August 14, 2013 5:40 pm
Updated: September 12, 2013 7:42 pm

Sex assault, breach of trust charges against ex-Forces med tech involve 18 women

The facade of the headquarters of the Department of National Defense is pictured in Ottawa, Wednesday April 3, 2013.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

A former military medical technician facing a court martial this fall has been charged with sexual assault and breach of trust involving 18 women over a six-year span, a military prosecutor has confirmed.

James Wilks, a petty officer second class who is now retired, is charged with 11 counts of sexual assault and 18 counts of breach of trust under the National Defence Act, Maj. Dylan Kerr said in an interview Wednesday.

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Court martial proceedings before a judge alone are expected to start Sept. 25. They involve alleged inappropriate medical exams at Ontario military recruitment sites in Thunder Bay and London from 2003 to 2009, Kerr said.

Wilks also faces separate civil lawsuits that claim the military didn’t act on reports about his alleged conduct.

Three women, including one who says a superior officer told her to “suck it up” when she complained, filed statements of claim last month accusing Wilks of sexual assault and the Defence Department of failing to stop it.

The documents filed in Ontario Superior Court of Justice in London, Ont., allege that Wilks sexually assaulted them during physical exams for recruits at various Defence sites in Ontario.

A fourth woman, identified in court documents as R.W., last year filed a similar civil claim against Wilks. It alleges he touched her breasts and pressed his groin against her during a recruitment medical exam in 2009 in Sarnia, Ont.

None of the allegations in the documents has been proven in court. No court dates have been set for the civil lawsuits and no statements of defence have been filed.

Wilks was convicted in a 2011 court martial of one count of sexual assault and four counts of breach of trust involving R.W. and two other women. In those cases, the complainants alleged Wilks performed inappropriate medical exams between 2002 and 2009 at recruiting centres in Ontario.

He was sentenced to nine months in jail.

How the Defence Department responded to initial complaints about Wilks is the subject of an internal investigation. When asked if those results would be made public, spokeswoman Capt. Joanna Labonte said she could not comment on an ongoing military police investigation.

The three most recent civil lawsuits allege Wilks committed sexual assault, assault and battery between 2006 and 2009 in Thunder Bay and London, Ont., during physical exams for new recruits. All three women are seeking more than $1.4 million each in damages for trauma suffered and for what they describe in court documents as the military’s “reckless disregard” for their safety.

They allege they were alone in an exam room when Wilks told them to undress before he fondled their breasts and touched them “in a sexual and inappropriate way.”

One of the women says in the court documents that she reported what happened after another medical technician told her breast exams aren’t part of recruit assessments.

“She reported the sexual assault and assault to her superior in the chain of command … who told her to ‘suck it up’ and that this sexual assault and assault was not a problem.”

Wilks, who was 51 when convicted in 2011, has not entered formal pleas for his next court martial proceeding and could not be reached for comment.

His military defence lawyer, Maj. David Hodson, said there’s always a presumption of innocence.

“Regardless, we vehemently deny all allegations and will be presenting full answer and defence during the court martial,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

Lawyer Phillip Millar, representing the three women in the most recently filed civil lawsuits, declined to comment on whether any of them are involved in the court martial proceedings.

Millar has accused the military of not properly following up on reports of abuse involving Wilks. The statements of claim filed by his clients, not proven in court, all allege the Department of National Defence specifically recruited young women and then failed to protect them.

“DND employed a sexual predator to conduct medical examinations,” says one of the statements of claim. “In this position Wilks was able to commit calculated, repeated, criminal conduct.”

Court documents filed by the three women say they continue to suffer trauma from the alleged incidents, including insomnia, nightmares, distrust of medical professionals and fear of people in uniform.

They also allege that the Department of National Defence is vicariously liable.

“DND was interested in recruiting females in the military and specifically campaigned to bring young women into the recruiting process,” say the statements of claim. “As a result, DND owed a special duty to protect the vulnerable people invited onto their establishment for medical evaluations.”

Capt. Amber Bineau said Wednesday the federal government has not been served with the statements of claim and could not comment.

© 2013 The Canadian Press

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