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Lieutenant Commander Robert Waller has been charged with five counts of sexual assault. His lawyer, Michael Johnston, said he denies the charges.Handout

A senior military officer in Ottawa has been charged with five counts of sexual assault against at least four alleged victims, according to court documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The documents say Lieutenant-Commander Robert Waller is charged in connection with alleged incidents in Ottawa and the United States between April, 2016, and the spring of 2018.

Lt.-Cmdr. Waller will plead not guilty to the charges, his lawyer, Michael Johnston, told The Globe on Wednesday.

“The position is he’s absolutely not guilty and that we will be vigorously pursuing his defence,” Mr. Johnston said.

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The first court date for the case is Thursday. Mr. Johnston said he will appear on his client’s behalf to elect either a trial by jury or judge and then request time to review the “voluminous disclosure.” None of the allegations have been proved in court.

The Canadian Armed Forces has been gripped by a crisis of confidence in its ability to adequately manage sexual-harassment cases within its ranks and among its most senior commanders. In the past few months, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shuffled out the defence minister and the top bureaucrat in charge of the Department of National Defence.

Several high-ranking officers were placed on leave last year pending sexual-misconduct investigations. Lt.-Cmdr. Waller, who as a member of the senior ranks, is slightly below those officers, was not placed on leave, the military said on Wednesday.

“The member is currently employed as a staff officer analyst within the Vice-Chief of Defence Staff group and working from home,” national defence spokesperson Daniel Le Bouthillier said in an e-mail. “He has no subordinates/no individuals for whom he is responsible or working for him.”

Lt.-Cmdr. Waller’s LinkedIn page describes him as a naval combat systems engineer.

The investigation into the allegations against Lt.-Cmdr. Waller was conducted by the military police, but his case will be tried in the civilian justice system. The government decided last fall to transfer sexual-harassment cases to the civilian courts.

Lt.-Cmdr. Waller was charged with five counts of sexual assault on Dec. 23, 2021. The military confirmed the charges to The Globe in January, but refused to provide the timeframe for the allegations or disclose the number of alleged victims.

The court document detailing that information was obtained on Wednesday. The identities of victims of sexual assault are protected by the courts. The documents show initials for four victims, with one set of initials connected to two counts of sexual assault.

Mr. Johnston took issue with The Globe’s decision to use the officer’s name in reporting on the case before the trial is over. He said he was not seeking a publication ban for his client comparable to the one for the complainants because one would not be granted.

”I think that it’s most unfortunate that a person who’s presumed innocent, has their name published at all in the newspapers,” Mr. Johnston said.

The documents say that two incidents are alleged to have occurred in Virginia in April, 2016, and April, 2018. Both dates were within days of the Virginia International Tattoo, which Lt.-Cmdr. Waller has said he attended as a piper for the Royal Canadian Air Force Pipes and Drums.

“Band trip highlights included getting to perform in the Virginia International Tattoo in 2016 and 2018,” he wrote in an article in the fall, 2021, edition of the Maritime Engineering Journal.

Mr. Johnston said he understands that the charges against Lt.-Cmdr. Waller are “not relating to the workplace.” He declined to elaborate, but gave the example of a client in a different case in which an alleged incident happened “after hours.”

In November, The Globe reported on the case of a woman who says she was one of Lt.-Cmdr. Waller’s alleged victims. At the time, she and her lawyers declined to disclose his name because he had not been charged. She said she was sexually assaulted by a senior officer while she was a civilian volunteer with the Canadian Forces and was accompanying a group on a trip abroad.

The woman came forward to The Globe in part because she has not received any support to cope with the emotional trauma of the alleged incident. She has fallen through the cracks even though the Prime Minister has said the government supports victims, and a Declaration of Victims Rights for people in the military justice system was passed in 2017. The rights outlined in the bill are not yet in effect.

The woman’s lawyers, Michel Drapeau and Stéfanie Bédard, have raised her requests to the highest levels of the government and military. Mr. Drapeau said on Wednesday the government has turned a “deaf ear to her plea for assistance.”

“I find it absolutely deplorable that despite earlier media coverage of their ineptitude, these authorities have chosen to continue to ignore the plight of this young victim,” he said.

Megan MacKenzie, a professor at Simon Fraser University who researches gender and the military, said Lt.-Cmdr. Waller’s case underscores problems with how the military continues to handle allegations of sexual misconduct, because, without one alleged victim coming forward, the public wouldn’t know about it.

She said allowing Lt.-Cmdr. Waller to continue working challenges the military’s own “zero-tolerance” policy on sexual misconduct.

“It would seem that allowing an individual who’s facing multiple allegations to continue to serve is not a zero-tolerance policy,” Prof. MacKenzie said.

Mr. Le Bouthillier said Chief of Defence Staff Wayne Eyre could not comment on the case while it is before the courts. But in a statement, Mr. Le Bouthillier said “we know there is significant work ahead” to ensure the forces create a workplace where everyone feels safe.

“We are taking the necessary steps to address and eliminate sexual misconduct, and misconduct of all types by confronting elements of our institutional history and culture that we’re not proud of,” he said.

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