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CFB Esquimalt sailor sentenced to 14 days after choking superior officer

The incident occurred after a night of heavy drinking while the two were on a training course in Halifax in November 2022, according to the court martial decision
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The two worked on HMCS Ottawa — seen approaching CFB Esquimalt in December after a deployment to the Indo-Pacific region — as naval combat information officers. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A CFB Esquimalt-based sailor who choked his superior officer after an evening of heavy drinking has been sentenced to 14 days at the Edmonton military barracks and issued a reprimand.

Sailor First Class Joseph Thoo pleaded guilty at his court martial Monday to striking his supervisor while they were on a training course in Halifax in November 2022.

“I do believe that a lengthier period of incarceration may have served better,” military judge Commander Catherine Deschênes said Tuesday as she accepted a joint submission from the prosecution and defence.

“It must be made clear that the sailor who assaults his superior officer is attacking not merely the individual but the cornerstone of the military institution he or she represents, the chain of command. It is for this reason that the offence of violence to a superior officer is as … serious as the offence of treason.”

However, Deschênes found the punishment was not contrary to the public interest and would not bring the military justice system into disrepute.

The military court heard that Thoo and the victim worked together on HMCS Ottawa as naval combat information operators. At the time of the assault, both were staying at the Tribute Tower building on the naval base in Halifax.

On the evening of Nov. 13, 2022, staff were monitoring security cameras at the building and saw an altercation near the elevators in a common area.

A video shows Thoo lunging at his supervisor with both arms outstretched, striking her in the throat. She is pinned against the wall with Thoo’s forearm on her throat.

The video shows the fight continuing until someone gets out of an elevator near them. At that point, Thoo gets up and walks out of camera view, then returns to help his supervisor up off the floor. Both collected their personal items and left the area.

The woman was injured during the attack. Her eyeglasses were broken and her arms were scratched

On Nov. 18, she gave a written statement to military police saying she and Thoo had gone out drinking and on the way home, he suddenly became violent and choked her. He was arrested, then released by the custody review officer.

In her victim impact statement, the victim said she immediately went to an extremely dark place, mentally, after the attack.

“I was not prepared to handle the shock, fear and anxiety of what I had just been through. … Immediately after the assault, my life changed drastically and quickly became my personal war zone,” she wrote.

Because Thoo knew where she lived, she said she often slept in her truck or on the ship.

She started showering at work as she was afraid to shower at home because she wouldn’t be able to hear if Thoo broke into her house.

She stopped going out with friends and playing hockey in case she ran into him.

The attack dramatically affected her military career. The victim said she had trouble in her new role as master sailor because she couldn’t sleep. Images of Thoo choking her would pop up when she closed her eyes, she said.

If she fell asleep, she would wake up screaming, she said.

Thoo, now 29, has spent almost nine years with the navy and accumulated close to 600 sea days on three ship deployments between April 2019 and December 2021.

His memory of the evening is shaky, his defence lawyer told the court martial.

“He has blackout periods through some parts of the evening and some difficulty recalling what happened at the time and why,” the lawyer said.

Thoo, who has no history of violence, reviewed the video frame by frame and was at a loss for words, shocked that he had done something like this, the lawyer said.

The detention barracks in Edmonton is run on rigid military lines to reinstill the habit of obedience to orders.

The lawyers said sending Thoo there will promote a sense of responsibility in Thoo and allow him to be rehabilitated and return to “the fold as a productive member of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

Thoo has four recent service offences on his conduct sheet, the court martial heard.

He disobeyed a command to report to the base hospital in September 2019 and was absent without leave that same day for three hours.

He was absent without leave for an hour in August 2021. In November 2021, he was charged with drunkenness at the U.S. naval station in Japan and was confined to the ship for 12 days and fined $1,000.

Deschênes found the sudden, unprovoked and gratuitous violent act to be an aggravating factor at sentencing.

“Excessive alcohol consumption is not an excuse for committing a crime. It merely provides an indication that the offender is dealing with issues with alcohol abuse,” she said.

Deschênes noted that Thoo took no steps to seek help for his alcohol consumption. She said she was not convinced Thoo is willing to be rehabilitated because he has not taken any steps to address the root cause of his violent outburst against his supervisor.

“I am troubled that you became so intoxicated that you violently attacked your superior,” said Deschênes.

“Your conviction for drunkenness in a foreign port in December 2021 should have served as a wakeup call to address your issue of alcohol abuse. Your omission to take any steps to address your issue with alcohol abuse after the assault on [your supervisor] is also troubling.”

Thoo has a long road ahead of him, said Deschênes. “You need to seek help to ensure that you never risk reoffending.”

ldickson@timescolonist.com