Military reviews sex assault complaints

The Department of National Defence is investigating its handling of sexual assault complaints involving a convicted former medical technician who is facing 31 new charges, The Canadian Press has learned.

Complaints involving James Wilks were mishandled, says a lawyer for one of his victims who is suing the former medical technician and the military.

Phillip Millar, who says he is also representing several other women who have come forward to file claims against Wilks, alleges his chain of command knew of complaints against him but did little to act on them.

"People have come forward indicating they reported issues that went unheard and unactioned," Millar said in an interview from his law office in London, Ont.

"When was the first time a complaint was made internally about this guy and what did they do about it? I think that's going to be their big problem is that there were previous complaints that weren't followed up on."

A spokeswoman with the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service would only say it started looking into the matter last month "to determine if appropriate action was taken by the chain of command of ... James Wilks when staff was made aware of his actions in the workplace."

Those actions became the focus of a court martial in 2011 involving the allegations of three women. Wilks, a petty officer second class who is now retired, was found guilty of one count of sexual assault, four counts of breach of trust and was sentenced to nine months in jail.

Statements of defence have not been filed in the civil lawsuit and Wilks could not be reached for comment. The statement of claim contains allegations not proven in court.

Wilks, who was 51 when convicted in 2011, was conducting examinations at recruiting centres in Ontario. The investigation service says complainants alleged Wilks performed inappropriate medical exams between 2002 and 2009.

In a civil lawsuit filed against him in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, it is alleged by a recruit referred to as R.W. in court documents that Wilks touched her breasts and pressed his groin against her when she was 17.

Wilks was found not guilty of sexual assault in the court martial case involving R.W., who cannot be named under a military judge's order. He was found guilty of breach of trust for "conducting an enrolment medical examination on Miss R.W. in a manner contrary to Canadian Forces Health Services Group policies and procedures."

Other alleged victims spoke out after the Military Police made a public appeal for them to step forward.

The new charges against Wilks were laid last year and he is now facing 12 counts of sexual assault and 19 counts of breach of trust under the National Defence Act and the Criminal Code. The charges have not been proven and a date has not been set for his court martial.

The complaints involving Wilks are among several cases that expose a much broader issue of sexual assault in the military, says JoAnne Brooks, director of the Women's Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County, which is about a 20-minute drive from CFB Petawawa in Ontario.

Brooks said too many women in the military refuse to file official complaints of sexual assault because of the explicit power dynamic between ranks.

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