Former officer on HMCS Calgary found not guilty in court martial

A senior Canadian naval officer who was alleged to have groped the buttocks of an American coast guard sailor was found not guilty of all charges on Monday.

Following a court martial trial last week at CFB Esquimalt, military judge Col. Mario Dutil ruled the prosecution had failed to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” charges against Cmdr. Joshua Yanchus.

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The prosecution had alleged that Yanchus:

• disobeyed the lawful command of a senior officer, the captain of HMCS Calgary

• conducted himself in a way that would prejudice good order and discipline

• engaged in drunkenness.

Yanchus is now serving in Ottawa on the Strategic Joint Staff, which provides military analysis and advice to the Chief of Defence Staff. But the charges relate to a time when he was still a lieutenant commander, and the second in command of HMCS Calgary.

All three charges relate to events on June 25, 2014, when HMCS Calgary was tied up in Hawaii following a 16-day crossing to join RIMPAC 2014.

RIMPAC is a major international military exercise of Pacific Nations, led by the U.S. Navy. That year, it involved forces from 20 countries and 45 warships.

It was alleged that Yanchus disobeyed an order from HMCS Calgary’s captain prohibiting “mixed messing,” or officers, petty officers and seamen mingling in one another’s messes, areas of a ship where celebrations can occur.

It was alleged that while at the junior ranks’ mess, Yanchus groped the buttocks of and kissed a female U.S. Coast Guard sailor, who was never called to testify, and that he engaged in drunken behavior, stumbling and moving without co-ordination.

Testimony from enlisted sailors varied widely, however.

One sailor testified that Yanchus and the U.S. Coast Guard sailor danced respectfully and he pecked her on the cheek at the end. Another said the two were “necking” while sitting at the bar. Another said that, while dancing, Yanchus kissed the woman while running his hands along her back and buttocks.

Dutil said he found the testimony that Yanchus was touching, kissing and necking with the U.S. Coast Guard sailor unreliable. He said he doesn’t believe the witnesses deliberately lied, but that their testimony could not be relied upon.

The military judge said evidence showed the Calgary’s captain did give an order to prohibit mixed messing. But it is an accepted practice for mess presidents, those appointed to administer their messes, to offer special invitations to members of other messes.

On the day of the alleged offences, the wardroom, the officers’ mess, had invited the president of the junior ranks mess in for drink. The same invitation was then extended to Yanchus to attend the junior ranks’ mess.

During the court martial, Yanchus took the stand and testified he had no memory of even being in the seamen’s mess.

But Dutil said since he heard no medical testimony or evidence detailing how much alcohol Yanchus had consumed, it would not be possible to rule that he had suffered a drunken blackout.

“The fact somebody says he cannot remember is evidence of lack of memory, not necessarily the result of intoxication,” he said.

After the verdict, Commodore Buck Zwick, commander of the Canadian Pacific Fleet, said allegations of harassment or poor behavior will be investigated, and if warranted, charged will be laid, regardless of rank.

“We have to ensure that our people receive the best leadership possible,” said Zwick. “So we need to hold everybody to the highest standards possible.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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