Chief warrant officer fined 3 years ago for behaviour at Christmas function
WARNING: This story contains vulgar language with sexual content.
The head of Canada's military justice system has revoked his appointment of a high-ranking military police officer who faced sanctions three years ago for making sexual comments about three women at a Christmas policing function.
Last week, Provost Marshal Brig.-Gen. Simon Trudeau appointed Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Lacoste to be the highest-ranking military police leader in charge of the military's police force.
His March 29 internal appointment announcement, a copy of which was obtained by The Fifth Estate, was distributed across the country. In it, Trudeau said he was confident that Lacoste would "be an excellent representative of the Military Police Branch in this key position."
However, by Friday, Trudeau retracted Lacoste's appointment.
In a statement to The Fifth Estate, the Canadian Armed Forces said Lacoste was appointed as chief warrant officer of the Military Police Branch through a "recently established internal military police process" that will now be reviewed.
Decision to rescind appointment
"Shortly following this appointment, it was determined that the process had not fully considered all pertinent aspects of conduct and discipline required when selecting persons for this key appointment," the statement said.
"Following discussions with the vice-chief of the defence staff, the [provost marshal] made the decision to rescind this appointment and subsequently direct a review of this practice in its entirety."
A spokesperson for the Canadian Forces said Lacoste was aware of CBC's report and would not be commenting. Trudeau declined an interview request.
The Fifth Estate has learned that Lacoste faced a military police investigation and court martial in 2019 over his behaviour two years earlier when he ran the military police training school at Canadian Forces Base Borden, northwest of Toronto.
Lacoste attended a Christmas policing dinner and dance at an off-base golf club in December 2017, when he was age 43 and a master warrant officer, one rank below his current one.
With many of his employees and spouses at the event, Lacoste became visibly drunk and made sexual comments to those around him, according to the sentencing decision in his case.
Remarks 'repugnant,' judge says
CBC found the judge's sentencing decision on the miltiary's court martial database that included a description of what Lacoste agreed happened. The decision was written in French, as were his comments, which CBC has translated into English.
The judge, Cmdr. Martin Pelletier, called his remarks "sexualized" and said his comments about a woman's assumed sexual activities and sexual orientation were "frankly repugnant."
In the statement of facts, Lacoste agreed that he commented on a junior female sergeant who was wearing a low-cut dress.
The document said Lacoste told a colleague: "Look at her with her tits coming out. We know her boyfriend is in Afghanistan. She just wants to get screwed," or other remarks to that effect. Lacoste also made a vulgar comment about the perceived sexual orientation of a woman who was of a higher rank.
Later, he was in a car with a female friend and told her, according to court documents, not to be a "sainte nitouche," a slang term that roughly translates into a prude who is a tease.
The decision also stated he made unkind comments about her husband, who did not attend the event.
When the woman got back to her hotel room, "she was in shock and unable to sleep," and called her husband to tell him what happened, the document said. The next day, she reported Lacoste to military police.
Promoted stereotypes, judge says
In his decision, Pelletier said Lacoste, as head of military police officer training, should have been setting an example at the official holiday function.
"On the contrary, he appeared obviously drunk in the eyes of subordinates and civilians and indulged in remarks that undermined the dignity of people and the promotion of stereotypes which obviously cannot be tolerated within a disciplined military organization concerned with respect for the dignity of every person," Pelletier said.
In a plea deal, Lacoste was convicted of drunkenness and fined $2,800, an offence and sentence that will not show on his criminal record or prevent promotions.
In the court martial document, Lacoste said he deeply regrets his behaviour and apologized to the victims.
'Epitome of discipline'
Retired colonel Michel Drapeau, a military law lawyer, has long campaigned for reforms to the military police. He called this "a top-of-the-scale appointment" that would "effectively outrank every other non-commissioned member" serving as a military police officer.
"It's a good job, responsible for the entire military police," he said. "What can I say? They don't learn."
In this role, Lacoste would have acted as an adviser to Trudeau, who is in charge of the military justice system. He also would have overseen all military police discipline and operations.
A chief warrant officer should be seen as "the epitome of discipline" and has the duty to ensure their troops follow all the rules, Drapeau said.
"I'm not surprised by it. They do this all the time. He's perceived as one of the good guys, they're happy with him and they promoted him," he said. "Most other people would've had their careers come to a plateau."
Numerous members of the Canadian Armed Forces have come forward to say they experienced sexual assault and harassment on the job, including at the hands of senior leaders. Thousands of current and former members have submitted claims to an ongoing sexual misconduct class-action lawsuit.
As well, a Fifth Estate investigation found flaws in how the military's justice system handles sexual assault cases, including, as a former military police officer revealed, when non-police commanding officers interfered in criminal investigations.
Last week, retired general Jonathan Vance pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a military police investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against him. The former chief of defence staff championed an anti-sexual misconduct program, known as Operation Honour, while in the top job.
Lacoste's role as a police leader while also being investigated for sexual misconduct is reminiscent of the Vance case, Drapeau said, in that he continued to succeed in his career anyway.
Drapeau said he believes military leadership would have been fully aware of Lacoste's court record before appointing him, as it was on the public record.
"Particularly somebody at his rank level and function, you would have expected a more rigorous review," he said.
"He himself falls short, and then gets rewarded despite his shortfalls."
While Lacoste was waiting for his court martial, he was "suspended from policing duties," according to court documents, which Drapeau said may mean he was not allowed to act as a police officer temporarily.
However, during his suspension, Lacoste was removed from his job leading the police academy.
Months before his case was resolved, he was promoted to acting chief warrant officer and posted to a new position at Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg to supervise policing operations there.
WATCH | The Fifth Estate's investigation, Broken honour: Sexual misconduct in the military
"The die was cast and this guy was seen as a mover and shaker, someone destined to go to higher rank," Drapeau said. "And obviously he didn't pay a very good, very effective price for his conduct."
Judge notes 'excellent' career record
Lacoste is a decorated veteran, having served as a soldier in the former Yugoslavia and later as a police officer in Afghanistan. He also earned recognition for his volunteer work. Early this year, the provost marshal awarded him the Sacrifice Medal to recognize a serious injury he sustained while deployed.
Lacoste's service was noted in his sentencing decision, as were his mental health conditions, post-traumatic stress disorder and excessive drinking, for which he said he obtained treatment.
The judge said his "excellent" career record suggested that "the actions he committed constitute probably isolated misconduct."
He was also ordered to read the Operation Honour guidelines, which Lacoste would have been in charge of communicating to and enforcing for his students and staff.
"The French expression is: 'Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.' Nothing changed," Drapeau said.
"We haven't got the Canadian Forces leadership cadre that understands what's required and understands to live by the rules, and understands that nobody should be above the law, whether you're chief warrant officer or a general."
The Canadian Armed Forces has not announced who will replace Lacoste as leader of the military police.
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