Settlement possible in assault claims over former Forces medical tech: lawyer

The lawyer for eight women who allege sexual abuse at the hands of retired petty officer James Wilks says they wish to avoid litigation

The lawyer for eight women who accused the military of failing to act on allegations that a medical technician abused them as young recruits says he is in settlement talks with the Defence Department to resolve the matter.

Phillip Millar said he is working with Justice Department lawyers after Defence indicated last fall that it wants to negotiate a resolution rather than litigate the case involving retired petty officer James Wilks.

“They’ve given us every indication that they want to avoid litigation, which is a positive step from DND,” Millar said in an interview from his office in London, Ont.

“It’s made the victims feel better that they’re not anticipating a lawsuit.”

A spokeswoman with the Defence Department would not comment on the case because it was before the courts. The federal government has not filed a statement of defence in the five lawsuits that have been filed.

A sixth one has not been filed with the courts because Millar said the department is willing to settle.

Two other women are also involved in the settlement talks but didn’t file lawsuits because they are still in the military and did not want to sue their employer, he said.

Wills has responded to four of the suits, denying the allegations against him and maintaining he conducted the examinations in accordance with his training.

Related: Our military’s disgrace

The women claimed that Wilks, who served as a medical technician for the Canadian Forces, touched them inappropriately when he was doing medical exams at Ontario military recruitment sites in Thunder Bay and London from 2003 to 2009.

Several women outlined the allegations against Wilks at a court martial in Quebec in September 2013. He was convicted of 15 charges of breach of trust and 10 sex assault counts.

At the time, the military judge said Wilks used the medical exams to see and touch the women’s breasts, and let them think it was part of the examination, which was “totally dishonest.”

The judge accepted evidence there was no need for the women to have undergone breast exams at their age. No such exam is required for women under the age of 40.

Wilks was sentenced to 30 months in prison last April, but is out while he appeals the verdict.

There is a publication ban on the identities of the women.

In a separate case, a military judge in December 2011 sentenced Wilks to nine months in jail after he was convicted of one count of sexual assault and four counts of breach of trust.

Millar said all but one of his clients were part of the two courts martial.

Three of them filed statements of claim with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 2013, alleging that Wilks sexually assaulted them during physical exams for recruits at various National Defence installations.

A fourth filed a similar civil claim against Wilks, alleging he touched her breasts and pressed his groin against her during a recruitment medical exam.

In statements of defence filed in February 2014 in four of the lawsuits filed with the Superior Court, Wilks denies the allegations against him and maintains that he conducted examinations in the manner he was trained by Defence.

“Wilks carried out his responsibilities in a manner and pursuant to specific instruction and policy as provided to him by the co-defendant the Attorney General of Canada (Department of National Defence),” says the statement.

The court says a statement of defence has not been filed in the fifth case.

Wilks’s lawyer was not available for comment.

Millar said he hopes to conclude talks in early spring, but is gathering medical and counselling records, and other statements to present to the department’s lawyer to substantiate the effect the assaults had on the women.

“They’ve already been through a court martial, so subjecting them to that again just reopens the wounds,” he said. “So it saves from hurting them more and we’ll just deal with the numbers.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.