GATINEAU, Que. â€” A former medical technician accused of performing unnecessary and inappropriate breast exams at military recruiting centres in Ontario took the stand in his own defence Friday, and denied the exams ever took place.
Retired petty officer James Wilks faces eight counts of breach of trust and one count of sexual assault in connection with complaints filed by six women in Thunder Bay, London and Windsor, Ont.
The women have accused him of having them strip from the waist up so he could visually examine their breasts during routine medical exams at the recruiting centres. One also accused Wilks of touching her breasts under the pretence of conducting a breast exam.
But Wilks, who said he had conducted more than 3,000 medical examinations on prospective recruits during his more than 25 years in uniform, said he never asked any of the women to remove their tops. He also said he never touched any of the women’s breasts.
“I did not conduct any breast exams … or visual exams,” Wilks said under cross-examination from military prosecutor Maj. Adam Van Der Linde, adding: “I did not have an applicant or recruit bare her breasts.”
Wilks, who at one point told the court that he had been convicted of one count of breach of trust and one count of assault in the past six years, told the military court that one of the women did show her breasts during her exam.
But he said she did it without him asking, before he quickly asked her to cover back up.
“She â€” without me prompting her, without me asking her â€” did expose her upper body to me for the briefest of moments,” he said. “She did that on her own accord, and I have no interest in viewing her breasts.”
The court heard that prospective recruits received letters in advance of their medical exams that the procedure would not include any genital or breast exams. They were also told to keep on their underwear, including a shirt for women, unless they preferred a gown.
Occasional reminders were also sent out to medical personnel response for screening recruits, the court heard, though Wilks said he had always followed the rules and considered himself “very good at what I did.”
During their testimony last week, several of the women indicated they were initially reluctant to come forward and report Wilks because of concerns for their military careers. The alleged incidents occurred between 2005 and 2009.
During his more than three-hour cross-examination, Van Der Linde suggested Wilks had power over the women because passing their medical exam was a requirement for admission into the military.
“As a medical assistant who was conducting these examinations, your signed forms would go up the chain to the recruit medical officer for approval,” Van Der Linde said.
“So you had the power to say on those forms whether a potential recruit isn’t meeting the standards, correct?”
“I don’t believe the term is ‘power,'” Wilks responded. “We were asked to make a recommendation based on the applicant’s medical history or medical circumstances. And our recommendation would have to have some substance in the medical information that was provided by the applicant.”
“You’d agree that to some extent, at least, a potential recruit’s future is actually in your hands?” Van Der Linde pressed.
“I’ve never considered it or thought about it in that way,” he replied.
Wilks was the last witness in the court martial, which has been running for two weeks. The prosecution and defence are expected to present closing arguments next week before a five-member panel of serving military personnel deliberates on a verdict.
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Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press