Veteran fought home-front battle

Imagine coming to work every day and being discriminated against based on your gender or what you looked like. Many women entering the workforce 30 years ago, including retired veteran and Queens University graduate Lt.-Col. Susan Beharriell, faced exactly that.

Beharriell spoke to a group of women from the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) at the Leaside-East York branch on Sept. 15. The discussion ranged from women in the military to her experiences during her 35-year career and the struggles and challenges she faced.

“I was the first and only woman almost everywhere I went,” Beharriell said. “They told me I couldn’t complete the same basic training as the men, because women couldn’t do that.”

Besides being told she couldn’t do something because of her gender, Beharriell faced sexual assault, verbal harassment, physical assault and other forms of discrimination.

“When I joined the forces in 1973 they told me that I could not become an intelligence officer because it said on page 42 of the manual that only men were permitted,” she said.

After years of persisting, the Canadian military finally allowed Beharriell to join the staff, but she still faced discrimination.

In her speech, Beharriell recalled the pressures she faced after being accepted into the security branch.

“You better measure up or we will never let another woman in,” she said.

In 1982, Beharriell was sent to Cold Lake, AB, where she was an intelligence officer and the only female on the base. During her time there, she discovered how difficult it could be handling intolerance.

“No teacher or student would talk to me,” Beharriell said. “Try a three-month course where your career is hanging in the balance… and no one will speak to you.”

No matter where she went, she was always told she couldn’t, but it never stopped her. Beharriell served with NATO in Germany as a Chief Intelligence Analyst and Briefer for the first Gulf War, and was also on duty at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) Centre in Colorado during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Beharriell ended her speech with words of advice for women in the room and received a standing ovation.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Beharriell said.

The Canadian Federation of University Women Leaside-East York was formed in 1955 as a local branch of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW), which is headquartered in Ottawa.

The Leaside-East York branch holds regular monthly meetings that include guest speakers.