WARNING: This article contains details of abuse and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.
A B.C. man who alleges he was raped by a Cadets Canada leader when he was a teenager says it's time for the organization to wrestle with the "ghosts of the past" and make real change to protect children.
The former cadet filed suit in B.C. Supreme Court last month, alleging he was groomed at camp in the Okanagan and then sexually assaulted in a Victoria hotel room by a cadets captain in 1979. He was 13 or 14 years old at the time.
"I was destroyed," the plaintiff told CBC in an email. "I was a young man who was just starting out learning how to be confident and how to trust. This absolutely shattered all aspects of my life and changed the course of where I could have been."
As an alleged victim of sexual assault, the plaintiff is not named in the notice of claim and is referred to by the initials A.B. He has applied to the court to remain anonymous throughout the proceedings.
A.B.'s notice of claim alleges that the federal government, in its responsibility for the cadet's program, "was complicit in an operational culture with Cadets Canada that enabled perpetrators … to sexually abuse cadets."
It goes on to accuse the organization of "silencing" victims and other whistleblowers, concealing evidence of sexual abuse complaints and prioritizing the avoidance of scandal over protecting children.
A.B. said he reported the alleged attack to Victoria police "a number of years ago," and there was a thorough investigation, but in the end, Crown chose not to approve charges. Despite the outcome, however, he says he was very satisfied with how police handled his case.
He said he's gone ahead with a civil claim in the hope that he can effect change at a systemic level rather than just addressing a single crime and a single offender.
"I want my suffering to mean something," A.B. wrote, describing lawsuits as a tool that can be used to force reform from the outside.
"The future of Cadets Canada, and the safety of children, cannot be assured unless the ghosts of the past are first reckoned with, and systemic change does not happen internally."
None of the allegations have been proven in court, and neither the federal government nor the accused former cadet leader has filed a response. CBC has not been able to reach the alleged rapist for comment.
A spokesperson for the Department of National Defence, which is responsible for the cadet program, said it would be inappropriate to comment while the allegations are subject to litigation.
The cadets program is open to children between the ages of 12 and 18 and aims to "instill Canadian military values" in participants, according to the Cadets Canada website. About 46,000 youth are currently enrolled in the program.
Lives 'darkened by the scourge of sexual abuse'
A.B.'s lawsuit comes as the organization faces allegations of enabling and ignoring widespread sexual misconduct in modern times.
A proposed class action lawsuit filed last year in Ontario alleges that the federal government has failed when it comes to addressing "systemic sexual assault, sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination" in the cadet program.
The most recent statistics on sexual abuse within the cadet program that have been shared by the federal government are from a 2020 military police report, which shows there were 257 "founded" incidents of sexual abuse in cadet units and camps between 2016 and 2019.
"The fact these horrific abuses are still happening in cadets, so many years after my own attack, is beyond tragic," A.B. said.
"So many young lives — promising lives — have undoubtedly been darkened by the scourge of sexual abuse in the ranks of Cadets Canada."
His notice of claim says he was raised by an impoverished single mother in Victoria. He joined the cadets in 1977 and "learned to trust and respect the ultimate authority of his superior officers without question," the claim says.
A.B. met his alleged rapist in the summer of 1979 at the Vernon Cadet Training Centre at Commonage Mountain in the North Okanagan region.
A.B. alleges the cadet captain deliberately "targeted and exploited" his vulnerabilities, including his desire for a father figure, "grooming the plaintiff into trusting him without question" so that he could sexually exploit him.
Later the same year, A.B. alleges that the cadet captain travelled to Victoria and invited A.B. and two other cadets from the area to stay with him in his hotel room.
A.B. says he slept in the same bed as the captain and woke in the middle of the night to discover he was being raped.
His claim holds the federal government vicariously liable for the lasting harm he suffered and calls for a range of damages, as well as coverage of health-care costs.
"I did not become the person I was destined to be. That was destroyed and derailed through an act of absolute betrayal," A.B. said.
He said what he really wants to see is permanent change at Cadets Canada, including better training for leaders on how to recognize grooming and thorough psychological screening of instructors.
"In the absence of comprehensive safeguards and a culture that does not tolerate 'looking the other way,' predators will infiltrate any organization where they have ease of access to children and a low risk of detection," A.B. said.
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.