In 2015 the Madame Deschamp's Report on Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was released. Frustrated that survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) had no place to go for support and resources, a Private Facebook Group was created by the indomitable Marie-Claude Gagnon to provide support and connection.
This private group was moderated and kept inspirational by many that shared a vision of a place survivors could safely connect and find support. It was in this group that
Dr. Lori Buchart and Captain Sam Samplonius provided informal peer support, moderating services, and occasional policy advice. Sam was also the "inspirational" Instagram account manager where she collected and posted daily bits of hope and strength memes and quotes.
It was the existence of IJ700 that provided a space for survivors to reflect on the Class Action Harassment suit won by RCMP members and decide collectively to pursue and support the Heyder-Beattie Class Action. Many members from IJ700 attended and testified at the hearings in Ottawa that led to the success of the Class Action in reaching a Final Settlement.
This settlement provided the impetus and funding for the creation of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) services specifically tailored to survivors of MST. Not only has this resulted in more claims for PTSD attributable to MST being approved, it has also overturned many previously rejected Disability Award applications to VAC.
These approved claims have provided survivors with a new sense of feeling valued, and their trauma being validated as real and believable which are key factors in promoting healthier mental health.
In March 2021, IJ700 was disbanded, but that group of volunteers had blazed an amazing trail and given a voice and awareness of Canadian military sexual trauma that made MST impossible to ignore.
When IJ700 disbanded, there were two choices:
1) To stand-up a new group that provided continued support; or
2) Do nothing, and leave a number of people without the much needed
support they had become used to and needed.
Doing NOTHING was NOT an option in the minds of Lori, Sam, Paula and others.
But in order to make progress, it was felt the way forward was to build bridges, engage in critical dialogue, and to find uncharted pathways for healing and restoration. This was risky as it had not been done before.
With this bravado as well as a sense of caution of the risk, the first order of business was to pick a new name. With many the original founding members from the IJ700 group, we wanted to stay with the Madame Deschamps reference, so "It's Not Just 700" (INJ700) was suggested by Sam and chosen. It was clear now with so much research done in the area of Military Sexual Misconduct (MSM) and MST in Canada, that it's not just 700 affected; it was so many more, not just including CAF members and veterans, but their immediate family members and loved ones as well.
Our INJ700 group was fortunate to have many survivors with a variety of professional expertise and a desire to help others on their healing journeys. Many with their previous experience within IJ700 from 2015-2021 felt it was important to continue to provide a safe, secure space for MST survivors to connect and support each other in positive ways.
Through discussions, Lori & Sam discovered not only a shared military history, but a shared vision of what they felt needed to change within the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to reduce MST by generating awareness of its negative impact on members and morale. With their combined lived and life experience with MST, building relationships, negotiation and teaching prowess, they had hopes of facilitating critical conversations and collaboration without confrontation inside and outside the MST survivor community.
So under the leadership of Dr. Lori, a volunteer "Advisory Group" was formed as we tried to determine the best way forward to continue ensuring survivor voices were heard, and any new CAF/DND/VAC policies were survivor-centric. The main focus of maintaining safe and secure social media spaces for MST survivors to connect and feel supported was paramount in the beginning of INJ700.
While no one cared for titles or specific roles, a strategic approach required a framework and guidelines, especially if there was to be a transition to becoming a Non-Profit organization. From March to December 2021 a number of ideas were presented and tried out. During this time the safety and security of the Private Facebook Group was enhanced by establishing clear rules for respectful member conduct and membership administration. The intent at that time was just to maintain a "survivors supporting survivors" group until a professionally led Peer Support Program could be provided by the Sexual Misconduct Support & Resource Centre (SMSRC).
2021 was a tumultuous time for the Canadian Armed Forces with heightened emotions due to the CAF Class Action deadline for submissions on 24 November 2021, as well as the number of high profile sexual misconduct cases coming forward. The CAF-DND Sexual Misconduct Class Action Settlement had clearly defined what had been unacceptable behaviour, and this opened many old wounds for MST survivors and gave them the courage to come forward and report harmful inappropriate sexual behaviour from years before when it would have been career suicide to report.
With assurances from the CAF towards culture change, many previously silent serving and retired CAF members were bravely opening old wounds and coming forward to report military sexual misconduct (MSM). The former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was not immune either, and he was under investigation for military sexual misconduct when two colleagues and senior serving members joined him in a golf game.
In the summer of 2021 an incident happened that we came to call "GolfGate" that added to the trajectory of our path ahead.
One of those men at the golf game was Vice Admiral Craig Baines, and many survivors felt that his actions called into question his unbiased ability to continue as Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). As a result, many called for his resignation. So with our Group and others' urging, Lori sent an e-mail to the Acting CDS, General Wayne Eyre, asking for clarity on why Admiral Baines was not being relieved of command.
This email led to Admiral Baines contacting INJ700 with a request on how he could redeem himself to those adversely impacted by the perception that he was supporting an alleged perpetrator of sexual misconduct. It also sparked a dialogue on "blindspots" and how CAF decisions can negatively impact trust. This opened the door to having frank discussions on how the CAF could better take into account the impact on those survivors affected by military sexual misconduct (MSM).
