Charges stayed against Petawawa soldier
A provincial superior court justice has halted legal proceedings against a former Petawawa soldier.
Ronald Ward, who had been charged with one count of sexual assault under the National Defence Act in connection with an incident at the garrison on June 19, 2011, received a stay of proceedings on Jan. 6.
In his decision, Justice Martin James concluded that Ward, a trooper in the Royal Canadian Dragoons, had not received a trial in a timely manner due to "prosecutorial inaction and neglect."
"There was extensive evidence regarding prejudice alleged to have been experienced by the applicant (Ward)," stated James in a written decision provided to the Daily Observer by Ward's lawyers. "It is difficult to distinguish between prejudice flowing from the charges and prejudice flowing from the delay."
The military issued a formal record of disciplinary proceedings, or charge, against the soldier in January 2012. The charge was referred to the Directorate of Military Prosecutions some 10 months later. Military prosecutors redrafted the charge for a court martial. At the same time, the Canadian Armed Forces went ahead and discharged Ward on Oct. 22, 2012 for misconduct relating to the incident. He never received a copy of the charge sheet and was unaware of the charges following his discharge.
After his discharge, the military could not locate the armoured soldier for nine months in order to serve him the court martial documentation and transferred the matter to the provincial Crown attorney's office in Pembroke. Ward was arrested in October 2013. An indictment was signed on Feb. 28, 2014 followed by a committal to stand trial. No trial date had been set.
During a two-day hearing last August Ward's lawyers, Michael Crystal and Ian Paul, told the court that their client had suffered prejudice on several fronts as a result of the delay. They contended his discharge from the Canadian Armed Forces prevented him from pursuing a military career. The military charges stigmatized Ward, who was ostracized by other soldiers prior to his release. As a result of this, he was unable to maintain steady employment, become reclusive and suffered from anxiety and depression for which he had to receive medical attention.
Assistant Crown attorney Sam Humphrey agreed there had been a prosecutorial delay of 309 days and an institutional delay of 21 days, but that it was well in the range set by a 1992 Supreme Court decision.
However, James found that the delay for a straightforward sexual assault was not satisfactorily explained. On the night of the incident a group of soldiers, both male and female, were drinking at the barracks at Garrison Petawawa. The complainant left the group to sleep in her boyfriend's room nearby. She was wearing shorts and a T-shirt at the time. It was alleged Ward got into bed with the complainant while she slept, put her hand around her and a hand on her chest. He remained clothed as well. She awoke and yelled at the soldier, who fell out of the bed. Their friends came into the room in response to the commotion. These were allegations not proven in court.
James accepted evidence from Sgt. Jeffery Williams, the lead investigator, that there was a lackadaisical pace to the investigation from June 2011 to January 2012. He also accepted evidence that Ward was ostracized by his comrades and that his duties were changed and responsibilities restricted. He also lost his land deployment allowance because he was considered undeployable while the charge was pending.
The justice accepted that the Office of the Assistant Judge Advocate General was neglectful in delaying the administering and transmitting of the case file back to the unit for prosecution. The military also failed to keep tabs of the whereabouts of the accused after his discharge and no steps were taken to ensure he was aware of the pending proceedings.
"In this case it is difficult to escape the conclusion that excessive delay took place as a result of lack of timely action, if not indifference, by governmental forces at different points leading up to the transfer to civilian authorities," James concluded. "Likewise it seems clear that (Ward) has suffered actual prejudice stemming from the delay. It is worth noting as well that inferred prejudice increases as time passes."
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist