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Gov.-Gen. strips convicted murderer Russell Williams of his rank

Russell Williams, former commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton, is escorted from Belleville court after being sentenced for murder on Oct. 21, 2010.


Convicted killer Russell Williams has been stripped of his senior military rank by the Governor-General as the Canadian Forces moves to cut all ties with the disgraced soldier.

The military has begun proceedings to expel from its ranks the former colonel - a once-rising star who commanded the Forces' busiest airbase - hoping to erase any association with his horrific sex-related crimes.

Governor-General David Johnston granted a request Friday from the Chief of the Defence Staff to revoke Mr. Williams's commission and approve his dismissal from the military.

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In an extraordinary step, the Chief of the Air Staff Lieutenant-General Andre Deschamps travelled in person to Rideau Hall, the Ottawa home of the Governor-General, to obtain consent. The journey was an attempt to expedite the request and show Canadians how badly the military wanted to be rid of him.

Every military officer holds a commission granted by the Governor-General on behalf of the Queen, and it's within the office's power to take back such an assignment.

"Mr. Williams committed horrific crimes against citizens that the Canadian Forces swear to protect, and he is not worthy of the oath he took to serve Canadians as an officer of the Canadian Forces," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Friday.

Mr. Williams was sentenced Thursday to life in prison with no parole for 25 years after pleading guilty to two counts of first-degree murder for killing Corporal Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd.

Chief of the Defence Staff General Walt Natynczyk called Friday's measures an important step toward closure for Canadian Forces members and other Canadians, noting how horrified fellow soldiers feel about the actions of one of their own.

"I also listened to Canadian Forces personnel of all ranks as they expressed their bewilderment and anger at the betrayal of our institutional ethos of truth, duty, and valour," he said.

In a private e-mail to fellow soldiers, Gen. Natynczyk called Friday's move by the Governor-General to revoke the soldier's commission "an extraordinary and severe decision that may constitute a first of its kind in Canadian history."

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The military is also proceeding to strip Mr. Williams, who held the rank of colonel, of all medals - and claw back all the salary and benefits he's been paid since his arrest in February. Until now he's been earning $12,000 a month.

On Monday, Mr. Williams pleaded guilty to all 88 charges against him. He received two concurrent life terms, with no possibility of parole for at least 25 years. In addition, he was sentenced to two 10-year terms for two sexual assaults he committed in the village of Tweed, Ont., where he had a cottage, and to a year for each of 82 fetish burglaries he carried out in and around Tweed and in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans, in which he stole women's underwear.

The military has also now moved to deny Mr. Williams severance pay and expel him from the Forces for "service misconduct" - the most serious release rationale possible.

One remaining matter is Mr. Williams's pension.

The Canadian Forces cannot, under the law, take this away. Department of Defence sources say it would likely require an act of Parliament to axe Mr. Williams's pension. However, this income stream may also become the target of civil lawsuits by his victims as well as the families of those he killed.

An excerpt of the Department of National Defence message from Gen. Natynczyk is as follows:

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CDS Message: Mr. Russell Williams

1. On 21 Oct 10, Mr. Russell Williams, former Commander of 8 Wing, was sentenced to two concurrent terms of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years for the first-degree murders of Cpl Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd.

2. The crimes committed by Mr. Williams are deeply upsetting to us all. Over the last few months, I have spoken with many of you in town halls across the country and on missions overseas. Like all Canadians, you and I have been shocked and repulsed by the crimes he committed.

3. During these conversations, you expressed your sympathy and compassion for the victims and the families affected by this terrible tragedy. I also listened to Canadian Forces personnel of all ranks as they expressed their bewilderment and anger at the betrayal of our institutional ethos of truth, duty, and valour. Because of his heinous crimes and his subsequent criminal conviction, Mr. Williams has lost the privilege of calling himself a member of the CF community.

4. With the conviction and sentencing completed, and following my recommendation, the Governor General has revoked his commission, an extraordinary and severe decision that may constitute a first of its kind in Canadian history.

5. Further, the following actions will now be taken: a)stripping Mr. Williams of his medals; b) termination and recovery of his pay from the date of arrest; c) denial of severance pay; d) his prompt release from the CF under "service misconduct" - which is the most serious release item possible.

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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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