OTTAWA — Misconduct that led to the recall of a Canadian ship from a military exercise off the U.S. west coast may be a symptom of a bigger problem in the navy’s ranks, says a senior defence source.
HMCS Whitehorse returned to Esquimalt, B.C., Monday after being ordered by Vice-Admiral Mark Norman to leave an international naval exercise called RIMPAC.
The rare move came just a month after the crews of both the Whitehorse and HMCS Nanaimo received the Operational Service Medal for their conduct during an illicit trafficking operation in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific.
In an internal message, Norman said he ordered the return home of HMCS Whitehorse with “great disappointment” following three incidents of personal misconduct.
One of the incidents involved the arrest of a Canadian sailor by police in San Diego, Calif.
A defence source who asked to remain unidentified said the three incidents occurred independent of each other.
And while the events themselves were not considered sensational, action is needed to deal with a potentially bigger problem within the navy, said the source.
“The real story is that we have recognized a potential problem and are taking action,” the source said.
“(The incidents) represent a combination of actions ashore and onboard that are unacceptable.”
Insiders also said the admiral was “extremely annoyed” by the incidents and was tired of the actions of a few undermining the accomplishments of many.
“I am troubled that across the (Royal Canadian Navy) a small number of our personnel have fallen short of the timeless expectations of naval service and have failed in their roles as ambassadors of their navy and country,” Norman wrote in his internal message.
The military has not publicly identified the sailors involved in the alleged incidents of misconduct, nor has it said exactly what happened.
Police in San Diego did not respond to questions about the allegations that led to the arrest of one of the sailors.
The military was also conducting its own investigation into the incidents.
But a wider probe has also been ordered, something that Norman referred to as a “broader institutional response.”
The vice-admiral appointed a flag officer to review the navy’s policies and procedures, and to ensure the navy is doing everything it can “to provide clear expectations and direction for all personnel as it relates to professional conduct and responsibility, both on and off-duty.”
Findings from the investigation are expected by September.
RIMPAC involves forces from 22 countries and is considered the world’s largest international maritime exercise.
The 2014 exercise was being conducted near Hawaii and Southern California and involved two Canadian ships, including the Whitehorse, a Kingston-class Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel.
The crews of such vessels consist primarily of naval reservists from across Canada.