The Royal Canadian Navy is going to draft new rules governing the behaviour of sailors in port after the HMCS Whitehorse was ordered home in the wake of allegations of misconduct, including shoplifting, drunkenness and sexual misconduct, by several Armed Forces members in San Diego this month.
The navy says the incidents represent a tipping point after "several incidents in the past" and have triggered its resolve to tighten up and clarify rules for soldiers on shore leave.
The coastal defence vessel Whitehorse was participating in the annual U.S. naval exercise RIMPAC but was sent back to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt in B.C. after three episodes of alleged bad behaviour in the Southern California port city, the navy said.
One Canadian sailor was arrested by San Diego police but later released due to a lack of evidence, the navy said. A source outside the Canadian military said in that incident, the sailor arrested was suspected of shoplifting; in a second, one was allegedly intoxicated, spending the night in a drunk tank; and in a third case, military police are investigating an allegation of what may be sexual assault or misconduct.
The Forces refused to confirm the alleged incidents, citing the need for due process.
Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, commander of the navy, summoned back the Whitehorse last week and told sailors in an internal message that he did so "with great disappointment."
The ship has a crew of 35 to 40 and is a mixture of regular and reserve forces. It arrived back in Esquimalt Monday morning.
It is extremely unusual for the navy to take such action and the Forces couldn't recall a ship being sent home before for the personal conduct of its sailors.
The navy isn't saying much about what happened, except that two of the incidents occurred ashore, when the ship was moored in San Diego, and one occurred on board.
"While the actions of a few sailors in Whitehorse was the trigger for my decision, I recalled her home because 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 – no matter where they serve," Vice-Adm. Norman said in a navy-wide message.
"We must go further in reinforcing what is, and is not, acceptable conduct."
In a separate statement, the naval commander said the people serving on this country's ships have a duty to reflect well on Canada.
"Although an examination of ashore conduct was to be a topic examined by the Naval board in the near future, given recent incidents, and in order to ensure that the navy stays focused on our mission, I have expedited this process," he said.
Commodore Craig Baines, commander of the Canadian fleet, will conduct an internal review of the policies and procedures that "govern the conduct of our men and women ashore" and report back before October.
"His task will be to ensure that we are doing everything we can to provide clear expectations and directions for all personnel as it relates to professionalism and conduct and responsibility ashore, both on- and off-duty. I expect to be provided preliminary findings in the fall of 2014," Vice-Adm. Norman said.
"My ultimate goal for the Royal Canadian Navy is to ensure that our men and women are the very best ambassadors of Canada while in service around the world."
San Diego police will not offer details of the sailor's arrest without being supplied a name but the Canadian military refuses to name the sailor suspected of shoplifting.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said he's confident the navy will conduct a thorough review.