Updated: Witness tells court martial she hid complaint over concern for her career

Updated: Witness tells court martial she hid complaint over concern for her career

GATINEAU, Que. — A woman who was told to expose her breasts for a routine military medical exam in 2005 didn’t initially come forward with her complaint over fears there would be repercussions for her career, a court martial heard Tuesday.

The witness, now a 30-year-old Canadian Forces reserve corporal, told the five-member panel that she only revealed details of the alleged incident to her boyfriend at the time, but pleaded with him not to say anything when he insisted on calling the Thunder Bay, Ont., recruitment centre where medical exams were being held.

“I asked him not to call,” the woman told the tribunal, suggesting she was worried that a complaint might negatively affect her military career.

The woman, who cannot be identified under a court-imposed publication ban, was testifying in the case against former petty officer James Wilks, who is accused of several incidents of breach of trust and one count of sexual assault in connection with complaints filed by women in Thunder Bay, London and Windsor, Ont.

The woman told the tribunal that Wilks offered to have a female chaperone her medical exam, but warned her that the recruitment centre was busy.

She eventually consented to have the exam without someone else in the room, she said.

The woman described how she was asked during the exam to show her chest, under the reasoning that the military needed to determine whether her rib cage was concave.

“It seemed to make sense at the time,” the woman testified.

“So I exposed my bare breasts,” she said. “It was very uncomfortable.”

The court martial is being held as the Canadian Armed Forces grapples with what retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps described as a sexualized culture that’s hostile toward 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.

In earlier testimony Tuesday, a Navy lieutenant who was also recruited in Thunder Bay, said she underwent an inappropriate exam in 2007, although another woman was in the room with her and Wilks at the time.

“I thought he was staring at my breasts for a long time,” the woman, whose identity is also protected under court order, recalled.

“It was awkward,” she said, describing how the medical technician said nothing as he motioned back and forth with his hand in front of her chest as if centring a target.

The other woman in the room, she said, didn’t react or say a word.

In his cross examination, defence counsel David Dodson asked about whether the second woman in the room offered any assistance.

“She looked uncomfortable, but she didn’t do anything,” the witness testified.

Wilks’s alleged behaviour later escalated into touching, another woman testified.

The 32-year-old captain, recruited in Windsor, Ont., in 2010, said she was told by Wilks — who she assumed was a doctor — that she could undergo an “optional” breast exam.

After having her lie down, he began touching her breasts, the woman testified. At one point she said he pinched her nipple “to test my nerve sensation.”

The woman also testified how she felt pressured to agree to the exam because Wilks had described how his recommendation would be a determining factor in whether she was admitted to the military.

Her husband convinced her in 2013 to report the incident to the authorities, after she had a conversation with a military colleague in which they compared how their medical exams were conducted, she told the tribunal.

From 1984 until early 2011, Wilks worked as a medical assistant and medical technician at Canadian Forces recruiting centres, where his main function revolved around the medical screening of recruits.

Wilks’s lawyer told the court the allegations against his client were fabricated.

And he suggested the alleged victims were only trying to further civil lawsuits against Wilks and the Defence Department.

Follow @tpedwell on Twitter

Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

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