OROMOCTO, N.B. — A military judge ruled Friday that a key piece of evidence would remain as part of the court martial of a New Brunswick soldier accused of putting other Canadian Forces personnel at risk by giving them cannabis-laced cupcakes during a live-fire exercise three years ago.
Bombardier Chelsea Cogswell faces a total of 10 charges, including eight charges of administering a noxious substance.
She was operating a mobile canteen during Exercise Common Gunner — a major exercise of the Royal Canadian Artillery School involving about 150 personnel on July 21, 2018 on the 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown in New Brunswick.
During two videotaped statements, Cogswell told military police that she baked the cupcakes but denied adding cannabis to them. The court has been told that five soldiers who provided urine samples tested positive for marijuana, while a cupcake wrapper tested positive for the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, THC. The testing was done after some soldiers reported feeling high and others behaved oddly.
Cogswell's defence lawyer sought to have the wrapper excluded as evidence, arguing that the other wrappers were discarded through negligence and the remaining one is not an indication of what may have been found on the others.
Military Judge Cmdr. Sandra Sukstorf said while the military police could have done a better investigation, there was no indication of negligence. She said she could not conclude that even if some cupcake wrappers were lost, it would demonstrate "a systemic disregard for the prosecution's obligation to preserve relevant evidence." She allowed the evidence concerning test results on the wrapper.
Sukstorf summarized earlier testimony, saying one person was observed wandering around in front of his gun and not where he should be.
"Others were giggling and laughing," she said, while another woman was "eating countless chips and smoking like crazy." She said at one point it was reported a group of people fell down laughing. Most began showing symptoms about 45 minutes after eating the cupcakes.
An order to halt fire was given, and medical attention was sought for the members. It was first suspected they might have been overcome by heat, but after some questioning it was determined the cupcakes were a common denominator.
Sukstorf said testimony showed that safety was a major concern, which was why firing from that position was stopped while other components of the exercise continued.
The live-fire exercise involved large howitzer guns that cause considerable damage at the target site. "Because it is a training school, they are firing for courses, so there are people observing the fall of the shot. When they make an error in judgment it could put people in harm," Sukstorf said as she summarized the testimony.
Prosecutor Maj. Max Reede said the case was about "recklessly introducing risk in an already inherently risky activity" and abuse of trust.
"These members were all members of gun detachments that were preparing to aim and fire live ammunition from howitzers in the training area. Fortunately for everyone in the field that day, a check fire was called and the affected troops were pulled off the guns," Reede said.
During his closing arguments, Reede said Cogswell gave contradictory statements to military police and tried to imply that the soldiers could have been adding cannabis to the cupcakes themselves. "What she described never happened," he said.
Defence lawyer Ian Kasper did not present evidence on the merits of the case but has denied the accusations against his client. He is to present his closing remarks Saturday, and a decision by the judge is not expected until next week.
Outside the courtroom, an effort by Cogswell to make a statement to reporters was cut short by her lawyer. If convicted, she could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 13, 2021.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press