N.B. soldier found guilty of secretly feeding troops cannabis-laced cupcakes
Bombardier Chelsea Cogswell of Base Gagetown faces maximum of 5 years in prison
A New Brunswick soldier accused of giving cannabis-laced cupcakes to troops on a live-fire training exercise has been found guilty of nine charges.
Bombardier Chelsea Cogswell was convicted Wednesday of eight counts of administering a noxious substance to soldiers without their consent and one count of behaving in a disgraceful manner, a charge under the National Defence Act, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, according to the prosecution.
A 10th charge of committing an act to the prejudice of good order and discipline, which is a lesser offence than behaving in a disgraceful manner, was stayed.
Military Judge Cmdr. Sandra Sukstorf delivered her decision over two hours to a full courtroom Wednesday morning at 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown in Oromocto, N.B.
Cogswell, who was in charge of the canteen, was found to have put cannabis into cupcakes she had baked at home and distributed to soldiers in July 2018 when they were on a live-fire exercise. She didn't tell them about the cannabis.
Soldiers who ate cupcakes felt paranoid, anxious
Throughout the trial, several soldiers testified that Cogswell gave out free cupcakes at the canteen around lunchtime on July 21, 2018, during Common Gunner, one of the largest combined training exercises with the Royal Canadian Artillery School.
They described the cupcakes as chocolate, with chocolate icing and a jelly bean on top.
The eight soldiers who ate the cupcakes said they felt paranoia, anxiety, fatigue, drunkenness and dry mouth starting about 30 minutes after eating the cupcakes.
They said they weren't able to focus on their tasks, and many worried about the safety of handling guns and ammunition.
Sukstorf went through the closing arguments made Saturday by defence lawyer Ian Kasper.
Throughout the trial, which started Aug. 4, Kasper maintained that the circumstantial evidence left reasonable doubt that the soldiers may have been made ill by something else, such as heat exhaustion; that even if it was cannabis, it may not have come from the cupcakes (only one wrapper was tested) and that there was no definitive evidence showing that Cogswell tainted the cupcakes.
Court satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt
But having reviewed the testimony of the 16 witnesses led by the prosecution, Cogswell's two interviews with military police and the evidence, such as the wrapper, which tested positive for traces of THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, and five urine samples from soldiers that all tested positive for marijuana metabolites, Sukstorf said the court could be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the soldiers had ingested cannabis, that it came from the cupcakes and that Cogswell put it there and knowingly distributed the baked goods.
"Having verified the primary facts, established by the evidence, which I accept, the court can make the inference that the cupcakes were the source of the cannabis ingested by the soldiers," the judge said.
She concluded that Cogswell, having a medical prescription for marijuana at the time, had the access and the knowledge to add the cannabis, an illegal substance at the time.
She also said Cogswell's statements to police in September and October in 2018 showed she had reason to be upset with the unit.
"You [Cogswell] told the investigator that you were still recovering from an incident in Shilo and since that time you kept to yourself. You told Sgt. Leblanc that you were waiting for a transfer to the JPSU [joint personnel support unit] as you couldn't take the unit any longer," Sukstorf said.
The judge went on to quote Cogswell about her troubles with the unit, and that Cogswell remembered being referred to as "the canteen bitch."
Sentencing begins Nov. 16
About an hour-and-a-half into Sukstorf's decision, Cogswell, who was dressed in a black-and-white patterned suit, asked for a break. Her father was seated in the row behind her. After the break, he walked her back into the courtroom.
The court heard that Cogswell comes from a military family, that both her father and mother served, as well as her sister.
I've been on this bench long enough to see that there are a lot of good people that sometimes exercise very poor judgment.- Military Judge Cmdr. Sandra Sukstorf
Sentencing will begin Nov. 16 and is expected to take several days.
At the end of the proceedings Sukstorf addressed Cogswell directly, telling her that she would get through this.
"I've been on this bench long enough to see that there are a lot of good people that sometimes exercise very poor judgment."
Sukstorf also said sentencing would be an opportunity for Cogswell, who didn't take the stand in her own defence, to tell her story.
"It's very important for us to see the good that lies behind an individual," she said.
Sukstorf has the power to sentence Cogswell to the Canadian Forces Service Prison and Detention Barracks in Edmonton, if she sees fit.