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Navy lieutenant admits assault against woman trainee

Apr 25 2012

A naval officer has pleaded guilty to assault and harassment against a female officer he was training during a deployment aboard HMCS Ottawa last year.

During a court martial hearing at CFB Esquimalt Tuesday, navy Lt. Loren Pearson admitted making inappropriate sexual advances toward a 25 year old officer he was training during an exercise in American Samoa, a U.S. territory in the South Pacific.

Pearson, a 19-year veteran of the Canadian Forces, was originally charged with sexual assault, public drunkenness and conduct against good order and discipline, more specifically, harassment. Military prosecutor Capt. AnnieClaude Samson agreed to the lesser charge of assault and dropped the public drunkenness charge.

Pearson, who was head of the combat system engineering department, was in charge of training the victim, who was posted to the ship on June 3. The female officer cannot be named under a publication ban.

According to the statement of facts, Pearson began making inappropriate comments during the course of the training, such as asking where the victim kept her feminine products or suggesting she sleep with him before he would sign off on a training sheet.

On June 21, a group of sailors was drinking and dancing in a bar in Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa. Pearson kept dancing close to the victim in a way that made her uncomfortable.

The next night, crew members were drinking again at a bar on shore when Pearson pulled the victim aside for a "heart to heart," bringing up uncomfortable topics such as what she would do if one of her cabin-mates was having sexual relations with an officer.

The victim tried to avoid Pearson for the rest of the night. When the group was back on the ship, the victim went to get a drink of water in the wardroom. Pearson walked up behind her and put his hand down her shorts. She froze in fear and Pearson only stopped when another sailor came in and said, "Stop being so creepy."

The witness took the victim to inform the chain of command about the assault.

The ship's commanding officer, Cmdr. John Allsop, testified that he ordered Pearson be sent back to Canada immediately.

Allsop made sure the victim received proper assistance, but, ultimately, the woman was too distressed to continue with her training and left the ship.

Allsop said the mood on the ship "went to a very dark place" after the assault.

Samson said the victim had trouble talking about the assault, developed a mistrust of colleagues and had to see a social worker.

Samson asked chief military judge Col. Mario Dutil to issue a reduction in rank to sub-lieutenant and a fine of $3,000.

Pearson breached the trust of his subordinate and his chain of command, Samson argued.

Had this happened in the civilian world, she said, "one would ask if this person would even still be employed after harassing a student."

Pearson - a middle-aged man with a sturdy build, dark brown hair with flecks of grey and a neatly trimmed beard - stood before the judge and acknowledged he accepted the facts and affirmed the guilty plea.

He is currently a naval combat system engineer with the Canadian Forces support unit in Ottawa.

The sentencing has been held over until Thursday.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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