A Halifax sailor accused of sexually assaulting a subordinate testified Friday that the sex was consensual, as he took the stand in his own defence at his court martial.
Master Seaman Daniel Cooper testified in a Halifax military court that he had asked the leading seaman — who was an ordinary seaman at the time of the alleged incident — if he wanted to become intimate, and that he agreed.
“As far as I could tell … he was receptive to what I was proposing,” said Cooper, who is accused of a sexual assaulting the subordinate aboard HMCS Athabaskan while the destroyer was visiting Spain as part of a NATO exercise on Nov. 9, 2015.
Cooper told Military Judge Cmdr. Sandra Sukstorf that the men had been drinking at a hotel and restaurant in Rota, Spain, and later had more drinks in the ship’s cafeteria.
“(He) sat down next to me and put his arm around my shoulder,” said Cooper, adding that the man then asked him if he was gay.
“I was a little taken aback because I didn’t know him very well. It’s not something I was very open about to people in the department.”
He said when they eventually went to their sleeping quarters in the early hours of Nov. 10, he noticed the junior sailor — whose name is protected by a publication ban — had become aroused as they were talking near the bunks, and so he asked if he wanted to engage in sexual activity.
Cooper, a naval communicator at Canadian Forces Base Halifax, said the man responded “Yes,” and then he followed him to his bunk, asking him another time if he wanted to become intimate before climbing into the bunk with him.
“I generally prefer not to get involved with people from work. But I was drunk and inhibitions were relaxed,” he said.
He said he performed oral sex on the subordinate, and that the man never told him to stop until about 10 minutes later when he sat up and said, “I’m not gay,” at which point Cooper said he immediately returned to his own bunk.
Cooper has pleaded not guilty to sexual assault and ill treatment of a subordinate.
Prosecutor Maj. Dominic Martin opened his cross-examination by showing portions of an interview Cooper gave to an investigator in March 2016.
In the video, Cooper denies any sexual activity took place between him and the alleged victim.
Most details in his account of day in question were consistent with his testimony on the stand, but he told the investigator he went directly to bed after they arrived in the sleeping quarters.
On Wednesday, the alleged victim told the military court he woke up in his bunk to a superior sailor performing oral sex on him. He said it was dark and he couldn’t really see, but the person performing the act was repeating a sexual phrase to him, and he recognized the voice to be that of Cooper.
He became emotional in the courtroom as he spoke about fearing for his safety and attempting to alert a crew member in the bunk below him — but he said his pleas for help went unanswered.
“I said, ‘I think I’m getting raped’ … But he didn’t believe me. His response was, ‘You’re drunk and I have duty in a few hours. Go back to bed’,” he said.
Earlier Friday, the sailor from the lower bunk was called to the stand by prosecutor Capt. Erica Maidment.
The able seaman — who was an ordinary seaman at the time — testified that he remembered the alleged victim attempting to wake him up on the morning in question.
“I thought he was just being drunk and stupid,” he told the court. “I just told him to stop.”
The sailor said the commotion lasted for about 5 or 10 minutes, but later said under cross-examination by defence lawyer Maj. Philippe-Luc Boutin that it lasted for about 15 or 20 minutes.
The alleged victim had told the court the incident lasted a few minutes.
The bunkmate also said he heard moaning, “like he was trying to get attention … not pain or pleasure,” and eventually saw a pair of legs come out of the rack above him. That’s when he asked the fellow sailor what had happened.
“He seemed to be in shock more than anything,” he said, adding the sailor said someone had been performing oral sex on him.
He said the two men then reported the incident to a superior.
Military commanders have promised to crack down on sexual misconduct in the ranks since retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps reported in April 2015 that she had found an “underlying sexual culture” in the military.
Military police received 193 reports of sexual assault in 2017, more than twice the 93 reported in 2014. There have also been more charges, with 44 in 2016 compared to 24 in 2014.
Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press