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'We were tortured': Recruits starved and humiliated as part of military training
Military police investigation into events now under review after no action taken
By Rosa Marchitelli, Rachel Ward CBC News Posted: Apr 10, 2017 5:00 AM ET
The young recruits just hours before they took part in prisoner of war training in February 1984 at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright. The soldiers later joined the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Manitoba.
For the first time, former Canadian soldiers are speaking publicly about being tortured at the hands of the Canadian military during a prisoner of war training exercise in the 1980s.
The men say in February 1984, they were among 33 young recruits who were stripped naked, crowded into small military jail cells with windows open, denied food and, for up to two days, repeatedly sprayed with cold water. For more than 40 hours they were forced to listen to loud rock music.
"I did experience torture at the hands of the Canadian Armed Forces," Jeffery Beamish, who lives in Orillia, Ont., says. "They allowed their battle school training to torture me through cold, through lack of food and through severities like being brought outside frozen and naked."
More than 30 years later, the men tell Go Public the experience still haunts them. Especially after a military police investigation in 2015 failed to result in any action.
"This was ice cold water. This was cold as you could get. The windows are open and you would be absolutely freezing," Beamish says.
"At points I just even stopped shivering, I was so cold."
Jeffery Beamish was just 19 was he took part in the prisoner of war training.
Beamish and his fellow new recruit, Rodger Junkin, were both 19 years old when they found themselves forced into a prisoner of war training exercise on Canadian Forces Base Wainwright, 200 km southeast of Edmonton.
"There was no room to sit down, no place to use the toilet," says Junkin, who grew up in Peterborough, Ont., and now lives in Alpirsbach, Germany.
"We had to urinate in cells or some guys had to take a dump right there, standing next to each other. There was no choice."
Rodger Junkin says he wants an apology from the government to know that they care about what happened to him and his fellow soldiers.
Angelo Balanos, then 23, had recently joined the Forces to serve Canada and "pay back all the help we got growing up" in a poor, single-parent family in Windsor, Ont.
"They had music cranked up Led Zeppelin, I think. I just remember the repetitiveness of the song over and over again for 40 hours straight," he says from his home in Burnaby, B.C.
"There's no other way to explain it but torture. And it didn't last for a couple hours . To this day, I don't understand why they did this. It was just pure torture for no reason," Balanos says."
Angelo Balanos, pictured here in 1985, served in the infantry for seven years before joining the air force.
The men remember the instructors ripping up and burning the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, before telling the recruits they had no rights and would be kicked out of the military if they failed to complete the training.
Balanos is now off work and seeking treatment for PTSD, which he says was brought on by experiences during his military service.
Now in their 50s, these former soldiers repressed the memories for years during and after their military careers, unable to talk about the experience. Since leaving the military some have struggled with work, had problems with relationships and are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorders.
"The ability to stand up for myself for the first part of my career, I lost that," Junkin says. "I didn't know what was right or wrong. That was taken from me. Later in life, I realized you can't do this to me."
Beamish was eventually diagnosed with major depression and PTSD linked to the events of 1984.
Two years ago he filed a complaint with the military, but after a nine-month investigation military police found there was not enough evidence to lay charges.
That military investigation is now under review after Beamish, through his lawyer, raised concerns it was flawed.
Beamish is represented by Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel who's been practising military law since 2002.
"We have to remind ourselves soldiers, our sons and daughters, are first and foremost Canadians and they have human rights," Drapeau says.
Military lawyer Michel Drapeau has been working with his team to help Jeffery Beamish.
Drapeau points to a recorded conversation, provided to Go Public, between Beamish and the investigator assigned to the initial complaint, saying it's evidence the military had no intent to lay serious charges.
"What is the court going to do to that person for this type of offence?" the investigator says to Beamish on the recorded call. "Are they going to put somebody that's 65 years or whatever in jail for something like this?"
On the recording, the investigator also tells Beamish no charges were laid because "torture didn't become an offence until 1985," a year after the prisoner of war course.
"It reduces the confidence that serving or retired members of the military have in the military police," Drapeau says. "What's the use of complaining?"
