OTTAWA — A former army warrant officer, accused of mouthing a schoolyard taunt to a junior officer at an official dinner, was acquitted of disciplinary charges before a court martial on Thursday, but has been left holding thousands of dollars in private legal bills.
Wade Pear, a veteran of multiple ground tours in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Cyprus, was tried before the military tribunal, even though he's been a civilian for two-and-a-half years.
It is a controversial case that has raised the question of whether ex-members of the Canadian Armed Forces should face military justice — and the possible of prison time — for minor infractions after they have retired.
The court martial, at Garrison Petawawa, Ont., saw testimony from 12 witnesses over several days and stems from an incident in November 2012 where Pear — attending a mess dinner — was accused of drunkenness, insubordination and making disparaging remarks.
He says he's relieved by the verdict, but contends his reputation was left in tatters by the allegations, which he says were false.
Military prosecutors tried on two separate occasions to get him to accept deals in exchange for guilty pleas.
"I'm glad I didn't do it," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "I couldn't do that because I knew I wasn't guilty. To me that's a cop out. Right?"
Pear says up to $8,000 in private legal fees were run up trying to defend himself during the 39 month ordeal. He said he turned to outside lawyers because he didn't trust the military system to act in his best interests, but eventually had to accept a uniformed lawyer who "did a great job."
Pear was a member of No. 2 Service Battalion, based in Petawawa, Ont. He now lives in Ottawa.
Throughout the proceedings, Pear denied the charge of drunkenness, saying he had four drinks at the mess dinner which mixed badly with his post-traumatic stress disorder medication. He says the moment he felt ill, he went outside and then eventually home.
In addition, Pear says a conversation with a naval lieutenant was misconstrued into an accusation that he had called the officer ``a pussy'' for not ordering another drink.
The military justice system was able to go after him, despite his September 2013 release from service, because of a Supreme Court decision last fall that gives uniformed prosecutors unlimited discretion on when to proceed with a case.
His military lawyers argued the trial of a civilian, more than three years after the incidents and more than two years since his retirement, was unacceptable. They said since Pear faced disciplinary action rather than criminal charges, there was no public interest.
A court martial was originally scheduled for April 2013, while he was still in uniform, but was postponed. He accepted his retirement a few months later and ended his 26-year military career partly because of the way he felt "shunned" in the aftermath of the mess dinner.
Retired colonel and military law expert Michel Drapeau says the case was a total of waste of time for the system.
"It was inappropriate that a civilian — that's what Mr. Pear is — was tried before a military tribunal," Drapeau said Thursday. "He got pain, misery and a loss of reputation. If there was a case against him, which there was not, it should have been tried by a civilian tribunal."
It is time, Drapeau said, to "really, really look at whether we need military tribunals in Canada, in peacetime."
Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press