Nearly a dozen military veterans looked on as a Red Deer man was given an 18-month suspended sentence in a Red Deer courtroom Wednesday for posing as a U.S. Marine.
Peter Toth, 59, was also sentenced to 200 hours of community service after pleading guilty to unlawfully wearing military decorations and unlawfully possessing a military identity card or other similar documents.
A charge of unlawfully wearing a military uniform was withdrawn by the Crown prosecutor.
Duty counsel Mark Daoust said Toth told him he has suffered from mental health issues related to post-traumatic stress disorder and depression going back 30 years.
Toth told him an adopted stepson, who was a U.S. soldier, was killed in Iraq in July 2005.
“He tells me, in his mind, he thought he was honouring that individual’s memory.”
Toth, a married father to six, feels much guilt and remorse for his actions and knows what he did was wrong, the lawyer told Red Deer provincial court Judge Gord Deck.
“He knows he’s lost the respect of a lot of people.”
The judge asked if Toth wanted to say anything.
“No, your honour,” he replied. Outside court, Toth declined to comment as well.
Crown prosecutor Ann MacDonald said on Nov. 8, 2017 Toth went to a St. Francis Assisi Middle School Remembrance Day ceremony in the guise of a U.S. Marine. He was wearing several medals, including a Purple Heart awarded to wounded soldiers.
However, his comportment raised suspicions among military veterans present, who contacted Stolen Valour – Canada, an organization that aims to expose people posing as military personnel and veterans.
Contacted by Stolen Valour through Facebook, Toth continued his charade, posting military documentation that included spelling mistakes, wrong serial numbers and the wrong name of the authorizing officer.
Toth, who had also appeared at a pair of Red Deer elementary schools in military guise, has also claimed to have served in Afghanistan fighting terrorism.
Stolen Valour contacted RCMP, and when confronted, Toth immediately confessed and was co-operative.
Toth, who had been convicted on two false pretenses charges in the early 1980s, said he has since destroyed his medals and fake documents.
Stolen Valour — Canada’s Gord Swaitkewich and nearly a dozen other veterans turned out for the sentencing, travelling from as far as Okotoks and Edmonton.
“I’m very happy with the decision,” said the retired infantry lieutenant. “He’s got 18 months supervised probation. We couldn’t ask for better.”
Swaitkewich said he would have liked the opportunity to address the judge on behalf of veterans but agreed the sentence was fair.
Veterans feel strongly about these kinds of crimes, he said.
“Somebody has to speak for those who can’t. So, we’re here speaking for those who can’t, for our dead and wounded.”
There was one order of business remaining for the veterans. Swaitkewich said Toth’s vehicle had a veteran licence plate, which he has not earned.
A complaint was going to be filed with the RCMP on Wednesday.
Red Deer veteran Robert Dale was also satisfied with the sentence, which he said is “par for the course” on charges of this kind.
“It sends a message out to everyone,” said Dale, who retired as a sergeant after 30 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. “We are diligent and we will catch more people doing this.
“We’re not going to stand by for someone stealing valour from our fallen.”
Scott Chrichton has the unique experience of serving in both the U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Armed Forces. He joined the Marines for a four-year stint, making sergeant, in the middle of his 16-year Canadian Army career, which he ended as a master corporal.
Chrichton said it’s good that organizations like Stolen Valour exist but it is “disheartening” that some choose to disrespect the military by posing as military veterans.
The maximum punishment for each of the charges Toth faced is six months in jail, a $5,000 fine, or both.