Long story short, with no precedents to follow, INJ700 sought direction from the CAF Integrated Conflict and Complaint Management office in order for them to help facilitate a restorative services session that could involve Admiral Baines and any of our INJ700 Group of survivors that wanted to engage in such a process. There was also interest from the Canadian MST Community of Practice, as they were engaged in research on how feedback from Persons With Lived Experience (PWLE) could be leveraged to help clinicians better support persons impacted by MSM & MST.
The feedback received from that session and a follow-up session was that our participants felt heard and their concerns validated. It created a model of collaboration to seek restoration instead of destruction. One survivor from our INJ700 Group said, "25 years of therapy and medications had less effect of their trauma healing than those six hours spent in being heard and validated".
That was a validation moment for Lori and Sam on the power of bringing people together to respectfully talk out their issues which has been the cornerstone of their life mantra. As a result of those critical conversations and the enlightenment they provided to senior leadership in the RCN, there were calls to provide more opportunities for CAF senior leadership to engage in conversations that not only provided insight, but healing opportunities for people with lived experience [PWLE] that were at a place in their healing journey to engage in respectful dialogue with CAF leadership.
Seeing this as a "win win" situation, Lori and Sam sought feedback from INJ700 Group members as to whether there was an interest in continuing to encourage serving CAF survivors to participate in ICCM led restorative sessions.
With the attendance of Dr. Margaret Mackinnon and Dr. Alexandra Heber, co-founders of the Canadian MST Community of Practice, as well as Dr. Linna Tam-Seto, we had a clinical view on the effect of our critical dialogue on empowering survivors and influencing culture change in the CAF. Our main concern was ensuring that we were helping, not hindering healing, so their positive professional feedback and encouragement was essential in our continuing efforts.
On 3 December 2021 through another partnership established with the Centre of Excellence - PTSD, (now known as Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families), our Group arranged a "Visioning Session" to focus on a way forward. INJ700 members that were interested in creating a sustainable model for maintaining our survivor support platform, and building upon the relationships we had developed within and outside the CAF towards culture change, participated to share their views. Aaron Russell did a fabulous job capturing our survey and way forward discussions in the graphic recording above.
Because INJ700 had only been created as a bridge until SMSRC implemented their Peer Support program, we were asked to discontinue using "700" when it was recognized our efforts went beyond the original intent, as some felt it was confusing people that were more familiar with the advocacy style and milestones reached by IJ700.
There were also a number of INJ700 Group members that had been there since 2015, and another large group that had only joined INJ700 for support and resources in completing the CAF Heyder-Beattie Class Action claims.
Through this visioning session as well as discussion with the Community, the need to maintain a Community Hub where survivors could support each other with positive messages and lessons learned was identified as still very important.
A Community Hub could also continue to be a place where survivors could connect for social activities like local coffee chats, book clubs, or online chats. This Hub could also continue to be a place where healing resources and information could be gathered for easy reference, with opportunities for seminars, surveys and MST research participation posted privately.
In the end, the consensus was that maintaining an easy to access safe space and point of connection was something survivors wanted to continue.
Visioning is a participatory tool that brings group members and stakeholders together and is used to assist this group in developing a shared vision of the future.
By asking the group where they are now and where they can realistically expect to be in the future, you can develop a vision together.
The year 2021 brought significant changes for INJ700, affected members and veterans, as well as the CAF and DND. Although the Heyder-Beattie Class Action settlement claims period had been open since 2019, for any number of reasons many people had put off deciding whether or not to revisit some of the most traumatizing periods, places and people in their life. But once the 24 November 2021 deadline started to become more of a reality, the claims count started to rise exponentially.
On 24 November 2021 the number of claims was well over 19K, and this was a rude awakening for everyone from civilians to CAF and government leaders that this problem was real. It was not a surprise to the survivor community.
It was also the inspiration to Lori and Sam for a new beginning now that it was clear there was definite need to have an organized group of MST survivors that could grow and be a resource for culture change. The name INJ20K was suggested by Sam because with the complaints received to date of over 19,400 it was clear that the number is likely more than 20K. The persons impacted by MST also include family and loved ones of survivors that see every day the way it has changed someone they love, so it's not just 20K.
With a new name and vision comes the need for a new motto to create a focal point, and one day while discussing what we are trying to do, Sam said, "we are supporting our survivors because that restores them to a person that is empowered to living a life, not just living".
Thus, Support~Restore~Empower became our focus in all that we do and plan.
To that end, we re-branded our Public Facebook page to "It's Not Just 20K, and re-established a new Private Facebook Group named "It's Not Just 20K ~ Community Hub". The new Community Hub allows survivors to continue supporting survivors by being a positive voice on those days where it is hard to be positive on a MST healing journey. We call our moderators "Navigators" as they will help our Hub members navigate to resources and information.
