Canada military's former head of HR charged with sexual assault

Photograph: Canadian Press/REX/Shutterstock

The former head of human resources at Canada’s military has been charged with sexual assault and committing indecent acts as the country grapples with a wave of misconduct and assault allegations levelled against senior officials.

Military police announced the charges against V Adm Haydn Edmundson on Wednesday.

At least seven generals have been implicated in various scandals over the past year, a crisis that has eroded public trust in the institution and weakened morale within the military’s ranks.

The charges by military prosecutors come despite a promise by the governing Liberals last month that the prosecution of sexual misconduct cases in the military would be handed over to civilian prosecutors.

Related: New minister takes helm as Canadian military engulfed by sexual misconduct crisis

The allegations against Edmundson date back to 1991, when a retired member of the armed forces, alleges Edmundson exposed his genitals to her onboard a navy ship. At the time, Edmundson, a lieutenant commander, was her superior. Stéphanie Viau, who at the time was a 19-year-old steward, told CBC News that she yelled and told Edmundson his behaviour was unacceptable. Days later, Edmundson raped her, she alleges.

Edmundson has denied the allegations.

“Vice-Admiral Edmundson continues to deny any suggestion of criminal misconduct and looks forward to the opportunity to restore his distinguished reputation for service to our country,” his lawyer, Brian Greenspan, said in statement.

Viau’s lawyer, Paul Champ, said his client “will wait for justice to take its course”.

Edmundson stepped down in May after the allegations of assault first surfaced. He was replaced by Lt Gen Steven Whelan. But Whelan was also forced to step down from his role in October after military police confirmed an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct. He too has denied the allegations.

Last month, defence minister Anita Anand said she would accept the recommendations of a former supreme court justice to transfer sexual misconduct investigations to civilian police and prosecutors – except in cases where an investigation is close to completion. In Edmundson’s case, officials say the case was in its final stages and will be handled by the military justice system.

Edmundson is due to appear in an Ottawa court on 25 January.

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