Jeffery Beamish looks at photos and memorabilia from his time in the military at his home in Orillia, Ont.
He says the POW training failed to provide medical support and proper supervision.
"We don't want to damage soldiers, we want to toughen them up," Drapeau says.
"We want to prepare them for what they may have to face on the battlefield, but there is a line you cannot cross.
"Otherwise, as we see in this case, we have inflicted upon this individual a life-long injury."
Angelo Balanos has been restoring an old photo of his army colleagues.
The man in charge of the Wainwright battle school in 1984 tells Go Public this is the first he's heard of the allegations of torture during the prisoner of war training.
Robert Dallison, a retired lieutenant-colonel, says preparing soldiers for what might happen behind enemy lines was part of regular training after some Canadians were taken prisoner in the Korean War.
But he says what happened in 1984 "doesn't sound right."
"The purpose of exercises is to give them a feeling or an understanding of what it would be like to be a prisoner," Dallison says. "Some of the things you mentioned, I certainly wouldn't have approved had I known about it."
Other senior military officials also told Go Public the POW training the men took part in is not part of any approved program they are aware of.
Veterans Affairs acknowledges injury
A few weeks ago, Veterans Affairs Canada agreed to cover Beamish's PTSD treatment. In a letter, the department acknowledged his mental illness was caused by his participation in the prisoner of war training exercise.
The former soldiers are hoping this new development will encourage the military police unit, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, to reopen the criminal investigation into what happened.
The soldiers say their 1984 training at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright has left them struggling with mental illness today./b]
In an email to Go Public, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces says it takes all allegations and complaints seriously. "This is why we conducted a nine-month investigation into the matter," the statement says.
"We remain seized by this matter and, though there remains insufficient evidence to pursue this matter further, we strongly encourage anyone who feels wronged to come forward."
Meanwhile, another military department, the one that oversees military police, says it can't offer any more information until its review of the police investigation is complete.
'We're not lying'
As for Beamish, Balanos and Junkin, they say they're not looking for a payout, but answers.
"We're not lying about this. This took place. It happened," Junkin says.
"The minister of national defence should order an inquiry and deal with it, and if it was wrong and I believe it was I want an apology and an acknowledgement that this took place."
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'Embarrassment to Canadians': abuse, humiliation occurred at bases across country, soldiers say
Recruit treatment, lack of apology 'tarnishing' Canada's image, says torture victim advocate
By Rosa Marchitelli, Rachel Ward, CBC News Posted: Apr 24, 2017
Former soldier Greg Alkerton is speaking out about how he was treated during a military training course.
The alleged abuse of Canadian soldiers at the hands of their own military during training exercises was widespread during the '80s and '90s, according to former military members.
After a Go Public investigation into a 1984 training exercise at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright, which was described by some participants as "torture," we were contacted by about a dozen ex soldiers who had similar stories. They say the alleged abuses occurred not just in Wainwright, Alta., but across the country from Gagetown, N.B., to Petawawa, Ont., to Chilliwack, B.C.
The training has been called an "embarrassment to Canadians," and has prompted calls for Canada's minister of national defence to apologize.
Former recruits say they suffered abusive treatment on "escape and evasion" courses, meant to teach soldiers how to avoid being captured by the enemy.
The courses were intended to simulate war, but the former military men allege the training crossed the line into abuse when instructors changed the program to "prisoners of war" scenarios.
The exercises included:
Waterboarding, an interrogation method that simulates drowning.
Depravation of sleep and food for multiple days.
Forced to crouch, kneel or stand at attention overnight.
Left with broken fingers or other injuries.
Greg Alkerton, of Port Alberni, B.C., who was a soldier from 1985 to 1994, says he took part in two training exercises that included POW-type training that crossed into abuse.
Greg Alkerton says he wants Canadians to know what he and others went through in the military during prisoner of war training.
The first was a basic infantry reconnaissance training course in 1987 at Canadian Forces Base Shilo, near Brandon, Man., and the second, was a sniper training course in 1990 at CFB Gagetown.
