WATCH: To become a Canadian soldier, recruits endure vigorous training meant to toughen them up for a potentially dangerous job. But, one former soldier claims the abuse he endured at the hands of his drill sergeant left him with long term physical and mental pain. Shirlee Engel has the story.
Editor’s note: In response to several comments about the use of the word “veteran” in this story, Global News reached out to Veteran’s Affairs and the Veteran’s Ombudsman’s Office. Official and legal opinions on the definition of a veteran vary. Please read What is a veteran? for more on this topic. The title and the reference to Robichaud as a veteran has been changed in the current version of this story.
James Robichaud went from promising military recruit to being discharged with an injury before he could even complete basic training.
The former Canadian Forces private alleges the abuse he endured at the hands of a drill sergeant was so traumatizing, it left him with long term physical and mental injuries, and sabotaged his budding career.
Nearly five years later, he is on 17 different medications and said he still has nightmares.
“Everybody was scared of him. He was very aggressive,” Robichaud told Global News from his home in Trenton, Ont. “We knew we would be in hell when he was in charge of us.”
Robichaud joined the army in 2009, at age 43, after working in the lumber business. He was looking forward to a second career as an intelligence officer, but that all came to an end when he arrived for training at CFB Saint Jean, in Quebec.
He believes the drill sergeant had it in for him right from the start – when he made recruits do push-ups on their knuckles on gravel.
“At one point there was a rock that went into my hand and it was bleeding and I was making noises and I was grunting,” Robichaud said. “He grabbed me and he hit me on the shoulders. I went flat on my belly and he grabbed me by the shoulders and said stop whining like a little girl.”
Robichaud said it escalated from there. When he ripped his Achilles tendon in a fall on black ice, he alleges the drill sergeant made him run the course despite a doctor’s order to stay off his feet.
“I tried to run and I fell again. He told me if I didn’t run he would kill me 21 ways with his hands. And I believed him,” said Robichaud. “He said each time you fall I’m going to have people behind you and each time you do it I’m going to put a charge in your file for disobedience.”
He said he was initially denied medical care or a wheelchair. He complained to chain of command, only to be threatened by his superior yet again.
“He stated that he could do whatever to us and nobody would believe us.”
Robichaud’s physical injuries were so severe, he could not complete the training course and meet the requirements to begin his career as a soldier. His dream was shattered for good when he was medically discharged in 2012.
Veterans Affairs Canada covers his expenses – a recognition his injuries were caused in the military.
“I feel cheated. I feel he took away my career. He took away my health,” says the retired private.
The Department of National Defence refused to discuss Robichaud’s allegations, but did confirm military police conducted an investigation and recommended charges. The Director of Military Prosecutions has yet to decide whether charges will actually be laid so the drill sergeant could face a court martial.
Robichaud’s lawyer Michel Drapeau said the investigation only began after he took on the case in 2012 and wrote a letter to the vice-chief of defence. He still can’t get any answers from the military.
“We as Canadians need to know when a young person goes in and is recruited in the forces he is treated with not only dignity but also safety,” Drapeau said “And when this fails because somebody gets out of hand, the military will take that and do something. Particularly, when they’ve been warned and given evidence – un-contradicted so far – that he has suffered violence at the hands of this superior officer.”
Global News has learned the drill sergeant has since been reassigned to CFB Petawawa. He didn’t respond to an interview request through his commanding officer.
Robichaud’s allegations haven’t been proven, but he said he won’t rest until his alleged abuser is punished. He won’t let his own sons join the military because he’s concerned about the message his story sends to young recruits who may be too afraid to complain.
“I don’t believe in the Canadian system anymore… That that kid could be exposed to same bad dream that I was.”