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Wife of navy officer guilty of desertion relieved prosecution not seeking jail

Lt. Derek De Jong in Halifax on Monday, May 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

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Lt. Derek De Jong in Halifax on Monday, May 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX - The wife of a navy officer who pleaded guilty to deserting his post after alleged harassment says she's relieved the prosecution isn't recommending a prison sentence.

Lt. Derek de Jong has testified that prior to leaving HMCS Preserver while it was docked in Key West, Fla., on Sept. 17, 2012, he was subjected to behaviour that included a colleague urinating on his cabin floor.

De Jong's wife, Maria, said Tuesday she remains anxious about the sentencing that awaits her husband but was given a degree of comfort when she heard the prosecution didn't think jail was warranted in this case.

"My kids found out this morning there was a chance their dad would be imprisoned and if that was the case right now I wouldn't want to go home right now and face my kids," she said outside the court martial in Halifax.

Prosecutor Lt.-Cmdr. Darin Reeves said de Jong should be reprimanded and demoted to sub-lieutenant. Reeves told the court martial that desertion is a serious military offence when committed by a senior officer who has duties that include the safety and security of a vessel.

Outside the hearing, Reeves said a demotion would be a serious penalty if the judge imposes it.

"It publicly demonstrates to other members of the Canadian Forces ... the conduct has caused a loss of faith in the offender to carry out duties at their present rank," he said.

Defence lawyer Sara Collins argued that de Jong, 43, only deserves a reprimand and a fine of between $1,000 and $3,000.

Collins said de Jong had an "impeccable" service record and the unqualified support of his current superior officer, adding that his allegations that he was harassed should be taken into account.

An agreed statement of facts says on the day of his desertion, de Jong signed a letter to his commander saying he was working in a toxic environment and visited the sick bay requesting he be sent back to Canada for medical reasons.

The statement says that despite attempts by a senior officer to persuade him to stay, de Jong walked down the gangplank dressed in civilian clothes, carrying a backpack and "stated to all that he was going ashore and that he was going to be AWOL."

He flew back to Halifax and turned himself in to military police, the statement says.

In his testimony, de Jong said his decision to leave was wrong and he feels remorse for it.

But he also told the court martial that in late August 2012, he experienced repeated instances of harassment that included an incident where a female colleague entered his cabin and urinated on the floor while he slept. He testified that when he reported the incident to senior officers they laughed about it and a sign was posted on his cabin door saying "women's head," a nautical term referring to a bathroom.

De Jong said a medical examination completed after he returned to Canada indicated he was suffering from excessive stress and a heart condition.

Reeves said de Jong's harassment allegations can be dealt with outside of the court martial.

"I trust the Canadian military authorities will fully investigate the allegations and they will arrive at a proper decision that will dispose of the question of whether there was harassment and, if so, how will they deal with it," he said.

Maria de Jong said outside court she feels her husband's allegations have not been taken seriously.

"They've been swept under the rug and that to me is unacceptable, but at this point I don't know what else can be done," she said.

A spokesman for the navy said the local base commander couldn't comment about the allegations until de Jong's court martial was completed.

A sentencing decision in the case is set for Wednesday.

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