File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Accused Master Seaman Daniel Cooper, right, arrives for his standing court martial case in Halifax.

Halifax-based sailor found guilty of sexual assault, sentenced to 22 months

HALIFAX — A Halifax-based sailor has been handed a 22-month jail sentence and has been dismissed from the navy after a military judge found him guilty of sexually assaulting a subordinate.

In a verdict rendered Monday, military Judge Cmdr. Sandra Sukstorf also found Master Seaman Daniel Cooper guilty of ill treatment of a subordinate.

Sukstorf said there were inconsistencies in Cooper’s testimony during the trial and in a statement given to military police that were at odds with the evidence in the case.

“I do not believe his version of events,” said Sukstorf. “I do not find the accused credible on the issue of consent.”

Cooper had pleaded not guilty to the charges in relation to an incident aboard HMCS Athabaskan while the navy destroyer was visiting Spain in 2015.

But Sukstorf said Cooper’s motivation was predatory and “clearly not honourable.”

“The case amounts to a lack of consent on (the victim’s) part and a giant leap of imagination on Cooper’s part,” she said.

Sukstorf agreed to a joint recommendation on sentencing submitted by the prosecution and defence, noting the abuse of trust by Cooper.

“When you committed (the offences) you tarnished all of us,” she said.

In addition to the jail sentence and dismissal from the forces, the 30-year-old Cooper was demoted to the rank of Leading Seaman and must submit a DNA sample and register as a sex offender for a period of 20 years.

“We are satisfied with the outcome,” Prosecutor Maj. Dominic Martin told reporters following the sentencing.

“This is a serious sexual assault that occurred,” said Martin. “In terms of sentencing we are obviously satisfied that she (the judge) approved of our joint submission as an appropriate punishment that sends the strong message that needs to be sent for these types of offences.”

Cooper took the stand in his own defence at his court martial last week and testified that the sexual activity was consensual, but the victim, whose name is protected by a publication ban, testified he awoke to the naval communicator at Canadian Forces Base Halifax performing oral sex on him.

Both sides agreed that Cooper’s version of what took place in the sailors’ sleeping quarters on the night in question cannot be reconciled with the victim’s testimony, but they clashed over which account was more credible.

During closing arguments Saturday, Martin said Cooper and the junior sailor’s accounts of the night of drinking before the alleged incident were “pretty compatible” up until when the sailors returned to their sleeping quarters on the navy destroyer, which was docked in Spain as part of a NATO exercise.

Under cross-examination Cooper maintained that he twice asked the junior sailor if he wanted to engage in sexual activity and the other man agreed.

He had previously testified that after a night of drinking, he and the junior sailor went back to their sleeping quarters, and as they were talking by the other man’s locker, he noticed that he had become aroused.

Cooper said he asked the junior sailor if he wanted to become intimate and the other man agreed. He said he asked the other man again at his bunk before engaging in sexual activity.

During closing arguments, Martin asserted that Cooper fabricated the conversation near the locker in an effort to “absolve” himself of guilt.

In previous testimony before the military court, the victim said he feared for his safety and attempted to alert a crew member in the bunk below him — but he said his pleas for help went unanswered.

The sailor from the lower bunk testified Friday that he remembered the victim attempting to wake him up on the morning in question.

The bunkmate said the two men then reported the incident to a superior.

The military has promised to crack down on sexual misconduct in the ranks since an April 2015 report by retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps found an “underlying sexual culture.”

Military police received 193 reports of sexual assault in 2017, more than twice the 93 reported in 2014. There have also been more charges, with 44 in 2016 compared to 24 in 2014.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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