"On one hand, you really want this qualification so badly that you are willing to put yourself through anything for it, but on the same token, you're seeing your own leadership turn on you in a way that's damaging," he says.
Alkerton says drains were taken off urinals, and recruits were forced to lie on the bathroom floor, face down, as the urine of their instructors was flushed on them.
"The floor is basically flooded with this stuff," he recalls.
Greg Alkerton during a military training exercise.
The soldiers also were forced to crawl through an open sewer, he says, left out in the rain naked, then brought into a tent where female military police officers would interrogate them, making derogatory remarks about their genitalia.
"In retrospect, it did teach you to be a harder individual but what they taught me to do is be a person with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]," Alkerton says.
"They taught me not to be able to relate to my family. They taught you to be hardened against all the things in life."
'Crammed into 2x2 boxes'
Another former soldier says after avoiding capture on one of the escape and evasion courses at CFB Wainwright in 1988, he witnessed what happened to fellow recruits who did not. The man asked CBC not use his name for fear of reprisals.
"It was 50 C with the windchill, there was no food, there was pails of water dumped on guys ... standing out there for hours," he says.
The next year, the man says he and others were tasked with building a prisoner of war training camp at CFB Wainwright and then witnessed what it was used for when new recruits were brought in.
"They actually dumped water on these guys crammed into two by two boxes with barbed wire. They poked at them with sticks, threw rocks at them, pails with muddy water dumped over them. They were left in there for hours," he says.
Greg Alkerton says he still struggles to speak about what he experienced
Go Public put the former soldiers' latest stories of abuse to the military.
In an email, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence/Canadian Armed Forces says, "while we understand that individuals might feel wronged by the training they received some 30 years ago, we hope they come forward and contact us so that we may look into this further."
Investigation under review
Alkerton says he regrets never filing a complaint with the military.
But, as CBC News reported, after years of therapy and a depression and a PTSD diagnosis, another former soldier, Jeffrey Beamish, did file a complaint two years ago.
Greg Alkerton during a training mission in the 1980s.
Military police investigated in 2015 and determined there wasn't enough evidence to lay charges.
That investigation is now under review to ensure it was "handled fairly and appropriately," according to a statement from a spokesperson for Canada's minister of defence.
National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan won't comment on the soldiers' experiences while that review is happening.
"We strongly encourage anyone who has an issue with an experience they had while in the Canadian Armed Forces to come forward ... to ensure they receive the support they need," Sajjan's spokesperson wrote in an email to Go Public.
'Tarnishing' Canada's image
The executive director of the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture, an organization that provides services to refugees who are victims of torture, calls what happened to the soldiers and the minister's failure to apologize for it "an embarrassment to Canadians."
"By allowing this issue to linger longer, they [the government] are tarnishing the image of Canada," Mulugeta Abai says.
He believes the training described by ex-soldiers was torture, which goes against Canada's 1949 commitment to the Geneva Convention.
Mulugeta Abai is the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture. He says the exercises described by former soldiers amount to torture.
"In one way, we are setting up organizations like the [UN] Committee Against Torture," Abai says.
"And the other, we are hearing about cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment to our people."
Trauma lasts decades
While the training continues to haunt some former soldiers, others have contacted Go Public to say they went through similar courses and saw them as a normal part of military training. They also question why the injured soldiers are coming forward now, decades after the events.
Register clinical counsellor Jennifer Primmer says people who experience trauma sometimes take years to speak about it.
Registered clinical counsellor Jennifer Primmer, from Calgary, who works with military veterans who have experienced traumatic events, says some people can "bottle up" traumatic experiences for decades, while others walk away unharmed.
In the early 2000s, the Canadian Forces put in new standards and a course curriculum to teach escape and evasion skills, and what to do if captured. The training includes continuous medical and psychological oversight, and instructors are filmed during the course.
Been wronged? Contact Rosa and the Go Public team: http://www.cbc.ca/news/gopublic
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Hard to imagine what these guys went through. Greg is a personal friend and I know what he has been through. He was a hermit until he got his service dog Ace.
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