OTTAWA — Sailors in the Canadian navy will be banned from consuming alcohol while warships are at sea, the fallout from episodes of misconduct earlier this year.
“Most misconduct unfortunately involves the misuse of alcohol,” Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, head of the Royal Canadian Navy, told reporters Friday.
“Anytime our ships are at sea, there will not be access to alcohol,” Norman said in a teleconference call.
Norman conceded that some in the fleet won’t be happy with the new rules but added, “it’s not a popularity issue.”
New booze restrictions, which take effect immediately, were among the recommendations stemming from an internal inquiry into misconduct by sailors in recent months.
The inquiry was launched after the HMCS Whitehorse was ordered back to Canada in July after three separate incidents involving crew members while it was docked in San Diego.
Norman personally ordered the ship back to its port in British Columbia and suggested that the alleged misbehaviour of the sailors was not an isolated incident for the navy.
On Friday, Norman released the findings of the inquiry that was led by Commodore Craig Banes, commander of the Atlantic fleet.
It recommends a code of conduct for the navy to make clear what is expected of its sailors and a communications strategy to boost awareness among military personnel.
“The RCN needs to provide clearer, more exacting guidance to promote and communicate its expectations regarding personal conduct to its officers and sailors,” the report said.
The review also recommended restrictions around alcohol consumption. It said the practice of sailors being allowed to serve themselves alcohol should be discontinued and questioned whether booze should be banned entirely while warships are at sea. It also suggested that when alcohol is available, the prices should be raised.
Speaking about the decision to recall the ship in July, Norman bluntly admitted that he had lost confidence in the ability of Canadian sailors to behave appropriately.
Norman said the vast majority of sailors conduct themselves appropriately but said the navy has relied “almost entirely” on informal policies.
He said it’s time to address the “shortfalls” in expectations and training with formal policies.
He said he has already seen an improvement in the conduct of sailors since the HMCS Whitehorse was ordered home.
He said three separate incidents on board the ship prompted his decision to recall it. Two sailors were charged with drunkenness offences and have been disciplined, he said. The third case, which has not yet been resolved, involved a sailor being found in a female cabin.
But Norman stressed that the incidents on the Whitehorse highlighted a broader, worrisome trend of misconduct within the navy, leading to the review.