A Canadian veteran says he was repeatedly sexually assaulted and subjected to sexual misconduct during his time with the Canadian Armed Forces, and rather than his complaints being taken seriously, he says he was forced to leave the military.
“I ended up being blamed for my own decreased performance, and this was a major contributor towards me feeling really hurt, betrayed by the chain of command,” said Justin Hudson, a military veteran now based in Kingston, Ont.
He says he left the military a decade ago after being repeatedly molested, groped and exposed to male genitalia while training to be an aerospace engineer at CFB Borden, and once off base while training at CFB Comox in B.C.
He says on at least two occasions, two of his colleagues attempted to sexually assault him. Once, he says a man cornered him in the bathroom and exposed himself to Hudson while another time, he says two men held him down at a private residence while they both aggressively groped him.
Not only were there physical attacks, but Hudson says he was also consistently sexually harassed, sometimes in front of groups of people. He claims his superiors were made aware of the issue, but nothing was done.
Finally, after months of being targeted with no end in sight, Hudson says his performance was suffering due to mental anguish, so he requested a voluntary leave from service.
He says he was told this would take months, but if he agreed to take a leave that labelled him as “not advantageously employable,” he could leave right away.
“I want to get out of this hostile environment, so I basically supported the idea of leaving right away,” he said.
This is when Hudson’s dreams of serving in the Canadian military were dashed. He said being labelled as unemployable by his superiors after suffering months of alleged assaults and harassment had a profound effect on his well-being.
“It drove me not only out of the military, but away from Canada,” Hudson said. He spent years afterwards studying and gaining degrees in Europe from 2012 to 2020 before eventually moving back to Canada.
Now, a decade later, he says he’s felt strong enough to come forward with his story after seeing sexual misconduct in the military take centre stage in the media.
In April of this year, he made official complaints against his alleged aggressors, who, he says, have risen through the ranks in the military.
Charges have yet to be laid in the matter, but Hudson says his complaints have been taken up by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.
The Department of National Defence did not respond to a request for comment on the matter, but if his case goes ahead, a recent change from new Defence Minister Anita Anand will mean the military won’t be handling his case at all.
Thursday, Anand announced that all military sexual assault investigations, whether historical or new, will now be handled by the civilian justice system.
For retired colonel and military law expert Michel Drapeau, it’s a change 24 years in the making.
He says after media attention given to military sexual assaults in 1997, and the damning Somalia inquiry report submitted around the same time, Parliament made a number of changes in the National Defence Act, creating a military police complaints commission that, in part, moved sexual assault investigations under the purview of military police and tribunals.
“The military police at the time had no prior experience, none in this field. From one day to the next, they became instant experts in investigating sexual assault,” Drapeau said.
He said the move had instant negative consequences, including stripping victims of sexual assaults of protections under the Charter of Rights, and keeping victims from coming forward who lacked confidence in the efficacy of military police investigations.
He noted he’s often seen those charged with sexual assault by military police enter guilty pleas and leave the process with few consequences.
“You get a fine, a slap on the wrist and he goes without any criminal record,” he said.
It’s a discouraging outcome for victims made to go through lengthy cross-examinations, Drapeau said.
Drapeau has been arguing for a move back to civilian investigations into sexual assaults for more than a decade and is pleased to see what he called a “major shift” announced by Anand last week.
“It’s time to go back to having one society, one rule for everybody. Victims get the same protection, whether or not they’re assaulted by a military person or a civilian, and they get the same access to justice,” he said.
On the back of this major cultural shift, Hudson says he working to rejoin the Canadian military. He says even with his return to the forces, he felt compelled to come forward with his story.
“I felt comfortable coming forward to the public, but it’s also tied in to wanting to have a culture change, wanting to speed up that culture change in the military.”
He said he was particularly inspired by Lt.-Col. Eleanor Taylor, who quit following repeated reports of high-ranking military officers embroiled in sexual assault allegations.
Hudson says he is being supported by the military’s Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, and that he’s currently working with Canadian Forces Recruiting Center detachment in Kingston to obtain a waiver for his “not advantageously employable” release from a decade ago.