A military judge has found a Canadian soldier guilty of drugging her comrades with cannabis cupcakes during a live-fire training exercise, calling her actions “shockingly unacceptable.”
Bombardier Chelsea Cogswell was found guilty Wednesday on nine charges, including eight charges of administering a noxious substance and one charge of behaving in a disgraceful manner, in the first trial of its kind for the Canadian military.
Cogswell was operating a mobile canteen during Exercise Common Gunner, a major live-fire drill involving up to 150 personnel in July 2018 at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick.
During two videotaped statements, Cogswell told military police that she baked a dozen chocolate cupcakes for her fellow soldiers but denied adding any cannabis to them.
Five soldiers who provided urine samples tested positive for marijuana while the wrapper from one of the cupcakes also tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Several soldiers testified to a chaotic scene on the firing line as intoxication quickly took hold.
One gunner wandered aimlessly in front of a howitzer, staring at the trees and seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. Another soldier, who comrades described as typically health-conscious, sat eating Doritos and chain-smoking cigarettes. Others fell on the ground in laughter.
The court heard that a gunner tried to load an artillery round into a weapon while the shell’s protective end cap was still in place. Another testified that he improperly set a timing fuze, which controls how far down range an artillery shell will explode.
A soldier slipped and fell off an ammo box while trying to load her gun. Another testified to nearly crashing his military truck into another vehicle while his passenger testified to the cartoonish appearance of the scene around them.
‘SIGNIFICANT HARM’ AND ‘POTENTIAL DEATH’
Prosecutor Maj. Max Reede argued that Cogswell’s actions recklessly introduced serious risk into an already risky training scenario, and violated the integrity of her colleagues, including a member who had been in recovery from substance use for several years.
Defence lawyer Ian Kasper argued the military police were negligent in their investigation and he denied the charges against Cogswell, who pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Military Judge Cmdr. Sandra Sukstorf agreed with the prosecution in her finding, saying Cogswell’s actions introduced “significant harm” and “potential death” into the exercise.
Cogswell, who did not testify at the hearing, told police she had a prescription for medical marijuana at the time of the incident. Recreational marijuana was still outlawed in July 2018, three months before the federal Cannabis Act legalized its use and possession.
Cogswell has served in the army’s regular forces since June 2011. She became a qualified artillery gunner in 2013 and was promoted to the rank of bombardier in 2015.
A hearing to decide her sentence will begin in New Brunswick on Nov. 16.