VANCOUVER - Defence Minister Peter MacKay was "shocked" when he first heard that the commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton had been linked to the killings of two young women.
"Immediately my thoughts go out to the families of the victims," the Defence Minister told The Globe and Mail today. "These are the most serious of crimes in our country."
He called it a "very emotional time" particularly for the families of the victims. As a former Crown prosecutor, he said he can understand how much "trauma" they are going through.
Colonel Russell Williams is charged with two counts of murder in the deaths Jessica Lloyd and Corporal Marie-France Comeau. He is also charged with two sexual assaults.
The Defence Minister says the Canadian Forces are co-operating "fully with the investigation." But there have been reports that morale is low as a result of the Williams charges.
Mr. MacKay said he is concerned with ensuring the troops are supported, especially at the Ontario air base, which is integral to the various missions that are currently underway. For example, all of the deployment of troops for Afghanistan, Haiti and the Vancouver Olympics is from Trenton.
"We are reassuring the men and women of the Canadian Forces that we support them," Mr. MacKay said, noting that the military is very tight knit and "everybody knows everybody."
The Minister said the Chief of Air Staff, Lieutenant-General Andre Deschamps has visited Trenton. Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk spoke to reporters in Trenton later Wednesday afternoon about the Col. Williams situation.
"We all have to step up. We have a duty and a responsibility to Canadians. I told [the soldiers at Trenton]to stand tall and to stand proud."
"This has been a difficult 48 hours. And now we've got to move forward and allow the judicial process to move forward."
Meanwhile, Mr. MacKay is heading to Vancouver and Whistler where he will be visiting the nearly 5,000 troops who are here for the Olympics.
He said the troops have been training for years, putting together different Olympic security scenarios. He wants to see how things look on the ground, he said, as well as to congratulate them for their work.
The Minister compared the troops, who have come from all across Canada, to Olympic athletes, given the training that has gone into this exercise.
He said they are like biathletes, able to multi-task. And keeping with the Olympic analogy, he also described the troops as the "second man in the bobsled" as the military is supporting the RCMP at the Games.
Mr. MacKay spent part of the morning in Ottawa touring the Canadian Forces Integrated Command centre, which oversees all of the military's operations in Canada and around the world, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and General Natynczyk.
In addition to the nearly 5,000 troops at the Olympics, including special forces personnel, there are 2,800 troops in Afghanistan and another 2,800 training in California to go to Afghanistan, Mr. MacKay said. As well, there are 2000 in Haiti.
In addition to all of these immediate pressures on the troops, the Games precede the G8 and G20 summits in Ontario this summer, Mr. MacKay added. "The Forces are up to it, firing on all cylinders and will deliver a golden performance," he said.
(Photo: Defence Minister Peter MacKay and General Walter Natynczyk, the Chief of the Defence Staff, tour CFB Trenton with Colonel Russell Williams last month. Warrant Officer Carole Morissett/Combat Camera)