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Sexual assault trial to begin for Haydn Edmundson, former head of military HR

OTTAWA — A sexual assault trial for the military’s former head of human resources is expected to hear from its first witness in an Ottawa court today.

Vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson has pleaded not guilty to one count of indecent acts and one count of sexual assault in an incident that allegedly happened in 1991.

He stepped down as head of military personnel command in March 2021 after CBC reported that a former Armed Forces member had accused him of rape.

The complainant is expected to testify in the case, which was delayed last week.

Edmundson was one of several high-profile military members to be accused of sexual misconduct in early 2021, kicking off a crisis that led to an external investigation of the Armed Forces.

The case is being heard in the Ontario Court of Justice, which is in line with the government’s policy to have civilian authorities take over such cases.

That change was recommended by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, who wrote a report calling for sweeping changes to the military’s culture including removing the military’s jurisdiction over sexual assault cases and other related crimes.

The defence minister directed the military to follow that recommendation back in November 2021, but there have been issues in getting police forces and provinces to agree to handle the extra cases.

In May, the military said it had referred 93 cases of criminal sexual offences to civilian police since December 2021, and 64 of those cases were under investigation. Another 97 cases were not transferred.

Former defence minister Anita Anand said a federal-provincial-territorial committee was set up in the spring to facilitate discussions about referrals, and deals were in place with a number of police forces including the RCMP and Ontario Provincial Police.

Some cases — including some of the high-profile allegations that led to the Arbour report — are being handled by the military for a variety of reasons.

That includes a case involving Edmundson’s successor as head of the Military Personnel Command, Lt.-Gen. Steven Whelan.

After his appointment to the job, Whelan came under investigation for sexual misconduct. Military police charged him in July 2022 with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline, related to what they called an “inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.”

In a press release at the time, the Defence Department said the investigation did not find evidence to support Criminal Code charges in the case, so it was not passed along to civilian police.

Whelan is set to face a court martial on Aug. 24.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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