Veteran faces court martial after release
OTTAWA – Even though he’s been a civilian for more than two years, former warrant officer Wade Pear faces a court martial for allegedly mouthing a schoolyard taunt to a junior officer at an official dinner.
The veteran of multiple ground tours in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Cyprus faces counts of insubordination and drunkenness — charges that could lead to two years in military prison or hundreds of dollars in fines.
Witnesses are apparently being flown in from different parts of the country to testify at the Ottawa hearing, which stems from an incident in November 2012.
The fact the military justice system is going after Pear, despite his having been released in September 2013, relates to a Supreme Court decision that gives uniformed prosecutors unlimited discretion on when to go ahead with a case.
“I don’t know if I’m bitter, but I just can’t come to terms with why they are proceeding with such minor stuff,” Pear said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.
His military lawyers have argued that the trial of a civilian, more than three years after the incidents and more than two years since his release, should be not be permitted.
Since Pear faces disciplinary action rather than criminal charges, there is no public interest nor anything to be gained in terms of conduct and morale for the military as a whole, they argue.
Pear was a member of No. 2 Service Battalion, based at Camp Petawawa, Ont., but now lives in Ottawa.
Pear denies the charge of drunkenness, saying he had a couple of drinks at the mess dinner that mixed badly with his post-traumatic stress disorder medication. The moment he felt ill, he went outside and then eventually home.
He says a conversation with a naval lieutenant was misconstrued into an accusation that he had called the officer “a pussy” for not ordering another drink.
Separately, Pear was also accused of making a rude comment to a female officer at the same mess dinner. The insubordination charge related to that allegation was dropped by the military’s judge advocate general’s branch.
A court martial was scheduled for April 2013, while he was still in uniform, but was postponed. Pear took his retirement a few months later, saying that he ended his 26-year military career partly because of the way he was treated in the aftermath of the mess dinner.
“The (regimental sergeant major) was making an example out of me,” he said. “Basically, I was blacklisted. The officers and other senior (non-commissioned officers), I don’t know what was said to them, but it was never the same.”
Maj. Holly-Anne Brown, a spokeswoman for National Defence, confirmed Wednesday that Pear’s court martial is scheduled for March 7, and that he was subject to the military’s so-called code of service discipline at the time of the alleged offences.
The charges have no civilian equivalent, and the alleged offence happened while Pear was still in uniform, Brown said, adding that the National Defence Act allows for such prosecutions even if the member is no longer serving.
Pear has since settled into civilian life, and now has a job at a motorcycle shop, where he puts his military mechanical experience into practice.
Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel and an expert in military law, said the Nov. 19 Supreme Court ruling effectively quashed the notion that in order to proceed with an old case in the military justice system, there needs to be something to be gained for discipline, conduct or morale.
The high court, which was asked to examine the jurisdictions of military tribunals, also stressed that it would no longer interfere or question the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
What the Pear case does is raise serious questions for Parliament and the new Liberal government “about the very, very broad jurisdiction given to military tribunals, vis-a-vis civilians and vis-a-vis military,” Drapeau said.
“Should the military have the reach to be able to lay and charge, prosecute and eventually try someone who is a civilian? The question is a political one.”
While there is a statute of limitations on how long it takes to charge someone under military law, the high court ruling effectively gives prosecutors a blank cheque on when to try to those charges, said Drapeau.
That’s patently unfair, said Pear.
“It means I could still be dealing with this when I’m 80.”