04/17/2012 05:26 EDT | Updated 06/17/2012 05:12 EDT

Assault Victim Sues National Defence, Navy Medic; Seeks $1M in damages


LONDON, Ont. - She was 17 and on the cusp of realizing her dream of serving in the military when she was sexually assaulted by a former Canadian navy medic during a mandatory physical exam.

Two years later, a young aboriginal woman is suing the Department of National Defence as well as her assailant for the sexual, physical and psychological abuse she said she has suffered.

The woman, who cannot be named, claims the federal department failed to follow up on previous complaints involving the man who assaulted her.

"We believe that there may be instances in which this individual had been identified as having issues and that proper steps weren't taken by the chain of command and that's what's troubling to us," her lawyer Phillip Millar told The Canadian Press.

The woman was a victim of James Wilks.

The former petty officer second class is currently serving nine months in jail for sexual assault and breach of trust relating to crimes committed in London and Sarnia, Ont.

The 51-year-old is facing new charges in connection with medical exams performed between 2002 and 2009 at a naval reserve unit in Thunder Bay, Ont., and at the Canadian Forces recruiting centre in London.

The woman, who was assaulted in 2009, is seeking $1 million in damages for sexual assault, alleged battery and negligence.

A statement of claim filed in a London, Ont., court Tuesday said the Department of National Defence failed to ensure its own policies were followed and didn't supervise Wilks properly.

The young woman had been recruited in the RAVEN program — which encourages young aboriginal people to join the navy — and was going for a mandatory medical examination when the assault took place.

The statement of claim said Wilks made the woman "unnecessarily undress" before touching her in an inappropriate way multiple times.

"Wilks' actions constituted assault, sexual assault and battery upon the plaintiff," the statement said. "Wilks used his position as a medical technician officer to abuse the plaintiff for his own sexual gratification."

The statement of claim also said Wilks was in a position of trust and ought to have known his actions would have "serious and permanent harmful effects" upon the woman.

The allegations in the statement of claim have not been proven in court.

Millar says his client was traumatized by the incident.

"She can't be around uniforms," said Millar. "Her aboriginal family has a rich history of serving in the Canadian military but now that career is lost to her."

Millar added that his client wants others to know they don't ever need to feel as trapped as she did.

"She felt like a prisoner, so she wanted people to know that they don't have to stay in an examination room if they feel uncomfortable," he said.

The Department of Defence had been notified of the woman's intent to sue and has 20 days to respond, Millar said.

Wilks, who spent 27 years in the military, is serving out his term at a civilian prison in London, Ont.

As part of his sentence he was added to the sex offender registry and had to provide DNA samples for the national databank.

Millar said his client is doing as well as can be expected with the support of her family and community, but the effects of her experience still linger.

"Her dream was to join the military or the police force," he said. "But now she's still kind of suffering from the side effects from the assault."

_ By Diana Mehta in Toronto.