Military police records describe spousal sexual assault, hitting, shoving and screaming matches on or near Canadian Forces bases – family violence that counsellors link to repeated tours in Afghanistan.
The case summaries offer a rare view of tensions and conflict that regularly erupt in military homes across the country. They detail 49 incidents from July 1, 2008 to Feb. 1, 2009, in which charges were laid or complaints were deemed as “founded.”
Several other reports of assault – physical and sexual – were handled through “alternative” measures or “departmental discretion.”
The heavily censored records were released by National Defence eight months after The Canadian Press requested them under Access to Information laws. Names of suspects and victims were removed and specific dates were blanked out.
Charges included aggravated spousal assault, sexual assault, assault on a child, assault causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon and uttering threats.
Frontline counsellors say police reports just scratch the surface because so many victims of domestic abuse don’t report it.
In January 2009, the RCMP phoned military police at CFB Shilo in Manitoba to inform them a soldier had been arrested for aggravated spousal assault with a weapon, sexual assault and three counts of uttering threats.
In July 2008, a member of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, was charged in Oromocto, N.B., for assaulting his common-law spouse at their home.
That same month, military police at CFB Borden answered a 911 call from a woman whose common-law spouse was later charged with assault.
“Alliston CAS was contacted as a follow-up,” the report says of the child welfare service in the nearby community of Alliston, Ont., about 100 kilometres north of Toronto.
“However, its investigation was concluded due to the fact that the victim and child have moved out of the jurisdiction.” The rest of the report concerning that case was blanked out.
At CFB Esquimalt, a summary from October 2008 describes a “common-law service couple” involved “in a verbal argument at their RHU (residential housing unit) which escalated into a physical assault by each on the other.” The specific date was censored. Both partners were arrested for assault.
Therapist Greg Lubimiv of the Phoenix Centre for Children and Families in Pembroke, Ont., says the military caseload has soared.
There are now 100 families seeking help from nearby CFB Petawawa with another 20 on a waiting list, up from 12 before the Canadian military entered Kandahar in southern Afghanistan in 2006.
It’s a volatile combat zone where insurgents rely more on improvised explosive devices than conventional warfare.
Many of the 150 soldiers who have died in Afghanistan were based at Petawawa. Lubimiv has seen first-hand what happens when those who make it home struggle to cope.
“Our anecdotal evidence is that there is an increase in the amount of domestic violence, and in the amount of children who are seeing violence in the home.”
Many military members are now shouldering the residual stress of two, three or four tours in Afghanistan or more, Lubimiv said.
“When a soldier returns home, many have talked about feeling like strangers, not knowing where they fit. And it takes time to close that particular gap. And if there are, on top of that, mental health issues — or if there is already an issue of conflict or discontent in the couple’s relationship — then all of that gets magnified by the new experiences that they each have faced.”
Most troops will work through their issues on their own and gradually reintegrate, Lubimiv said. “But many don’t respond in that way, need additional help or haven’t been identified.”
Dianne Power, executive director of the Women in Transition House in Fredericton, near CFB Gagetown, said the number of women seeking help seems to rise after their men return from overseas tours.
“They’re saying the situation is abusive … it can manifest itself in everything from increased drug and alcohol usage to violent outbursts.”
Power said the shelter doesn’t specifically track the number of military-related appeals for help.
She recalled a woman who gave birth at the shelter after fleeing from a spouse who became increasingly abusive following an Afghanistan tour.
Fran Perreault, whose husband was hurt in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan, has spoken openly about his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He used to hit her in his sleep.
Most women are too afraid to speak up, she said from Petawawa, Ont.
“The majority of wives are going to lie and say there’s nothing because they fear for their husbands’ jobs.”
Beth Corey, the executive director at the Military Family Resource Centre in Gagetown, N.B., said the arm’s-length service offers several programs to help families adjust before and after deployments.
She said she hasn’t noticed a spike in the numbers of spouses reporting abuse after Afghanistan tours, but added they’re offering more educational campaigns against family violence.
The centres, located on military bases across the country, connect people with community resources and link them to a staff social worker who can intervene in a crisis.
Colleen Erickson, the public education co-ordinator at the YWCA Westman Women’s Shelter in Brandon, Man., near CFB Shilo, said more women call when “the honeymoon period” ends — about a month after a soldier returns home.
“Most often the complaint is that he has PTSD and his anger is escalating or has escalated to the point of explosion and they need a safe place to stay.”
A post-deployment survey filled out in November 2008 by 8,222 Canadian Forces members found that six per cent – almost 500 respondents – had symptoms of PTSD and/or major depression.