Federal government claims no wrongdoing after Edmonton military officer files $8M lawsuit
Update: This story was updated Thursday, Dec. 14 with additional information from Stalker’s lawyer.
The federal government denies claims made in an $8-million lawsuit that it botched an investigation into sex charges against an Edmonton military officer.
A statement of defence was filed Tuesday by the Department of Justice in response to a statement of claim made by Lt.-Col. Mason Stalker in May.
Stalker alleges the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces oversaw a negligent investigation conducted by military police and made defamatory statements to the media that damaged his reputation.
“The Plaintiff has also suffered health issues, personal embarrassment and humiliation,” the statement of claim reads.
“The after-effects continue to this day… The Plaintiff will never be able to [fully] overcome the damages to his reputation.”
In July 2015, military police laid 10 charges against Stalker, including three counts of sexual assault, four counts of sexual exploitation and one count each of sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching and breach of trust by a public officer.
The offences allegedly occurred between 1998 and 2007 while Stalker was a mentor to local army cadet corps.
“A victim came forward to us in April of this year,” said Francis Bolduc, Commanding Officer of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, at the time. “He came forward with information and we initiated an investigation that resulted in charges.”
In November 2016, the Alberta Crown withdrew the charges. At the time, an Alberta Justice spokesperson said the Crown concluded that there was no longer a reasonable likelihood of conviction.
“Mr. Stalker has been wrongly accused and certainly wrongly treated when his reputation and his life was turned upside-down overnight,” said Michel Drapeau, Stalker’s lawyer.
“And in the final analysis, he has done nothing wrong – absolutely nothing wrong.”
The lawsuit alleges the military police interviewed an insufficient number of witnesses, grossly over-charged Stalker and failed to scrutinize evidence that it claims showed inaccuracies and contradictions on the part of the complainant. It claims “witnesses… were interrogated and asked leading questions with a view to achieving [investigators’] desired narrative.”
It also alleges the military police did not thoroughly investigate the complainant himself.
“During his interview, the Complainant indicated he had “Googled” the Plaintiff and was upset at how successful the Plaintiff was. The [Canadian Forces National Investigation Service] did not consider this as a warning sign of jealously or other ulterior motives,” the statement of claim reads.
The claim suggests the CAF made an example of Stalker to show how it was taking sexual assault allegations against military members seriously.
“The very few witnesses interviewed pre-arrest saw nothing unusual and provided no corroboration to the Complainant’s false and malicious allegations,” the claim reads. “This demonstrates a campaign by the Defendant to showcase the Plaintiff’s arrest to the public – which we allege likely occurred in order to diminish negative headlines that followed the ‘Deschamps Report.’”
The Deschamps Report was a review into how the Armed Forces handle sexual misconduct and sexual harassment. It found “there is an undeniable problem,” according to the report.
“We will have to wait until we go to court before we present evidence and arguments to support each one of the allegations raised in our statement of claim,” Drapeau said.
The statement of defence filed by the federal government insists it did nothing wrong.
“All Crown servants acted in good faith, properly and competently in the execution of their duties,” it reads.
Drapeau said he is not surprised by the government’s response.
“Justice obviously has a completely different view and a completely different interpretation of events that are recited in the claim itself and that’s OK. We will let the court process run its course.
“They’re not admitting to anything at all. So they’re fighting and I guess we’ll be fighting every step of the way.”
The statement of defence said military police had “reasonable grounds” to believe Stalker had committed the offences, interviewed witnesses according to police practices and sufficiently considered the complainant’s state of mind in the evidence.
The federal government alleges that, upon questioning Stalker after his arrest in 2015, “the Plaintiff admitted to having a sexual relationship with the complainant, but stated that the relationship only started after 2006 when the complainant was an adult and that it only consisted of three sexual encounters.”
“The witnesses… did not observe any sexual acts between the Plaintiff and the complainant, but their accounts were consistent in that many reported the Plaintiff was overly interested in the complainant,” the statement of defence goes on.
“Some witnesses told the CFNIS that they felt uncomfortable around the Plaintiff at times, such as when he would shower with cadets after training. Some witnesses also reported instances where the Plaintiff had cadets over to this house for parties where he made pornography and alcohol available to minors.”
Drapeau did not respond directly to those claims.
“I guess the most eloquent of all responses is that all charges – all of them, no nuances – all of them were withdrawn,” he said.
In a subsequent email to Global News on Thursday, Drapeau fired back at claims made in the government’s statement of defence.
Drapeau condemned the allegations about Stalker showering with cadets and making pornography and alcohol available to minors.
“These statements are not proven; they are not named witnesses and are therefore hearsay. There is no accountability for such broad, corrosive allegations,” he said.
An affidavit sworn by Stalker, and provided to Global News, states, “At no time did I ever shower at the same time as a cadet. In fact, I do not ever recall using the shower facilities at Jefferson Armouries at any time while I was a volunteer.”
Stalker, in the affidavit, also said there was no inappropriate behaviour at parties at his house.
“There was no alcohol present,” the affidavit reads in regards to one event in 2003.
“Although there was alcohol present at the function – it was solely for the adults’ present,” the affidavit reads regarding a 2004 potluck. “I, nor did any other officer or volunteer authorize or provide any alcohol to any cadet… At no time did I ever condone or allow any other material, pornographic or inappropriate to be watched.”
Drapeau denounced the allegations in the statement of defence, suggesting they are part of a continued campaign by the Department of Justice to harm Stalker’s reputation and character.
Despite the government’s statement of defence, Drapeau said the military has taken steps to rehabilitate Stalker’s reputation and career within the Armed Forces. He had been suspended from his position as commander of 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, pending the outcome of the case.
“Hopefully lessons would be learned and certainly Operation Honour should take account of this positive development where, if a false claim is filed within Operation Honour, immediate, effective and robust procedures will take place in order to correct the damage done,” he said. Operation Honour is an initiative by the Canadian Armed Forces to address sexual misconduct.
“From the bottom of [Stalker’s] heart, I think he is forgiving the episode because, in fact, the chain of commands have no fault attached to it. They were responding to what turned out to be a false claim.”
A Canadian Army spokesperson said Stalker is now serving at 3rd Canadian Division Headquarters in Edmonton as the assistant chief-of-staff.
Global News asked CAF how it stands by Stalker in light of the claims made in the government’s statement of defence.
A statement from a Canadian Army spokesperson reads, in part:
“The Canadian Army has the utmost confidence in [Lt.-Col.] Stalker… He is a valued member of our team and he will continue carrying on with his service in the professional manner which he has demonstrated throughout his career.”
-with files from the Canadian Press and Global News
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