Warning: This article discusses sexual violence and suicide and may be upsetting for some readers. The Kenora Sexual Assault Centre’s Crisis Line can be reached at 807-468-7233 (safe) or at 1-800-565-6161.
A 28-year-old Dryden woman has launched a Class Action Lawsuit against Cadets Canada and the Attorney General of Canada.
Hilary Lockhart says she was a victim of sexual abuse when she was a member of the Cadets at the age of 14. She had joined the cadets in 2008, one year before the abuse and grooming began.
“Nothing was done. I was never believed. I was called a liar,” explained Lockhart, in an interview with Q104 and KenoraOnline.
“I could tell by the way they were treating me; they blamed me for this happening. That was a really hard reality to come face to face with at 14 years old. Adults who were supposed to protect you...one of them is abusing you, the rest of them don’t believe you and then they blame you for it.”
Lockhart says in the 14 years since, she’s struggled with hospitalizations and has been diagnosed with suicidal thoughts, general and social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder and major depressive disorder.
“I immediately changed, almost overnight. I was very depressed, withdrawn and didn’t care about anything. From the time I was about 14 to 23, I just kept trying to end my life. I was in so much emotional pain I just didn’t want to be here anymore. I felt like I was drowning. I was stuck in the same spot for 14 years.”
She also explains that when she was struggling in her youth, her mother was forced to place her in a foster home as she was not equipped to handle Hilary’s struggles, which led to the loss of the relationship between the two for many years.
“As a parent, you cannot not be a victim when you watch your child go through something like this. I know my mom had a very difficult time watching me spiral because of this happening to me.”
But thankfully, Lockhart explains she began to place a greater emphasis on her own mental health around the ages of 23 and 24 and began her own healing journey.
“I realized that if I throw away my life, he wins. I wasn’t about to let him win. He doesn’t get to win after everything I went through.”
Lockhart now lives in North York, Ontario and is in her third year at York University. She says she follows a routine to keep her mental health in check, which involves medications, early morning jogs and regular visits with a therapist.
“I’m in an amazing place in life now. I’m healing. I’ll still struggle for the rest of my life, but now I’m in this spot where I’m healing, getting better and I’m okay. I want my abuser and the organization to know that they did not win. You’re not responsible for who I’ve grown to be. I’ve won by taking back my life.”
The 28-year-old explains she has plans to apply to law schools next year, as she hopes to specialize in sexual abuse and sexual violence cases involving young women.
“I would not want anyone else’s daughter, sister, niece or granddaughter to go through this like I had to and have their lives ripped apart because of it.”
Now, after working through how to take care of herself, Lockhart says the next step in her healing journey is to bring the lawsuit forward against the government of Canada – something she’s struggled with for a number of years now.
“At 14 years old, I was scared to go to trial. Now? no. I’m not scared. I know that other people’s perception of what happened to me doesn’t matter. What matters is my story. I know what happened to me. That’s the only thing that matters.”
“This is the last step in my healing journey to put this behind me. That’s what this lawsuit is about. Closing this door after suffering for years, and being able to move on from this in my life. I felt like this is something that I needed to do now before I wasn’t able to,” she adds.
Lockhart says she reported her abuse to a female supervisor within Cadets Canada after the incident, but that’s the last she had heard of the report. And to date, Hilary or her mother were never offered support or resources through Cadets Canada to deal with the after-effects of her abuse.
Those are two major issues that Lockhart hopes to change through the lawsuit.
Her lawsuit, which was filed in March, alleges that Cadets Canada has failed members by not investigating reports of sexual assault or harassment, has failed to implement policies and support programs for the victim and has failed to train employees on how to address these issues and reports.
“We are asking for support systems, preventative measures and more resources for Cadets when something like this does happen. And the government refuses to listen to us. They need to implement systemic change now. Until they do, this is going to keep happening to women,” says Lockhart.
Her court documents note between 2006 and 2015, there were 245 reported cases of sexual misconduct involving Cadets, adult instructors or reserve officers, and cases specifically involving Cadets makeup about 17 to 27 per cent of all of the Canadian Armed Forces’ sexual misconduct reports.
Lockhart and her lawyers are seeking up to $100 million for general damages and an additional $50 million in punitive and aggravated damages, but Lockhart’s not alone in the fight.
The Class Action Lawsuit is open to all current and female Cadets who have experienced sexual assault, sexual harassment and/or gender-based discrimination as part of their time in Cadets Canada from 2000 to present, as well as their family members.
“We have hundreds of women coming forward. Hundreds,” adds Lockhart.
As it stands, Lockhart says the case is waiting for a Certification Hearing in the fall to approve the Class Action status. Afterwards, the government of Canada will then have the option to settle privately or fight the claim through the court system.
In a prepared statement, Cadets Canada says they do not comment on any ongoing litigation.
Of note, Todd Evans of Chilliwack, BC was charged and sentenced after pleading guilty to the abuse in 2009. He was 23 years old at the time, and received a 90-day intermittent sentence which allowed him to keep his employment as an instructor with the Cadets.
Along with the sentence, Evans also received a three-year probation, a 10-year prohibition from parks, pools or public places where children frequent, a lifetime prohibition of employment of children under the age of 16, a lifetime prohibition from using computer conversations to speak with a child under the age of 16, and was registered on the Sexual Offender Information Registry for 10 years.
Court documents from 2009, which were shared with Q104 and KenoraOnline with Lockhart’s permission, detail her experience as a 14-year-old victim.
They explain that in early 2009, when Lockhart was 14 years old, she and Evans were messaging each other online when the conversations turned sexual, and a Section 152 Offence was made after Evans accepted an invitation to view Lockhart’s webcam.
The Criminal Code of Canada states it is illegal under Section 152 to counsel, invite or incite a person under the age of 16 to touch their own or someone else’s body directly or with an object for a sexual purpose.
Lockhart’s lawyers explained that she suffered from an illness that resulted in partial hair loss and she struggled with her self-image at that time. Her lawyers argued Evans’ took advantage of that knowledge in their conversations.
The transcript of the 2009 court case also indicates Evans had troubles with alcohol use after serving overseas in Afghanistan but was never diagnosed with PTSD, and he was not sober when these conversations took place.
On February 4, 2009, Hilary’s mother stumbled onto messages on Hilary’s computer and immediately contacted the Dryden Police Service, who initiated an investigation. Evans’ computer was seized and he was taken into custody the following day.