Sentencing hearing in N.B. told of lasting impact on soldiers served cannabis cupcakes

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Canadian soldiers who unwittingly ate cannabis-laced cupcakes during a live-fire training exercise in New Brunswick in 2018 say the incident has eroded their trust in other people and they say they feel betrayed.

Victim impact statements from five of the soldiers were read Tuesday at a sentencing hearing for Bombardier Chelsea Cogswell, the soldier who was found guilty on eight counts of administering a noxious substance and on one charge of disgraceful conduct, following a court martial in August.

Cogswell served the cupcakes to eight Canadian Forces soldiers while operating a mobile field canteen on July 21, 2018, on 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown in New Brunswick.

Prosecutor Maj. Max Reede read the victim impact statements Tuesday during the sentencing hearing. In her statement, Lyann Lechman said the incident had an irreversible impact and made her stop trusting people.

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“My consent was stripped from me,” she wrote. “As a person, our consent is one thing that we have to protect our well-being and to know that someone blatantly disrespected and abused that is horrifying. After this incident I find myself questioning the intent of my peers.”

Read more: N.B. soldier found guilty of distributing cannabis-laced cupcakes to Armed Forces

Liam Jarbeau said he also questions whether he can trust people.

“My trust in the chain of command at the school was and is non-existent,” he wrote. “Having a co-worker, someone who was a higher rank than I at the time, betray me and fellow soldiers caused a lot of distress.”

Some of the soldiers said they had previous addiction issues and the incident was a threat to their sobriety.

Master Bombardier William Long said going back to work was difficult because other soldiers thought the episode was comical.

“It seemed everybody in the army thought it was funny,” Long wrote. “Needless to say, I did not.”

In his letter, Connor Chubry said the words that constantly echo in his mind are “betrayal” and “helplessness.” Dylan Eoll, meanwhile, said the event took away his trust in his fellow soldiers.

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“This has affected the team cohesion I used to have working as a unit,” Eoll wrote.

In her judgment in August, Military Judge Cmdr. Sandra Sukstorf told the court the actions of Cogswell were “shockingly unacceptable.”

She said people were driving trucks, setting up large howitzer guns and handling ammunition while impaired, adding that the circumstances presented a potential for significant harm, including death.

On Tuesday, prosecutors called Lt.-Col. Katherine Haire to testify. The former commandant of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery School said operating large guns during a live-fire exercise requires a lot of discipline and focus.

“The actions of Bombardier Cogswell potentially placed individuals in a great amount of danger,” Haire said.

Defence lawyer Ian Kasper told the court he hoped to explain why the incident occurred. He called psychiatrist Dr. Vinod Joshi to speak on Tuesday during the sentencing hearing to describe Cogswell’s mental health.

Joshi said he had been treating Cogswell prior to the 2018 incident and she had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and also with cyclothymia, which is a mood disorder that causes emotional ups and downs, but is not as extreme as bipolar disorder.

The defence is expected to finish with its witnesses Wednesday, before the lawyers give their final summations on sentencing.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2021.

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