Ex-sailor not surprised by military misconduct findings

A Victoria woman who says she was forced out of the Royal Canadian Navy after complaining of sexual misconduct feels vindicated by Statistics Canada’s new survey of military personnel.

The survey, released this week in Ottawa, revealed 1.7 per cent of Canada’s 90,000 people in uniform said they were sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months. That’s nearly double the 0.9 per cent reported by the general population.

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Former sailor Nicola Peffers, who reported two acts of sexual misconduct while deployed on HMCS Winnipeg for six months, said perhaps now the Canadian Armed Forces will mount some serious changes.

“I was pleased to see it was Statistics Canada” — an agency outside the Forces, Peffers said. “Maybe we are actually getting some truth now instead of just what the military wants the public to hear.”

The release of the report was met with frustration by Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of defence staff, who told reporters he had already read the riot act to members of the Forces, telling them “this behaviour had to stop.”

“Those who choose or chose not to follow my orders will be dealt with,” Vance said.

Peffers was in the Royal Canadian Navy from 2008 to 2012. She has written a book, privately published in August, titled The Black Deck: A Woman on Board. The book has since caught the interest of B.C. publisher Caitlin Press, which is planning a release in May.

Peffers said the sexual abuse began while on shore leave from HMCS Winnipeg in Japan. She was lured into a parked trailer and confronted by a male crew member dressed only in his underwear and surrounded by bottles of beer.

“He began to play footsie with me under the table,” Peffers said.

She said she was told her career advancement depended on how well she co-operated. She said she wasn’t interested.

Later, back on board ship, her life became miserable, with reprimands and the assignment of unpleasant tasks.

“And when you are on board ship, you are trapped, you can’t get away from these people,” Peffers said. “There is no weekend, no going home early. You are just there.”

Later, in another incident, she was grabbed and pulled close.

Peffers said she reported both incidents and military authorities did nothing.

She said the working atmosphere on board became so toxic that her only refuge was a tiny deck space near the smoke stacks. It was called “the black deck” because of the paint it received to hide the grime for the stacks.

“I would go there because it was the most remote space on board and nobody was looking at me or giving me a hard time,” Peffers said.

After she was back ashore, her experiences returned with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Peffers tried to pursue her complaints, but nothing was done.

Eventually, navy doctors diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. When the usual drugs had little effect, they gave her a new diagnosis of drug-resistant bipolar disorder and she was discharged with a small pension. She chose to settle in Victoria and is looking for a new career.

Peffers said she believes hers is a typical military experience for people in the Armed Forces who make waves about sexual misconduct.

“You are essentially sacrificing your career,” she said. “The next thing you know you are called ‘bipolar’ and you are being medically released. That’s what happened to me.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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