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Former soldier pleads guilty in high-profile military sexual assault case

A Canadian ex-soldier at the centre of a high-profile case of sexual assault in the military has pleaded guilty.

Former warrant officer André Gagnon was charged with assaulting former master corporal Stéphanie Raymond after a party in 2011 at an armoury near Quebec City.

He will be sentenced July 14.

Gagnon originally was tried by court martial and acquitted, but the case was appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

A new trial was ordered. Gagnon signalled earlier this month that he would change his plea to guilty to avoid more time in court.

Raymond told her story of being assaulted by Gagnon — and then hounded out of the military for reporting it — to Maclean’s magazine in 2013.

That cover story helped spark an independent investigation and, eventually, Operation Honour, the official effort to stamp out sexual misconduct in the military.

In an interview with CBC News earlier this month, Raymond said she was relieved that the long legal ordeal would soon be over and that she would not have to testify in court again.

“I can continue my life now without this,” she said in advance of today’s court appearance by her attacker. “It will save me a lot of stress. This will be an ending page that will be turned.”

stephanie raymond
Former master corporal Stéphanie Raymond says Gagnon’s guilty plea will allow her to get on with her life. (Murray Brewster/CBC)

Gagnon’s guilty plea in a Quebec City court today comes at a time of extraordinary crisis in the military.

The acting chief of the defence staff has formally ended Operation Honour. Critics have said the operation is now thoroughly discredited after the country’s two most senior military officers, Admiral Art McDonald and Gen. Jonathan Vance, were separately accused of sexual misconduct.

Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre said the military intends to learn what it can from the institutional campaign, keep what worked and discard what did not.

Gagnon’s court martial was overseen by a five-man panel and by an officer who later became the chief military judge: Col. Mario Dutil.

In 2018, Dutil was charged with willfully making a false statement in a document signed by him, fraud, committing an act of a fraudulent nature and conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline — charges that were later dropped.

The lawyers defending Gagnon argued during his 2014 court martial that the sex was consensual. Raymond’s lawyers argued Gagnon used his superior rank to coerce her into sexual acts.

The question of power imbalances is becoming a focus of the military’s efforts to combat sexual misconduct.

“One of the things we have to get better at understanding is power dynamics,” Eyre said in testimony before the House of Commons committee on the status of women on Tuesday. “We have to get much better at understanding human power dynamics, especially within a rigid military hierarchy.”

With power comes responsibility, he said, and drawing the line between use and abuse will be key to restoring confidence in the military as an institution.

Raymond struggled to be heard and believed. Eyre told the committee that, going forward, the voices of victims must be heard.

“We have to ensure that victims are supported, supported in coming out and telling their stories and bringing up allegations in whatever forum that takes,” he said.

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