A Canadian Armed Forces officer who publicly urged other service members to disobey orders and not help distribute COVID-19 vaccines was reprimanded and fined Thursday after apologizing for his “public display of disloyalty.”
Officer Cadet Laszlo Kenderesi delivered the apology at the start of an unprecedented court-martial, where he received a stern reprimand and a $4,200 fine after pleading guilty to conduct detrimental to good order and discipline.
Military police originally charged Kenderesi with trying to persuade another person to join a mutiny, for which he faced a maximum sentence of life in prison, but prosecutors dropped the charge before the court-martial began.
Kenderesi also faced a charge of scandalous behavior unbecoming of an officer, but that charge was automatically suspended after presiding military judge Cmdr. Martin Pelletier accepted his guilty plea for prejudicial conduct.
Describing the case as “unique,” Pelletier told Kenderesi during sentencing that he was not being punished for his personal views on vaccines, but for participating in and publicly expressing support for anti-vaccine demonstrations while in uniform. .
“It is even more unacceptable that Officer Cadet Kenderesi incites members of the Canadian Armed Forces to disobey orders … in relation to the intended tasks of assisting in the distribution of vaccines,” Pelletier said.
Pelletier repeatedly referred to the case’s lack of precedent, which he suggested was a good thing.
“The court and counsel are not aware of any other case in which a Canadian Armed Forces officer has attended a demonstration against a high-profile government action in uniform and picked up a microphone to ask members of the Canadian Armed Forces to Armed Forces of Canada who refuse orders to perform lawful duties. ” he said.
The case relates to a speech at an anti-lockdown rally in Toronto’s Dundas Square on December 5, 2020, in which the 60-year-old cadet instructor appeared in full military uniform and spoke out against what he called “killer” vaccines. “.
Kenderesi urged other service members to disobey orders to help with the federal government’s vaccination efforts, which were ramping up at the time as the country battled another wave of COVID-19.
“I ask all military personnel to do the same, not to accept any unfair order, which would be to dole out and distribute vaccines,” Kenderesi told rally participants, according to a transcript read in court.
A video of his comments was later posted online, in which he acknowledged he could be punished.
The Armed Forces had received formal orders just days earlier to begin planning for vaccine distribution across the country, as Health Canada entered the final stages of reviewing vaccine candidates from Pfizer and Moderna.
Addressing the court, Kenderesi expressed remorse for his actions as Pelletier prepared to sentence him.
“It was wrong for me to present myself as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces to publicly express my private views,” Kenderesi said. “I abused the trust that comes with the privilege of wearing the uniform of the Canadian Armed Forces. I am sorry.”
He then added: “It was not my place to question the orders of the chain of command. I violated the core principle of service by failing to uphold the legal authority of the chain of command. I am ashamed of my public display of disloyalty.”
In a separate affidavit read from the filing, the court heard that Kenderesi was born and raised in Hungary while the country was under the influence of the Soviet Union, and that the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 affected him both emotionally and financially.
That included his wife losing her job and the collapse of his trucking business, after which he filed for bankruptcy.
The court also heard that while Kenderesi first joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1978 and served for years as a reserve cadet instructor at Borden, he had virtually no contact with the armed forces after 2018.
But even when the defense attorney, Major Alexandre Gélinas-Proulx, tried to use these mitigating factors, the prosecutor, Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Besner argued that the underlying problem was one of enforcing discipline in the ranks.
“Discipline is the quality that every member of the CF must have, which allows you to put the interests of Canada and the interests of the Canadian Armed Forces before personal interests,” Besner said.
“This is necessary because members of the Canadian Forces must willingly and promptly obey legal orders that can have very devastating personal consequences.”
However, Besner and Gélinas-Proulx agreed to request the severe reprimand and a fine of $4,200, adding that the officer cadet has already completed 80 hours of community service.
While Pelletier ultimately agreed to the proposal and acknowledged the emotional and financial strains Kenderesi was facing at the time, he underscored the seriousness of the officer cadet’s actions.
The results of the Kenderesi case could have repercussions on future courts-martial for members of the Armed Forces who have spoken out publicly against vaccine mandates and other government policies.
That includes Petty Officer James Topp, the Army reservist who was charged earlier this year with two counts of conduct detrimental to good order and discipline for speaking out against vaccination requirements while wearing his uniform.
Since then, Topp has become something of a celebrity for some Canadians who oppose not only vaccines and pandemic restrictions, but also the liberal federal government, and is currently in the midst of a march across the country.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 22, 2022.