantiated my complaints, even after 13 years. But no charges were ever laid and I was told to shut my mouth or face “consequences.” My assailants were arrogant after attacking me and arrogant when questioned by the investigators—secure in the belief that they will never have to pay for their actions.

The victims you interviewed tell almost exactly the same story, 16 years later. This needs to change. The internal review announced recently must be replaced by an independent external review, perhaps even a royal commission. Past and present victims must be helped and compensated. Perpetrators must know they will face justice as they stand on the threshold of a victim’s room, tent, or cabin. They must not be allowed to think they can count on their peers, or a deployment, or even resigning from the forces to escape the law. They must know they will be charged, imprisoned, dishonourably released from service, and that any future employer will know of what they have done.

Ian Bron, Ottawa

As the chief of defence staff for the Canadian Forces, I was disturbed by your recent article. My heart goes out to anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault. It is an abhorrent and corrosive crime that goes against the entirety of our military ethos and is not tolerated in the Canadian Forces. For these reasons, I directed both internal and external independent reviews of our workplace programs and policies. In the Canadian Forces, we hold ourselves to the highest standards of conduct, and we support open discussion of important issues, such as sexual assault. Further, our members are encouraged to report harassment of any kind, and they receive instruction throughout their careers on our harassment policies. I accept criticisms of the Canadian Forces and believe it helps an institution such as ours to reflect and take stock of issues and make the necessary changes to move forward.

What I find unacceptable, however, is the notion that sexual assault is a part of military culture. I encourage everyone within the Canadian Forces to report any misconduct, including sexual misconduct, and emphasize that every member will be supported by his or her chain of command without fear of reprisal. Every allegation of sexual misconduct is taken very seriously and, in all cases, an investigation is conducted to determine the facts, analyze the evidence and, if warranted, lay appropriate charges. I am honoured and privileged to work every day with a strong, first-class defence team, military and civilian, and I remain committed to promoting the well-being of the men and women and families of the Canadian Forces.

Gen. Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, Ottawa

Early 20th-century French statesman Georges Clemenceau was correct when he said, “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.” Nothing has changed.

Thomas Pritchard, Dunvegan, Ont.

Unfortunately, rather than being a call to action, this article is going to generate comments from the same old apologists, saying the military takes this issue seriously, claims are being exaggerated and that they can handle this issue. After reading the article, I happened to be out and saw a couple of non-commissioned officers in uniform at the grocery store. My immediate thought was not of pride, but: “What have you allowed or done regarding sexual assaults in your unit?” And that’s not a happy thought for a supporter of the Canadian military to be having.

Joe Macdonald, Dartmouth, N.S.

Like most readers, I was shocked and saddened by this article. I feel nothing but sympathy for the victims whose lives have been forever changed because of this. As I read their stories, it astounded me that they felt they had no one to turn to. The Canadian Forces is the most regulated organization in the country. Whatever has happened to you, there is a regulation that will tell you what to do next. We always say that the military is a small world and, from the day you join, you become part of this huge family. It is truly beyond comprehension that these victims felt they had no one to turn to for help. I am confident that the military police and CF leadership will do whatever is necessary to investigate these incidents, punish those guilty and restore faith in our culture and our uniform.

But I feel compelled to speak out for the other tens of thousands of men in the Canadian Forces whose behaviour has always been a credit to the uniform they wear. They are professional, honest and hardworking; they degrade no one and treat all their colleagues, subordinates and superiors—of either sex—with respect. I served alongside these men in the CF for almost 22 years. I never felt threatened, demeaned or harassed by any of the men I worked with because I was a woman. Truth, duty and valour are more than just words to the officer cadets who served, and are serving, at Royal Roads Military College and at the Royal Military College in Kingston. I just want to say thank you to the hundreds—thousands—of Canadian servicemen, senior and junior to me, whose paths I crossed during my career and beyond. It was truly an honour to have served with you.

Maj. (ret’d) Barbara Maisonneuve, Montreal

Mondo condos

The examples of nightmare situations you chose to expose in your article “A living hell” (Society, April 28) are well-known in the condo world. They are highlighted in courses for managers and directors, come up repeatedly in discussions at condo meetings, and serve to point out how incompetent some people can be. But such behaviour is not restricted to the world of condos, nor is it the norm for condos. As president of a condominium corporation, I’d say a majority of condo boards are reasonably competent: not inclined to permit a dance studio to operate in a residential unit, not overly zealous in developing and enforcing rules, and not treating their condo as a fiefdom. Similarly, a majority of condo owners and renters are, I suspect, well behaved, not throwing eggs at one another and not suing one another over frivolous issues.

Ron Worton, Oakville, Ont.

Finally, someone with the guts to tell it like it is. Most publications won’t print negative condo stories for fear of losing advertising dollars from the realtors and developers. Calling a condo a home is, by any standards, a joke. You had better have deep pockets for legal fees, lots of time on your hands to keep tabs on self-serving volunteer councils, or be fully prepared to watch your sanity and investment dollars go up in smoke. Condos, developers, and the so-called property management industry that has grown up around them, are the biggest unregulated scam to come along in a lifetime. Regrettably, the enthusiasm to own a home continues to overshadow the brutal reality that awaits. Buyer beware.

L.D. Bennett, Comox, B.C.

