OTTAWA - Booze will not be as cheap or flow as freely aboard Canadian warships in the wake of a review of an incident last summer which saw a coastal defence vessel ordered home from a U.S. exercise because of the conduct of sailors.
HMCS Whitehorse cut short its deployment and returned to its home port in Esquimalt, B.C., after some members of the crew were accused of sexual misconduct, shoplifting and drunkenness.
A review, released Friday by the fleet's top commander, recommends the navy develop a strictly enforced code of conduct in addition to increasing the shipboard price of alcohol and banning any consumption while ships are at sea, unless there are special events.
Vice Admiral Mark Norman agreed with the recommendations and said the actions of sailors, at home and abroad, reflect not only on the navy but on the nation as a whole and it's clear the informal expectations of good behaviour must be codified.
The restrictions were imposed immediately.
Unlike their U.S. counterparts who serve on completely dry ships, off-duty Canadian sailors have been free to purchase beer or wine, including from soda machine-style dispensers.
Those are being removed as part of the reforms, which Norman acknowledged might not be popular, but are necessary.
Overall, he doesn't see it as a drag on morale and points out that it is within the expectations of Canadian society as whole.
"We're comfortable people will understand this is a measured series of reactions," Norman said. "I have no doubt there will be some folks who see this as negative, but I have great confidence based on broad consultations through all ranks of the navy that this will be seen as a positive, measured and progressive step."
The alternative, he said, was to go the U.S. route and ban booze entirely.
The review of the Whitehorse incident was compiled by Commodore Craig Baines, the commander of the fleet on the East Coast. The report took pains to emphasize that "the vast majority of its officers and sailors know and understand how to represent their country, service and ships."
Even still, what happened in San Diego was simply the latest in a growing number of incidents within the navy that have caused the brass concern, the admiral said.
"I said enough is enough and it's time to take a hard look at ourselves," Norman said in a teleconference Friday.
He wasn't able to provide statistics about the number of incidents, or alcohol and misconduct charges that have been laid, saying they're not very compelling.
"I came to the conclusion we had a problem. I stand by the conclusions," Norman added.
The three incidents from last July are in various stages of being dealt with through the military justice system, including a planned court martial of the sailor accused of sexual assault.
The new policy is a long way from the days sailors as part of the daily routine used to receive a "tot" — or a shot — of rum "at six bells in the forenoon watch," which is around lunch time. The 300-year-old tradition, dating back to the Royal Navy, was abolished over four decades ago over concerns about drinking and handling modern weapons.
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