Monday, May 6, 2019

"Disgraceful conduct" ruling in Canada

The Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada has handed down its unanimous decision in H.M. The Queen v. Bannister, 2019 CMAC 2. The court, per J.E. Scanlan, J.A., overturned the military judge's acquittal of Capt. Todd Bannister on charges of disgraceful conduct and conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline. Excerpt from the judgment:
[26] Whether incidents are disgraceful are not to be determined by considering harm as a separate issue. That is to say, there are not two separate silos, one for “shockingly unacceptable” conduct and one for consequences related to “harm or risk of harm”. Whether something is shockingly unacceptable can be informed by the nature of the harm. The more severe the harm or risk of harm, the more likely something is to bring disgrace to the CAF. Conversely, the more shockingly unacceptable an incident is in light of CAF operational and military community norms, the less is required on the scale of harm assessment.

[27] I offer an example as to how context can inform the inquiry. It is unacceptable, though not necessarily shockingly so, for a person to point an unloaded revolver at another and pull the trigger, even after it has been checked to ensure that it is not loaded. It would, however, be shockingly unacceptable to take that same revolver, insert one live round, point it and pull its trigger in a Russian roulette fashion. That incident is not to be judged based on whether the gun fired. Rather, it is to be judged based on the risk of harm combined with the other surrounding circumstances. It can be either the “harm” or “the risk of harm” that informs the assessment as to whether the action was shockingly unacceptable/disgraceful in the context of a s. 93 of the NDA charge.

[28] To extend the analogy further, I note that a military judge is expected to judge cases by applying his or her experience and general service knowledge. It may be that a military judge would find both incidents, taken in the military context, shockingly unacceptable/disgraceful, even though the risk of harm in the first instance was minimal. In a non-military context, perhaps not so. This is why it is important to have military judges involved in this process; the experience and general service knowledge they bring to the military justice system is pivotal. In my view, as I will explain, a military judge is best placed to make that determination in the context of the CAF and the NDA.
Why wouldn't these matters be better treated like any other issue of fact, to be resolved on the basis of evidence rather than turning the military judge into a witness? Do the parties get to cross-examine the military judge about his or her own "military experience" and "general service knowledge"? 

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