A New Brunswick soldier has been sentenced to 30 days imprisonment, a reduction in rank to private gunner and dismissal from the military for giving cannabis-laced cupcakes to troops on a live-fire training exercise in July 2018 at the 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown.
Military Judge Cmdr. Sandra Sukstorf called the case unique and said there were no other cases like it to draw from in the military court system.
Bombardier Chelsea Cogswell, 28, of Oromocto was convicted earlier of eight counts of administering a noxious substance to soldiers without their consent and one count of behaving in a disgraceful manner, a charge under the National Defence Act that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Sukstorf said that disgraceful conduct is one of the most serious offences in the Code of Service Discipline.
“The cupcakes were eaten by several people, some of the victims were significantly affected by the effects of the marijuana and the offences involved deceiving your fellow soldiers as you secretly put the marijuana under the rouse of a treat for their hard work,” Sukstorf said.
Sukstorf said because of the harm caused and the potential harm, a sentence that fell short of imprisonment would not be right.
The prosecution recommended one year in jail, while the defence argued for the reduction in Cogswell’s rank to private and her dismissal.
Sukstorf said she took Cogswell’s mental health struggles into consideration when making her decision. The court heard during the sentencing hearing that Cogswell had experienced PTSD for several years before the incident related to sexual assault.
“It is well known that PTSD can manifest itself in many ways,” said Sukstorf, acknowledging that Cogswell was not well at the time of the incident.
“It would be improper for this court to dismiss the PTSD suffered by yourself as a result of sexual trauma as less deserving of the court’s recognition, than other forms of PTSD arising, such as combat stress,” she said.
She said the court was cognizant of the “ongoing struggle” the CAF has had handling sexual misconduct complaints.
Sukstorf said that given Cogswell’s age and the future ahead of her, dismissal would be more conducive to her rehabilitation, but that imprisonment was necessary because of the covert distribution of illicit drugs.
The court martial of Cogswell was held over two weeks in August, and the sentencing hearing took place this week.
The defence requested a release pending appeal, which Sukstorf granted.
The prosecution did not oppose the release.
“Obviously this was a very difficult case to arrive at a sentence on, given its unique nature and the history of the offender,” said lead prosecutor Maj. Max Reede.
Reede said an appeal would go on to the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada.
The military court heard from several soldiers who consumed the cupcakes. They testified that Cogswell, who was working the mobile canteen at the time, gave out the free baked goods around lunchtime on July 21, 2018, during Common Gunner, one of the largest combined training exercises with the Royal Canadian Artillery School.
The eight soldiers who consumed the cupcakes said they felt paranoia, anxiety, fatigue, drunkenness and dry mouth starting about 30 minutes after eating them.
During the sentencing hearing, the prosecution read victim impact statements from five of the soldiers.
Many said their trust in the chain of command and their colleagues had been shaken, and they suffered from anxiety because of the cannabis experience.
Cogswell’s lawyer, Ian Kasper, read letters of character support from Cogswell’s family, including her husband, her mother, father and her sister.
They described her empathetic character and her kindness, especially toward animals.