Officer guilty of improper conduct during 2016 exercise at Petawawa
GARRISON PETAWAWA – An artillery officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to improper conduct in connection with an incident in which he pointed a pistol at one of his soldiers during a 2016 exercise.
During court martial proceedings, Capt. Ryan Gillespie was found guilty for an act to prejudice of good order and discipline under Section 129 of the National Defence Act, but not guilty of two other service offences, namely pointing a firearm and abuse of subordinates. The 36-year-old officer received a severe reprimand and a $7,000 fine from military judge Lt.-Col. Louis-Vincent d'Auteuil.
No evidence was introduced or witnesses heard during the two-hour hearing, however, regional military prosecutor Maj. Chavi Walsh read into the record a statement of circumstances surrounding the incident that led to charges being laid against Capt. Gillespie. The accused had just returned from a year-long United Nations peacekeeping tour in Cyprus when he deployed to the Petawawa Training Area on Exercise Stalwart Guardian in August 2016, the court heard.
At the time, Capt. Gillespie was employed as the BK, or Battery Kaptain, of Headquarters Battery, 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. On the night of Aug. 20, Capt. Gillespie and the battery commander (BC), Maj. Adam Bradley, were touring a gun position on Centre Lake, situated northwest of the garrison, when they came upon four soldiers violating light discipline. The troops were using flashlights to play a card game called “Magic” and were promptly counselled by the BK and assigned additional shifts, Maj. Walsh recounted.
The following day, Cpl. Arteomi Botnari was unloading rucksacks from a MSVS (Medium Support Vehicle System) truck when Capt. Gillespie approached and asked for his rucksack. In an attempt to crack a joke, Cpl. Botnari asked the BK, “do you play magic?” in reference to the previous night's incident. Capt. Gillespie proceeded to unholster his 9-mm Browning service pistol, cock the action and point it at the corporal. After a few seconds, the officer uncocked the pistol, returned it to the holster and walked away. Maj. Walsh added the pistol was not loaded at the time and no live small arms ammunition was issued during the exercise.
Later that day, Maj. Bradley was advised of the incident. The BC informed the unit's commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Geoff Hampton of the matter. The CO then made the decision to relieve Capt. Gillespie and send him back to the garrison. The officer was later reassigned to the 4th Canadian Division Support Group (4CDSG) pending the outcome of his disciplinary proceedings.
Maj. Walsh told the hearing that a supplemental investigation by military police revealed that during the same exercise Capt. Gillespie had unholstered his pistol for a second time. This incident took place near the battery's command post. After overhearing a conversation between two soldiers, Capt. Gillespie removed his pistol from its holster and pointed it at them. He began continuously cocking the pistol as he approached. Maj. Walsh explained that charges were not laid in this case after a negotiated resolution was reached with defence counsel.
Capt. Gillespie, a 15-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), had returned from a year-long deployment to Cyprus on July 30, 2016, however, he did not take his post deployment leave agreeing to participate in the exercise after consulting his chain of command. After the incident, the accused went to the CAF Psychosocial Services, who conducted an assessment and concluded he had been affected by stress and sleep deprivation. While they believed he was burned out, Psychosocial Services concluded he was not a danger to himself or others. He was prescribed an antidepressant to help him sleep and told to take his post-deployment leave. He subsequently attended 13 therapy sessions with CAF Mental Health Services. Psychosocial Services closed his file following these sessions.
The court heard that Capt. Gillespie had been awarded a Force Commander's Commendation for his service in Cyprus and that he had been considered for promotion by Brig.-Gen. M.H.L. Bourgon, the director general operations at Strategic Joint Staff, and future employment at the strategic level in Ottawa. However, Maj. Walsh told the court that Lt.-Col. Hampton had lost trust in Capt. Gillespie's ability to lead. In a letter to the prosecutor, the CO of 2RCHA stated: “It is unheard of in our Regiment for a senior Captain to consciously use a firearm to threaten and coerce soldiers.”
“His actions were an egregious breach,” said Maj. Walsh. “Weapons are inherently dangerous and rules surrounding their handling must be strictly observed.”
Representing Capt. Gillespie, his lawyer, Maj. Benoit Tremblay, said the judge should take into account that his client was a first-time offender who had directed his counsel to resolve the matter and avoid a drawn-out trial. He showed remorse for his actions with the guilty plea, the lawyer added. He pointed out that his current supervisor, Lt.-Col. Joe Hartson, comamnding officer of 4CDSG Operations Services, considers his client a valued member of the operations team and that he is very confident in Capt. Gillespie's abilities to lead subordinates in an appropriate and effective manner. Maj. Tremblay added that Capt. Gillespie recognized he had a problem due to stress and lack of sleep following his deployment and sought out treatment on his own. He also successfully completed the counselling and probation that he had been placed on by his unit following the laying of the charges, the lawyer noted.
“Even under investigation, he was still trying to be the best Canadian Forces member under the circumstances,” said Maj. Tremblay.
Capt. Gillespie had earlier pleaded not guilty to one charge each of pointing a firearm and one charge of abuse of subordinates. With no evidence or witnesses to consider, Lt.-Col. D'Auteuil made findings of not guilty on both those counts. He accepted the joint recommendation from the defence and the prosecution for a sentence that included a severe reprimand and a $7,000 fine.