I honestly don’t believe that at any point in time the mental health wellbeing of military dependents has ever been a concern of the Canadian Armed Forces or the Department of National Defence.
Sure, the DND, the CF, and the Minister of National Defence will bloviate about the Military Family Resource Centre and other meaningless programs that the DND and the CF have instituted over the years.
But if they really cared, why does the CF and the DND draw such a hard line in the sand as to which dependents they will support, and which dependents can piss off and go get bent?
In my day as a military dependent the maximum age for a dependent to live in a PMQ on base was 18. The only way you could remain living in the PMQ after your 19th birthday was if you were mentally disabled or if you were attending an institution of higher learning. But even if you were attending an institution of higher learning 24 was the maximum age that you could live in a PMQ on base.
In my day dependents were officially referred to as “D.F.& E.” which means “Dependents, Furniture, and Effects”. The Office of the Ombudsman for the Canadian Forces, which only existed as of 1999, was so taken back by this callousness that they kept asking DND to stop dehumanizing the military dependents and to stop referring to them as D.F.& E. which implied that military dependents were of no more worth than the service member’s furniture.
As a kid, there were times when kids would just stop coming to school. Or kids would just one day leave the base. Never to be seen again. And this wasn’t due to postings. If it was a posting nine times out of ten the posting would occur between late June and early September. These absences were often due to their serving parent dying. Training exercise, workplace incident, health issue, it didn’t matter. PMQs could only be rented to active service members. Deceased persons cannot serve in the military. So off the base the family went.
It was rare that a base commander would intervene and make an exception, because once you’ve made one exception how can you not make another? And allowing the deceased member’s family to remain on base in a PMQ could prove to be an issue for DND and the CF. DND and the CF had fought numerous court battles over the PMQs with regard to civilian family courts granting the non-serving spouse possession of the PMQ in which to raise their children. DND would obviously have an issue on their hands if non-serving spouses were suddenly taking possession of PMQs in the PMQ patches. And schools on base prior to 1994 were run by DND and the CF. These schools were exclusively for the children of active service members. How long was the DND and the CF supposed to support the education of a deceased member’s children?
So, back in my day once a service member died, that was it, the DND and the CF washed their hands of the service member’s dependents.
There was no support.
There was no aftercare.
There was nothing.
We weren’t eligible for social programs from the provinces related to a serving parent’s death as the provinces considered that the be the responsibility of the DND and the CF.
Living on base wasn’t as easy as it’s often portrayed.
The children of dysfunctional families were often tormented and ostracized by their peers. When you live in a regimented community like a military PMQ patch you either conform or you will have trouble.
Dysfunctional parents, like my father, could easily use the Canadian Forces to stay one step ahead of civilian social services. Sure civilian parents could move to a different town, but at great expense. In the Canadian Forces your dysfunctional parent’s moving and travel expenses were covered.
Back in my day the military social workers were more concerned with containing problems. But again, that’s the way the military functioned back then and still functions to this day.
The rank of your serving parent had its privilege, especially if your serving parent was an officer or above. Anybody who says that this wasn’t the case is absolutely full of shit.
There was no way that the base military police were going to go after the son of a Lt. Col. for beating the crap out of the son of a Corporal. No Warrant Officer MP is going to risk getting transferred to CFS Alert over two kids having a donnybrook out behind the rec centre. And yes, this still holds true to today. The provost marshal himself even said that he would never investigate a senior officer of the military.
Sure, Simon Trudeau was talking about investigating his commanding officer. However, if his commanding officer is good buddies with a lower ranking officer, and the Trudeau’s commander doesn’t want the PM to investigate the other lower ranking officer who is the Trudeau to argue with a lawful command from his superior?
Don’t forget, the Canadian Forces didn’t have a Provost Marshal from about 1968 until the office of the Provost Marshal was stood up again in 1998. Prior to that, the base military police and even the Canadian Forces Special Investigations Unit were under the influence of the local chain of command. Yes, when the CFNIS was created in 1998 along with the Provost Marshal being stood back up, the idea was that the CFNIS and the base military police would operate without chain of command influence. That’s all fine and dandy, but someone forget to rewrite the National Defence Act and the Queen’s Regulations and Orders to exempt members of the CFNIS and the base military police from section 83 of the National Defence Act.
The Provost Marshal was stood up in 1998 as a result of the findings of the Somalia Inquiry. The Inquiry found that the base military police and the CFSIU were ripe for interference from the local chain of command and that superior officers would often put their own parochial interests above any semblance of justice. So it was suggested that the command of the base military police and the new CFNIS be transferred to the command of the freshly stood up Provost Marshal who would be of significant enough rank that they would be immune from chain of command influence. That hasn’t worked out.
How many wife beatings or child beatings were the base MPs and the CFSIU told to ignore and look away from?
And as I said, things were far worse back in my day as a military dependent.
As retired Warrant Officer Fred Cunningham told the CFNIS in 2016 when he was interviewed, the Assistant Judge Advocate General threw Cunningham and the CFSIU “to the dogs” in 1980 during the Captain Father Angus McRae Investigation and subsequent court martial.
When I spoke with retired Warrant Officer Fred Cunningham on November 27th, 2011 he said that it was the “brass” that made the decision to limit the number of charges brought against Captain McRae and that the military police had “many, many more” charges ready to go against McRae but that the “brass” wasn’t going for it, and that the military police tried to move the Captain McRae matter into the civilian system, but again the brass wasn’t going for it.