The Hub is also a place where we can arrange social activities across Canada with any survivor willing to take a lead on events like a coffee chat, book club, pet care, or something of general interest or expertise they wish to share with the INJ20K Group.
Going forward it became important to form an Advice Group of INJ700 members that was representative of the affected community as well as external stakeholders who could provide a critical lens. We needed a Group that believed in our vision and not only provided the perspective of Veteran survivors, but also serving CAF members that had continued service in the CAF despite the harm caused to them.
So as we closed the INJ700 book, Lori and Sam co-Founded this Group, "It's Not Just 20K" (INJ20K) as visionary partners in hope.
Hope for healthy healing journeys for persons impacted by MST, and hope that we can influence positive culture change in the CAF/DND to reduce harmful inappropriate sexual behaviour.
One of the first things I learned in the Canadian Army was that "no plan survives contact with the enemy". In other words, leaders need to have the initiative and be prepared to change or amend a battle plan.
In the blog section I posted a blog on Friday 13 January 2023 that mentions some of the challenges Lori and I endured in 2022. Lori will be leaving INJ20K to pursue other volunteer interests, so there will be some adjustments made to our structure.
Suffice to say that as per my blog post, I am not giving up on the dream of a safe a respectful space for victims & survivors to find.
Not because I believe I am perfect or better than anyone else (far from it!), but because advocacy work has been one of my greatest coping skills since joining my first federal Occupational Health & Safety Committee in 1988. Doing whatever I can to promote health & safety is a deep seated passion of mine that is engrained in my soul.
Now that therapy has shown me how my traumas have affected my life, I want to make as many efforts as I can to humbly help others recover or avoid the challenges I still work every day to overcome. #SupportRestoreEmpower
So the plan going forward is to put any formal plan to create a not-for-profit organization on indefinite hold for now. The focus will be on building this website into a place where as many resources, and as much info as I can find on PTSI trauma healing can be collected for references for anyone who needs it. I will also continue to volunteer for many initiatives and projects that can also provide such assistance and information. #MSThasNOgender
In my trauma brain I figure there has to be a reason for the painful things that have formed my life; sharing my lived experiences in hopes of helping others survive theirs just feels like the right thing to do. #TurnHurtToHope
At almost 60 years old, it no longer matters to me if people think I am weird or broken.
What matters to me is the possibility that someone somewhere may be encouraged to live another day knowing that it is possible to go through so much without giving up. As I have journeyed I found SO many resources and caring people!
Unfortunately, there is no "one stop shop", and everyone has a unique healing journey, so many different resources are needed. That is my goal: to FIND them and SHARE them for as many people that NEED them as possible. Something that I wish had existed when I began my healing journey dazed and confused and alone.
Please feel free to reach out if there is anything that may have helped you that should be on the website, and I hope you find something here in return that brings you to the place of peace that we all deserve.
This poster on the right is one of my favourite Nietzsche quotes about having different styles of leadership & advocacy....
It has been a difficult year recovering from the realization that a common goal does not necessarily equate a common interest. Lesson learned, and going forward I will continue my advocacy journey on my own to eliminate comments and complaints that I am advocating the wrong way. Maybe my positive approach is offensive to some, but it is the only way I feel comfortable. Being self-funded provides a lot of freedom.
In addition, five years of waiting for a civil trial date was ended this past spring with the Discovery Hearings. In summer the Pre-Trial hearings were held, and the trial scheduled for November 2023. Naturally this stirred up the unresolved trauma from the incident, as my therapy has been restricted to daily coping strategies. This delay is dealing with the last incident was because I did not want to have my innermost thoughts subpoenaed as a strategy to undermine my mental capacity in determining whether or not I consented to sexual activity. This usage of a victim/survivor psychology notes is a common defence strategy for many alleged rapists.
At some point, I will be adding a page on the website that details the court process to help people be fully informed when thinking about reporting military sexual trauma.
I also hope shedding light on the emotional challenges to overcome in a legal process will motivate others to also advocate for changes that balance evidence with avoiding the re-traumatization of victims & survivors.
But for now, I need to take a break and engage in some extreme self-care.
I will continue to keep the Public INJ20K Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram up to date with info and resources that I come across, along with posters I find to soothe with smiles, laughter, and/or "heck yas". The blogs and opinion pieces may be sparse.
I will continue to share research oppportunities within our Private Facebook Hub.
I already see more organizations creating "Veteran Hubs" of information and services like the one I started here in 2021. With more grants available to not-for-profits to support Veterans and their families, maybe someone will take on creating a not-for profit for Canadian MST resources. This would ensure there is a team of people to manage communications more professionally than my limited budget. There are still many survivors that understandably do not trust anything connected to government services.
My thoughts are always focussed on making the world a better place, and those that know me, know I am pretty stubborn that way. For once in my life I appreciate my resolve, because it gets me out into the world when many days all I want to do is become a crazy cat lady with a wonderful service dog that loves herding the cats.
Take care and rest assured, I am sticking around.
This poster on the right is one of my favourite Radmacher quotes about