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Sailor found guilty of sexual assault

Master Seaman Daniel Cooper, right, arrives for his court martial case in Halifax in September. TED PRITCHARD • CP
Master Seaman Daniel Cooper, right, arrives for his court martial case in Halifax in September. TED PRITCHARD • CP - The Canadian Press

A military judge found Master Seaman Daniel Cooper guilty of sexual assault and ill-treatment of a subordinate on Monday.

Cmdr. Sandra Sukstorf presided over the standing court martial in Halifax, which started on March 7 and included three days of testimony.

Sukstorf accepted a joint sentence recommendation of 22 months in jail to be served at the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional facility in New Glasgow, dismissal from the military, reduction in rank to ordinary seaman, and submission of a DNA sample and registering as a sex offender.

“We thought that she had a very well-thought-out decision and in terms of sentencing we are obviously satisfied that she approved of our joint submission as an appropriate punishment that sends the strong message that needs to be sent for this type of offence,” said prosecutor Maj. Dominic Martin.

The charges related to an incident aboard HMCS Athabaskan in November 2015, when the warship was moored at Rota, Spain, at the conclusion of NATO exercises.

The victim, a fellow sailor who shared the same crew quarters as Cooper on the ship, said that after a day of drinking in the town and back aboard the vessel, he awoke in the early hours of Nov. 10, 2015, to find someone performing oral sex on him without his consent.

A publication ban is in place to protect the man’s identity.

Cooper did not deny a sexual encounter took place but maintained it was consensual. He pleaded not guilty to both charges.

Defence counsel Maj. Philippe-Luc Boutin had asked that the judge find the prosecution did not make its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

In making her decision, Sukstorf said that in this case, the accused and the victim presented “diametrically different versions” of the events of that early morning but, in the end, she believes the evidence shows the prosecution made its case.

In the course of the trial, prosecutor Maj. Dominic Martin, assisted by Capt. Erica Maidment, called two witnesses: the victim and a fellow sailor whose bunk was immediately below the complainant.

Defence counsel Maj. Philippe-Luc Boutin called only Cooper to the stand.

In the victim’s testimony, he said he went to a hotel in the town of Rota and had some drinks with several shipmates starting at about 10 a.m. on Nov. 9, 2015.

Cooper was also at the hotel, initially with another group of shipmates. After his first group went their separate ways, the victim joined Cooper and several others. They went to supper and then back to the hotel.

The complainant and Cooper later shared a cab back to the ship.

Both said they then went to the bar in the ship’s main cafeteria, also called the mess or main cave, and drank more beer. Both also said they were very drunk by the time they decided to call it a night. The complainant said when they got back to the crew quarters, referred to as 13 Mess, they said goodnight and went to their respective bunks. He said he awoke at about 4:30 a.m. when he realized the sexual activity was occurring.

Cooper testified that they did not both go to bed when they got back to 13 Mess. He said that they went to their bunks to change but then he came back to speak with the victim, who was leaning against his locker a distance away from his bunk.

Cooper told the court he noticed the man was visibly aroused and asked if he needed help with that. Considering the answer to be consent, he told the court, he followed the complainant into his bunk and a sexual encounter took place. The judge said she found Cooper’s assertions that he was trying to look out for a drunken comrade not credible but instead predatory.

She said the accounts show an absence of consent on the part of the victim and “a giant leap” on the part of Cooper.

The victim told the court he reached down to the bunk below his to appeal to the man sleeping there for help but the shipmate did not believe he was serious.

The victim told the court it was only when he sat up and said “Look man, I’m not gay,” that the person allegedly assaulting him stopped, said, “Oh, sorry,” and fled. When called to the stand, the man from the middle bunk testified that he was awakened by his shipmate but he thought the other man was drunk and “being stupid.”

He told the court it was only after he saw someone else leave the top bunk, got up and saw the victim still in his own bed that he realized something had happened. He said he then got the other man up and took him to the top of the ladder out of the crew quarters to discuss what had happened, and then helped him report it.

Sukstorf said she found this witness’s testimony to be consistent and honest despite any embarrassment it might have caused.

She also believed the victim.

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