MONTREAL — The dramatic fall from grace of a once-rising star in Canada’s military culminated Thursday in a $7,000 fine and a symbolic reprimand.
This was after retired brigadier-general Daniel Menard had already gone from being a prominent military commander, to an unemployed civilian fighting to keep his family and rebuild his tattered reputation.
It unravelled following an affair with a subordinate, a fling that began in Canada and continued in the makeshift military living quarters in the dusty confines of Kandahar.
Menard pleaded guilty Thursday before a military court martial to having illicit relations while leading Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, and then urging her to cover it up.
His punishment included a fine and a demotion to the rank of colonel — but that latter penalty is largely symbolic because he is retired from the military and will retain his previous rank and pension benefits.
Prosecutors cast the case in purely military terms: regulations bar soldiers from having intimate relations while on deployment, plain and simple.
The rule is so strictly observed that it even applies to married couples — which Menard and his subordinate were not. And when someone at such a senior rank is seen flouting the rules, the military says, it undermines morale and weakens the chain of command.
“The rules are the essence of military work,” said Canadian Forces prosecutor, Cmdr. Martin Pelletier.
“It’s rules that give people like General Menard the power to order someone to their death, potentially, in combat.”
The 45-year-old Menard had enjoyed a stellar military career as an officer with a spotless service record, who rose though the ranks to become Canada’s No. 1 military man in Afghanistan before his career unravelled last year.
Earlier in the day, Menard pleaded guilty to two charges: having improper relations with a corporal under his command, and trying to impede an investigation into their affair.
He publicly apologized to his wife and children Thursday after admitting to the sexual liaison. He also lambasted the media coverage of his downfall.
Menard had faced a maximum of two years in prison or a dishonourable discharge from the military.
Lt.-Col. Louis-Vincent d’Auteuil, a military judge, cited principles of integrity, honesty and leadership as he read out his verdict.
“You know better than me — given all the experience you have — what the principles of leadership are,” d’Auteuil said.
“This happened in the worst place, at the worst time — in a theatre of operation.”
He said soldiers were risking their lives in Afghanistan and trusted him. He said Menard betrayed their trust.
“You have the highest level of responsibility in a theatre of operation,” the judge said. “It was up to you to set an example.”
It was the kind of transgression, the judge said, that could undermine the chain of command.
He said Menard had an admirable career to that point, which is why he was made a general at such a young age. He said that positive track record was also taken into account in the verdict.
“We must not lose sight of the fact that you did a lot of good things as an officer in the Canadian Forces,” d’Auteuil said.