Some people buy units in our condo development thinking it is a single-family home without the worries of maintenance or ownership. They need to be reminded that condo living does not mean avoiding maintenance and ownership responsibilities, but rather sharing those duties among the owners! If people are unable or unwilling to take a turn on the condo board, perhaps they should find a nice rental property. All new owners receive a copy of the condo bylaws before their purchase is finalized. Many move in having never even read the four pages entitled “Use and occupancy restrictions.” They then proceed to do all manner of things that are clearly forbidden in the bylaws. This puts the condo board in the awkward position of having to enforce said bylaws, as they are required by law to do. Read the bylaws before you close the deal.

Allan F. Kiernan, Calgary

Condominium owners encounter the same situations as suburban house dwellers and tenants in an apartment building or a townhouse complex. In condominiums, behaviour may be more readily observed and action taken, compared to bylaw officers checking on residents in a city subdivision. Condominiums still represent a valuable choice to many people. Not everyone can afford to buy a big house and, with population growth, there is less and less land available for urban sprawl. Condominium ownership allows more people to enjoy the benefits of building up equity, plus, this helps reduce the footprint of the city.

Phyllis Fyckes, President, Condo Diagnostics Ltd., Calgary

I had to laugh at this quote about condo developers (“A living hell,” Society, April 28): “You’ve got people who think they’re serving their community by keeping costs down, and they don’t do the proper long-term repair and the buildings just continue to deteriorate.” Our politicians have been doing the same thing for the past few decades. We have the deteriorating buildings, roads, bridges, water infrastructure and sewer mains to prove it.

Linda Easton, Port Stanley, Ont.

Dying is not the ‘richest part’ of life

As supporters of physician-assisted dying, we understand how some people’s religions would be opposed to the concept, and have nothing but respect for their right to choose a death in line with those beliefs (“A crisis of faith,” Society, May 5). All we ask for is the same respect for our beliefs and our right to choose the death we want. In the last two weeks of our mother’s battle with lung cancer, which had metastasized to her brain, the palliative assistance we received in caring for her was outstanding. But when someone like priest and physician Mark Miller says, “Good care means living while you are dying—for some people, it’s the richest part of their lives,” it really makes us wonder if he has ever watched a loved one die a slow, agonizing, undignified death. Despite the “good care” our mother was receiving, the last two weeks of her life were certainly not the “richest part,” given that we’re sure she didn’t know where she was, who we were or what was happening to her. We know our mother would not have wanted to suffer the undignified death she had, and that, had she been given a choice, she would have wanted a physician to assist in hastening her inevitable death while she could still maintain her dignity and say a proper goodbye to her family. It is time for the lawmakers to provide choice in end-of-life decisions, combined with well-funded and effective palliative care, so that everyone can choose the death that is right for her or him.

Kent Kirkland, Edmonton

Tammy Kirkland, Regina

Velvet gloves for Flanagan

I am very disappointed in the “velvet gloves” approach to dealing with the treatment of Tom Flanagan, who seems to think that viewing child pornography is not only victimless, but not a crime at all (Interview, April 21). Does he really think he was treated unfairly? This man was vilified for good reason; if there is demand for these horrible images, then of course there will be supply. There is no question about this, yet the old and tired “free speech” argument will inevitably win out, as is evidenced by the fact that Flanagan is not only hawking his new book, but has been gingerly welcomed back into the conservative fold. He has apologized for making the comments, but has not changed his stance at all. “Out of context,” my ass. This is the same man that thought U.S. President Barack Obama should have Julian Assange assassinated for leaking American government documents on WikiLeaks, and threatened a Toronto woman who objected to this view, saying: “Better be careful—we know where you live.” The very fact that he is claiming to be the victim in this fiasco is what we should all find most appalling.

Carol Haire, Carbonear, N.L.

‘Absurd gay ideology’

Trinity Western is a Christian school that puts Christian principles and God first over that of politically correct ideology (“An objection we should we wise to raise,” Emma Teitel, May 12). Determining that students attending their university should promise to abstain from gay sexual relationships is the university’s right to set its own standards. This is not bigotry; it is religiosity. I would like Trinity Western to ask all its students to sign a form asking them to abstain from sexual relations while attending. Unwanted pregnancies among heterosexual students should also be discouraged. Moralism is not a bad thing for lawyers to strive for in life. Instead, the law societies want to force their absurd gay ideology and opinions on everyone. These people are the real bullies in our society. It’s time for government to take action.

L.J. Middleton, Edmonton

A lot of maybes

Let me see if I have this straight. The article “Son of God—and a husband” (Society, April 28) is about a fragment of papyrus which may or may not be from the seventh century, which contains writing known as Coptic that may or may not be genuine, about a man named Jesus who may or may not be the son of God, who may or may not have been gay, who may or may not have been married to a woman who may or may not have been named Mary who may or may not have been a hooker. All of this in a three-page article which may or may not be news!

Keith Black, Omemee, Ont.

We deserve better

The only good point in G.S. Lorentz’s letter (Letters, May 12) denouncing proportional representation is that the first-past-the-post electoral system is robust. It’s robust in its ability to to enable corruption and divisive partisan behaviours, vilifying co-operation. It is archaic and people feel the truth about their vote not being counted. We deserve a dynamic voting system that will better serve the living, breathing practice of democracy.

Veronica Campbell, Toronto