Sunday, December 4, 2016

A dramatic courtroom scene in Canada

Most courts-martial are fairly dull affairs. A recent case in Canada was anything but, with vivid testimony by the victim of sexual harassment. CBC News has this dramatic account by Jason Proctor from British Columbia. Chief Military Judge Mario Dutil has taken the unusual step of making public the entire victim impact statement. The accused warrant officer in R. v. Wellowszky 2016 CM 1011 was demoted to sergeant and fined $1,000. According to the Reasons for Sentence:

[3]        At the sentencing hearing, Sergeant K.N.L. read a Victim Impact Statement that she had prepared for the hearing and it can be found at Exhibit 6. The court finds that it is important, as well, to reproduce this statement to highlight how this type of behaviour and conduct had a genuine prejudicial effect on the victim, both personally and professionally, but also on the Canadian Armed Forces, because she now feels unable to fulfil her duties and responsibilities in the Canadian Armed Forces as a result of these events. 

“VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT

In the first few weeks at work after March 15/16, 2014 I felt my whole world had been turned upside down. Fort York Armoury (FYA) – a place where, prior to that night, I would start smiling as soon as I walked in the door – became a place of fear and dread. Initially, I was removed from the CSMs meetings so I would not be in close quarters with WO Wellowszky, and I was required to have an escort whenever I was conducting business in the Company (Coy) lines. At first this seemed like a reasonable course of action, especially that first Thursday night when at one point I had to walk past WO Wellowszky in the narrow corridor at the edge of the parade square. I didn’t know if he would lash out at me – physically or verbally – so I was glad I was not alone. But as time went on it became more and more inconvenient (members (mbrs) of the band would have to miss part of the rehearsal in order for me to do my job) and the night two of my members almost didn’t get promoted because of a miscommunication, I lost it. (Well, not actually, but I was furious.) I requested that WO Wellowszky and I attend the CSMs meetings on an alternating basis so that we would not be there together, but that we could both get the required information to do our jobs. That request was initially denied, but was eventually implemented in time for the next training year to start (Sept 2015). I felt that finally I could do my job again.

That feeling was short-lived as I realized I no longer felt comfortable in my own Sgt’s and WO’s Mess. I tried to go, on and off, on Thursdays after training that fall, but I soon realized I couldn’t be in the same room as WO Wellowszky and be relaxed. Eventually, I stopped going all together (unless specifically ordered to do so by the RSM) so not only have I lost the several hundred dollars I still had to pay in mess dues, but I quit the mess committee (which was something I quite enjoyed) and I lost all the networking opportunities that happen in a mess, making my job that much harder.

As March 2015 approached I knew I would have to make a decision with regards to the next Sgt’s and WO’s Mess Dinner. Eventually I decided that I had as much right to be there as WO Wellowszky did, so I would go, but that I would probably need female support to get me through the night. I asked a friend from another unit to join me, who was already somewhat aware of what had happened, and I went. I didn’t know until I got there that WO Wellowszky wouldn’t be there, but I still had a terrible time. I couldn’t help but relive the events of the previous year, so that was a shadow on my mind the entire evening. Basically I arrived, ate dinner, stayed until the speeches were done, and then left. I cried most of the way home.

The summer of 2015 the Deschamps Report was released, so all of a sudden there was a lot more focus on harassment and assault in the Military, which I found a bit ironic given that I was in the middle of the process but hadn’t heard much about a trial. General Whitecross was touring the country giving presentations to military mbrs about harassment and how it was no longer going to be tolerated in any form, and because I was employed at CFB Borden at the time, I was forced to go to her presentation. It was a difficult 3 hours to sit through, but by that time I had found out that my court date for the General Court Martial (GCM) had been set for 30 November 2015, and while that seemed like a long time to wait, I was happy that at least the end was in sight.

Back at the unit, in September 2015 WO Wellowszky was moved to a different department, so we no longer had to split the CSMs meetings, but by then my relationships with the Ops WO, the BOR/FIN Sgt, the Adjt, and the other CSMs was awkward and strained, making my job that much more difficult again. Then in October I got a phone call from Maj Samson telling me the GCM had been rescheduled to June 2016 and I was very upset. I couldn’t believe that this process was going to be dragged out for another 6 months! It was already hard enough at the unit for me, and the fact that every Thursday night, whenever I had to go down to the Coy line to do my job, I might randomly run into WO Wellowszky, was incredibly stressful. I guess I could have thrown in the towel at that point but I refused to give up.

I have to say though, when the opportunity came up for a 2½ month Class B contract at CFB Borden in the winter of 2016 – working in the Music Division (Div) with all the same people I worked for the previous summer – I jumped at the chance, even though it was difficult to manage my CSM duties at the unit while working away on tasking. That contract got me out of FYA and into an environment where I felt welcomed, appreciated and comfortable working, which is the opposite of what I have felt at the Royals these past 2+ years.

Finally, as I am again working at CFB Borden this summer in the role of Course Director for Music Div, there was an incident a few weeks ago that has made me realize I am no longer an effective WO in the CAF. Because of what happened to me in March 2014, and all the fallout afterwards, I cannot effectively lead or manage troops. If the opportunity arises for me to make a lateral move into a position where I will not be in charge of people directly, then – with the permission of my Chain of Command – I will take it, but otherwise I will be releasing from the military.

This is the impact the events of March 15/16 2014 have had on me.”

[4]        In her short testimony, she clarified the last paragraph of her written statement and stated that the incident in question was related to her inability as the Cou[r]se Director to manage a sexual harassment complaint involving two of her students because of her own experience as a recent victim of serious harassment. This affirmation speaks highly of the prejudice caused to her, but also to the Canadian Armed Forces.

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