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Soldier accused of 'reckless disregard' for safety in training accident

SHILO, Man. - A military panel weighing the fate of a retired warrant officer has been presented with two very different pictures of him — a reckless weapons expert who caused a fellow soldier's death or a conscientious leader who did the best he could under trying circumstances.

"Hindsight is 20-20. The temptation is very strong to adopt the attitude of ... a Monday-morning office quarterback," Maj. Philippe-Luc Boutin, lawyer for Paul Ravensdale, said in his closing arguments at a court martial Monday.

"Warrant officer Ravensdale does not ask for pity or compassion. Warrant officer Ravensdale only asks that justice is done."

Ravensdale faces six charges: manslaughter, unlawfully causing bodily harm, two counts of breach of duty and two counts of negligence. They stem from an exercise he led on a weapons range in Afghanistan on Feb. 12, 2010.

The soldiers were training on C-19 anti-personnel land mines, which are designed to shoot 700 steel ball bearings forward in a fan pattern. One of the mines fired backward instead, directly toward soldiers who thought they were out of harm's way.

Four ball bearings struck Cpl. Joshua Baker, including one in the chest that killed him. Four other soldiers were injured.

The prosecution, led by Maj. Tony Tamburro, alleges Ravensdale ignored safety guidelines that personnel should be at least 100 metres back of a C-19 unless they are in a dugout, a vehicle or covered by some sort of shield.

The court martial was shown video of soldiers standing in direct sight of the mine and much closer than 100 metres.

In his closing argument, Tamburro urged the five-member military panel — akin to a jury in a civilian trial — to convict Ravensdale.

"He let people stand out in the open while the weapon was being fired. It's not as if he didn't know. He was right there."

Tamburro said Ravensdale bore responsibility as the person in charge of the exercise and as the man who gave the orders to fire.

"There was a cavalier attitude toward safety."

Boutin countered that Ravensdale was put in a near-impossible situation by being assigned to run the exercise, act as officer in charge of the soldiers and perform as the range safety officer. The latter is supposed to be assigned to a separate person.

"He was basically filling up three positions. It was a very difficult task and he carried it out, in our view, to a very high standard."

Boutin laid the blame on Ravensdale's superiors — Capt. Darryl Watts, who was later promoted to major, and Maj. Christopher Lunney, who assigned Ravensdale the multiple roles and approved his safety plan.

Fellow soldiers earlier told the inquiry that Ravensdale had told them to stay behind a row of light armoured vehicles. Some did not and Ravensdale fired the weapon anyway.

Boutin also noted that the 100-metre danger zone associated with the area behind a C-19 is aimed at protecting soldiers from stones, sticks and other debris that might be kicked up by the blast and cause minor injuries. No one would have been hurt had the weapon not mysteriously misfired, he said.

Tamburro rejected that idea earlier in the court martial. He said the safety zones are in place to ensure soldiers are protected even if a weapon goes off incorrectly.

The military panel may start its deliberations as early as Tuesday, but must first receive instructions from the judge.

Ravensdale's superiors have already been convicted in the accident.

Lunney was demoted to captain and given a severe reprimand after pleading guilty to negligent performance of duty.

Watts is awaiting sentencing on charges of negligence and unlawfully causing bodily harm.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version referred to Ravensdale in paragraph 1 simply as "a retired officer."

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