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Sailor tells of alleged sex 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 sailor testified at a court martial on Wednesday about a sexual assault he says happened to him aboard HMCS Athabaskan in 2015 while the vessel was moored in Spain.

A publication ban is in place to protect the identity of the alleged victim in the trial of Master Seaman Daniel T. Cooper, who is charged with sexual assault and ill-treatment of a subordinate.

The sailor said he awoke in his bunk after a day of drinking with friends in the Spanish town of Rota to find a man performing oral sex on him without his consent.

The man was the first witness called by prosecutor Maj. Dominic Martin in the trial before military judge Cmdr. Sandra Sukstorf.

He told the court it was too dark to see his alleged attacker but he recognized Cooper’s voice after the man whispered a sexual phrase to him during the alleged assault.

The sailor said he was frozen in shock, trying to figure out what was going on, and feared for his safety. His was in the top bunk in a crew sleeping area and he knew a shipmate was sleeping in the middle bunk below him so he reached down and tried to wake him.

“Help me, I think I’m being raped,” he told the court he’d said to his bunkmate, but the sailor in the middle bunk did not believe him. The complainant broke down in tears as he said the bunkmate’s response was “you’re drunk” and to go back to sleep as the other man had to go on duty in a couple of hours.

He asked for help three times only to be rebuffed, and the oral sex continued for another minute or so until he sat up and said “Look, I’m not gay.”

The alleged attacker then said “oh, I’m sorry,” and left his bunk.

When the man in the middle bunk saw a person run away and realized the alleged victim was still in the top bed, he changed his opinion and told the sailor to get up and meet at the top of the ladder leading out of the crew quarters, the complainant told the court.

He said he threw on some clothes, went up the ladder and the shipmate from the middle bunk convinced him to report the assault. They went to a duty officer to lodge the complaint and the alleged victim was then taken to the doctor of HMCS Halifax, which was docked nearby. He said he underwent a rape kit examination.

The sailor said he began to experience depression as the shock wore off. He was confined with the doctor and removed from the ship. He eventually flew back to Halifax, accompanied by “a padre” who helped him through his depression, telling him he didn’t do anything wrong.

Cooper does not deny that sexual activity took place but the defence claims it was consensual.

On cross-examination, defence counsel Maj. Phillipe Boutin suggested several actions of consensual sexual activity. Each time, the sailor said, “No. That did not happen.”

The Athabaskan was taking part in NATO exercises in the region of Western Europe at the time along with several other Canadian warships and vessels from other NATO countries.

During his testimony, the complainant said he went into town with other sailors to have some drinks at a local hotel. He drank beer from about 10 in the morning to about suppertime and said he felt buzzed but not drunk.

Cooper, who worked the same duty shift on the Athabaskan, and two others joined the sailor at the hotel after his other friends booked rooms and went to them. The sailor did not have a pass to stay in town so did not get a room.

After going to a restaurant for supper, Cooper and the sailor took a cab from the hotel back to the ship and then drank some more in the vessel’s main cafeteria, also called the mess.

The sailor said he called it a night at about 1 a.m. and used a washroom before heading to bed. He was very drunk by then, he said. Cooper, who also has a bunk in the same crew quarters, accompanied him to the bunkroom, ostensibly to make sure he got there safely. The two said goodnight after getting down the ladder to the quarters, the sailor said. He said he went to bed and fell asleep quickly but awoke between 4:30 and 5 a.m. when the assault is alleged to have happened.

The court martial is set to resume on Thursday afternoon.

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