One of the highest-profile sexual assault cases involving the Canadian military may finally be at its end following years of legal battles after the lawyer for the soldier accused in the case told a judge Friday her client would like to plead guilty and avoid further trial.
Former warrant officer André Gagnon was charged with assaulting former master corporal Stéphanie Raymond, who alleged she was raped by Gagnon following a party in 2011 at an armoury near Quebec City.
Her story, which was featured in Maclean’s magazine two years later, helped spark an independent investigation and, eventually, Operation Honour, the official effort to stamp out sexual misconduct in the military.
During a short hearing on Friday at the Quebec City courthouse, his lawyer suggested that a two-week trial scheduled for March 29 will not take place and that Gagnon would rather plead guilty to the charges against him.
The news was confirmed by the Crown prosecutor on the file, Valérie Lahaie.
Sophie Dubé, one of Gagnon’s lawyers, told La Presse on Friday that her client had decided to forego a trial.
His next court date is March 26.
Raymond said she has also been told Gagnon plans to change his plea.
She told CBC News she feels “relieved” she won’t have to testify again and can finally move on.
“It will save me a lot of stress,” Raymond said. “This will be an ending page that will be turned. I can continue my life now without this.”
Retired colonel Michel Drapeau, who specializes in military law, was Raymond’s lawyer during the court martial starting in 2014. He said he “couldn’t be happier” that Raymond likely won’t have to endure another trial for Gagnon but said her case is a stark example of the problems with the military’s response to sexual misconduct.
“Raymond’s case embodies what’s wrong with the current military justice system dealing with sexual assault,” said Drapeau.
Drapeau said Raymond faced “extraordinary difficulty” in getting her sexual assault case properly investigated by military police in 2011 and subsequently faced career repercussions for speaking up.
After Raymond filed a complaint against Gagnon, she was forced out of the military in 2013. Charges originally were laid only under the code of service discipline, but then later under the Criminal Code, said Drapeau.
Gagnon’s court martial was overseen by military judge Col. Mario Dutil — who faced charges in 2018 that were later dropped — in front of a panel of five white men in the military, said Raymond.
The lawyers defending Gagnon had argued to this point that the sex was consensual. Raymond’s lawyers argued Gagnon used his superior rank to coerce her into sexual acts.
The panel acquitted Gagnon in 2014 but the decision was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which later ordered a new trial.
The chief of the defence staff at the time, Gen. Tom Lawson, apologized to Raymond that year, acknowledging that she was wronged and her chain of command didn’t follow the proper policies when she filed her initial complaint. As part of the apology, Lawson annulled her discharge and allowed her to resign voluntarily.
Lawson told CBC News in 2015 that sexual harassment was still an issue in the Canadian Forces because people are “biologically wired in a certain way.” He later apologized for what he called an “awkward characterization.”
Raymond’s treatment by the army was the subject of a military board of inquiry, which reported in 2017 that there were major flaws in the handling of her case.
The final report, which made 25 recommendations, said there was a failure of “basic leadership” in how her complaint was dealt with by the chain of command.
The Department of National Defence’s director of military prosecution gave her the chance to have her case heard in either the military or the criminal system. Raymond said she didn’t hesitate to choose to have her case transferred to civilian criminal court in Jan. 2020 after eight years of issues.
She said she hopes her decade-long battle for justice makes it easier for other women facing sexual assault in the military to seek justice.
“My case was very discouraging because I was treated like an accused.” said Raymond. “Now the wind has turned.”