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Navy to investigate allegations against HMCS Whitehorse sailors

HMCS Whitehorse (MM 705) Whitehorse Builders: Canada Halifax Shipyards Ltd., Halifax Laid down: 26 July 1996 Launched: 24 February 1997 Operator: Royal Canadian Navy Commissioned: 17 April 1998 Status: Modifications: Operations:

The Royal Canadian Navy has opened another investigation into three incidents of alleged misconduct in San Diego by the crew of HMCS Whitehorse, including whether there was a "failure of leadership."

Commodore Bob Auchterlonie, commander of the Canadian Fleet Pacific, has been assigned to assess the situation on board the Whitehorse, which was ordered to cut short its participation in a major U.S. Navy training exercise last week after sailors were accused of sexual misconduct, shoplifting and drunkenness.

This new probe comes on top of a review the navy announced Monday of rules that govern sailors when they're ashore but off duty at ports, and a disciplinary investigation covering at least one of the accused. Military police are still considering whether to formally investigate the other incidents.

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The navy checked with an in-house historian and now says this is the first time a ship has been recalled for "reasons of conduct."

The new probe will include the chain of command structure on the Whitehorse, a small coastal defence vessel crewed by 35 to 40. The ship's commanding officer is Lieutenant-Commander Michael Sorsdahl and its executive officer is Lieutenant (Navy) Lucas Kenward.

"It's almost a historical event when you're recalling a ship, so presumably you should be looking at the commanding officer" too, navy spokesman Cdr. Hubert Genest said.

The new probe will try to determine if the allegations facing three Whitehorse sailors were "a failure of leadership or just a freak event," he said.

"As with all incidents aboard Royal Canadian Navy ships, there will be an examination of the circumstances surrounding this event.… Commodore Bob Auchterlonie is responsible for all ships in his fleet, and therefore will examine the circumstances surrounding the return of HMCS Whitehorse," Cdr. Genest said.

Whitehorse was participating in the annual U.S. naval exercise RIMPAC at the time of the alleged bad behaviour.

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 case, a sailor was allegedly intoxicated, spending the night in a drunk tank. Military police are also investigating a third case involving an allegation of what may be sexual assault or misconduct.

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The move to draft a new policy for sailors in port was not based solely on the Whitehorse incidents, but part of a larger series of recent incidents that led its commander Vice-Admiral Mark Norman "to say enough is enough" this week, Cdr. Genest said.

Other cases of misconduct weighing on the navy, their spokesman says, include allegations of drunken sailors in Key West, Fla., in 2012, as well as the matter of Lt. Derek de Jong who was fined and reprimanded for deserting his post on HMCS Preserver, a supply vessel, in September, 2012. Lt. de Jong, who left his supply vessel in Key West, alleged he faced a "toxic working relationship" with a fellow officer.

The navy is not saying yet whether the three sailors accused of misconduct in San Diego have been reassigned pending investigation.

The Whitehorse had travelled to San Diego to work arm-in-arm with another Canadian ship, HMCS Nanaimo, on naval mine countermeasure exercises. Its departure would appear to leave the Nanaimo without a partner for the RIMPAC exercises.

The ship, which returned to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt on Monday, was supposed to investigate whatever the Nanaimo found using side-scan sonar, according to The Lookout, an online navy publication.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More


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