NEWS
07/21/2011 10:36 EDT | Updated 09/20/2011 05:12 EDT

Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard Pleads Guilty To Having Affair

AP

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- MONTREAL - The dramatic fall from grace of a once-rising star in Canada's military culminated Thursday in a $7,000 fine and a symbolic reprimand.

This was after former brigadier-general Daniel Menard had already gone from being a prominent military commander, to an unemployed civilian fighting to keep his family and rebuild his tattered reputation.

It unravelled following an affair with a subordinate, a fling that began in Canada and continued in the makeshift military living quarters in the dusty confines of Kandahar.

Menard pleaded guilty Thursday before a military court martial to having illicit relations while leading Canada's mission in Afghanistan, and then urging her to cover it up.

His punishment included a fine and a demotion to the rank of colonel — but that latter penalty is largely symbolic, because he will retain his previous rank and pension benefits.

Prosecutors cast the case in purely military terms: regulations bar soldiers from having intimate relations while on deployment, plain and simple.

The rule is so strictly observed that it even applies to married couples — which Menard and his subordinate were not. And when someone at such a senior rank is seen flouting the rules, the military says, it undermines morale and weakens the chain of command.

"The rules are the essence of military work," said Canadian Forces prosecutor, Cmdr. Martin Pelletier.

"It's rules that give people like General Menard the power to order someone to their death, potentially, in combat."

The 45-year-old Menard had enjoyed a stellar military career as an officer with a spotless service record, who rose though the ranks to become Canada's No. 1 military man in Afghanistan before his career unravelled last year.

Earlier in the day, Menard pleaded guilty to two charges: having improper relations with a corporal under his command, and trying to impede an investigation into their affair.

He publicly apologized to his wife and children Thursday after admitting to the sexual liaison. He also lambasted the media coverage of his downfall.

Menard had faced a maximum of two years in prison or a dishonourable discharge from the military.

Lt.-Col. Louis-Vincent d'Auteuil, a military judge, cited principles of integrity, honesty and leadership as he read out his verdict.

"You know better than me — given all the experience you have — what the principles of leadership are," d'Auteuil said.

"This happened in the worst place, at the worst time — in a theatre of operation."

He said soldiers were risking their lives in Afghanistan and trusted him. He said Menard betrayed their trust.

"You have the highest level of responsibility in a theatre of operation," the judge said. "It was up to you to set an example."

It was the kind of transgression, the judge said, that could undermine the chain of command.

He said Menard had an admirable career to that point, which is why he was made a general at such a young age. He said that positive track record was also taken into account in the verdict.

"We must not lose sight of the fact that you did a lot of good things as an officer in the Canadian Forces," d'Auteuil said.

He said the punishments Menard had already suffered — his removal from Afghanistan, and the reassignment of his roles, amounted to some suffering for his misdeeds.

All the media attention to details of the case would also dissuade people from repeating Menard's mistakes, said d'Auteuil. He said Menard will have a record — although he can apply to be pardoned later.

"You have also suffered personal consequences," he said. "You saw (career) doors slam on you ... you suffered financially."

Menard said the media scrutiny of his case has been punishment enough for his family.

He is still married, and has two children.

But he said he had to leave the forces because he was increasingly isolated upon his return from Kandahar. He is now unemployed and seeking private-sector work in management.

"The last few months were extremely difficult. I was afraid I would lose my family," Menard testified Thursday.

His downward spiral began the moment his affair was revealed by a prominent U.S. military-affairs blogger in April 2010. Canadian officials learned of the transgression from Michael Yon's blog.

Soon thereafter, Menard was back home in Canada and feeling like a pariah within the military. He cited several examples, like being told he would be excluded from a training seminar.

"My conclusion from all this was that I was no longer welcome in the club of generals," Menard testified, adding he never received any commendations upon his return from Kandahar.

"I didn't see a future anymore within the Canadian Forces and I felt ostracized.

"All that to say that I understood I didn't have my place anymore."

His affair with Master Cpl. Bianka Langlois began in 2008, in Montreal, before they were deployed together to Afghanistan.

That relationship continued in Kandahar. Menard and Langlois had sex on several occasions in the living quarters. He also kissed her at least twice in his office.

When confronted about the relationship by his superiors, he vehemently denied it. He asked Langlois to deny the affair and delete incriminating emails to protect their careers.

But Langlois told her story. Menard was sent home from Kandahar after finally admitting to the misdeeds.

The military prosecutor said Menard had only himself to blame for his downfall.

"What happened to General Menard's career is sad to a certain point, but we have to remember that it's the result of choices that he made," Pelletier said.

The general was initially also charged with four counts of obstructing justice, which were withdrawn. Those more serious charges carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Langlois was convicted in a summary trial last Sept. 28 of one count of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline.

She was reprimanded and fined $700.

Court documents suggest the two had a sexual affair between Nov. 15, 2009, and April 27, 2010, while Menard — a 26-year army veteran — was commanding Canada's task force in Afghanistan.

By Sidhartha Banerjee