Most of Captain McRae’s victims were under 14 years of age. In 1980 the age of consent at which a child could agree to have sex with an adult was 14. P.S. was the only boy over the age of 14. If the Canadian Forces had insisted on prosecuting Captain McRae for abusing the children under the age of consent, this whole matter would have had to have been moved into the civilian courts. For obvious reasons the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces were not going to ever agree to this as in the civilian courts the DND and the CF would be hard pressed to “throw a veil of secrecy” over the trial and the evidence. A trial and evidence that would have shown that Captain McRae sexually abused over 25 children on Canadian Forces Base Namao and an untold number of children on Canadian Forces Station Holberg, Canadian Forces Base Portage La Prairie, and Canadian Forces Base Kingston.
So the fact that the “brass” and the “AJAG” were able to insert themselves into a criminal matter again shows that rank in the Canadian Armed Forces carries a significant amount of weight.
And according to retired Warrant Officer Fred Cunningham it was also the Assistant Judge Advocate General that made the decision to not call in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to deal with P.S. under the false assumption that P.S. was only 12 years old in 1980. P.S. was born on June 20th, 1965. P.S. turned 15 on June 20th, 1980. And as the court martial transcripts and the CFSIU paperwork indicate, it was the abuse of young children on base that brought P.S. to the attention of the base military police and it was that attention that brought Captin McRae to the attention of the CFSIU.
Again, the base military police and the CFSIU were not independent. They followed the whims and desires of the chain of command.
That’s why spousal abuse was grossly under reported on the bases.
That’s why child sexual abuse was grossly under reported on the bases.
That’s why child physical and mental abuse was grossly under reported on the bases.
Far too much chain of command influence and far too many parochial decisions.
Most of the children from CFB Namao never received any form of meaningful help. Some went on to have troubled lives. Some have attempted suicide. Some have committed suicide. And that’s only on CFB Namao. What about the other bases that McRae was at?
In 2010 retired Brigadier General Roger Bazin was investigated by the CFSIU for having sexually abused a young boy on Canadian Forces Base Borden in 1974. How many other kids, now adults, are out there that may have been abused on Canadian Forces Base Borden who have never come forward due to not knowing their abuser’s name? How many other former military dependents have never come forward because they were posted around so many times that they can’t remember on which base the abuse occurred on?
Our attempts at suicide and our suicides will never be recorded as being military related. Our deaths and our psychological trauma will always be written off as having been due to something unrelated to our time living on base as children.
When I die it won’t be recorded as being the end result of untreated childhood sexual trauma.
My death will simply be recorded as someone who sought Medical Assistance in Dying due to psychological issues caused by childhood trauma.
And that’s it.
There will be no mention of Captain Father Angus McRae;
There will be no mention of Captain Terry Totzke;
There will be no mention of Colonel Dan Munro
There will be no mention of AJAG J.D. Boan.
The media won’t really show any interest, because what’s interesting about one person seeking M.A.i.D. to get away from their demons?
Between 1950 and today, how many military dependents have attempted suicide, committed suicide, or have wound up with profound psychological issues due to the childhood spent living on military bases?
No one knows.
And the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces would love for it to stay this way.
In the past there have been murmurs and burbles of organizations noticing that children of service members or adult who once were children living on base are committing suicide.
However, sadly this latest research falls well short of other research projects in the past.
The common flaw being that these researchers overlook events that occurred on base and how these events impacted the children living on the bases. This current research looks at how events that impacted service members might lead to family members of the service member committing suicide. For example, if a serving member of the Canadian Forces commits suicide and then their parent commits suicide.
However, what this research seems to completely overlook and omit are suicides or attempted suicides that came about due to events that occurred on the base that the military dependent endured first hand and received little or no support after the event or received inappropriate support.
Like it or not, children were sexually abused on base, children were physically abused on base, children were neglected on base, children were ostracized on base, children couldn’t cope with postings, children couldn’t cope with constantly losing friends, children had to deal with serving parents that had issues made worse by military service such as excessive drinking, anger outbursts, and untreated PTSD.
Persons who lived on base between the 1950s and the 2000’s grew up in a very homophobic, LGBTQ phobic, misogynistic, environment in which psychological issues were to be hidden away and not discussed.
Is it any wonder that no one in the DND, the CF, or even the media really wants to tackle this subject.
Kids who committed suicide already will forever be silent, so the DND and the CF don’t have to worry about them ever talking.
Kids who were 8 years old on base in 1950 are now in their late 70s. They won’t be around for much longer.
Kids who were 8 years old on the bases in 1970 are now pushing 58. Even if the CF and the DND were serious about tackling issues that may have effected these persons, by the time DND and the CF have finished the requisite number of committee meetings these people will easily be in their late 60s and early 70s.
So far as the Government of Canada, the DND, and the CF are concerned, military dependents were never the responsibility of the DND or the CF. As such, they’re more than willing to play the waiting game until we’re all gone.
I’ll be gone in about 2 years. And that’ll be one less issue for the DND and the CF to worry about.
One thought on “The Canadian Forces, Suicide, and Military Dependents.”
Greisbach 1965-70. 4-9yo officer’s son. Assigned to live in the “old section” of the PMQs. Sick personnel and sad situations all around for too many of us kids. As I look back, I can imagine that this was the exit gate for many careers and families. To me, all was normal?
Culture was same then!
Go to phrases in that decade were… “You’re crazy!” and “It never happened” Mom was a “Good Catholic and Officer’s wife. Last time I visited CFB Greisbach PMQs was in 1980 or 1981 as a labourer to finish a contract blowing fiberglass pink insulation over the old “rockwell” insulation in the attics near where we both lived.