The Canadian military will look at changes to its Team Canada morale tours as it deals with allegations about excessive drinking and sexual harassment on the taxpayer-funded junkets.
A morale visit scheduled for March has been postponed, the Department of National Defence confirmed Monday.
A similar tour made headlines earlier this month after former NHL hockey player Dave “Tiger” Williams was charged with sexual assault and assault. The incident is alleged to have happened during a Dec. 2-3 Team Canada tour flight, on the way to visit military personnel in Europe.
The Canadian Forces and DND have launched several reviews in the aftermath of that flight, with the Royal Canadian Air Force announcing Monday it has launched an investigation into whether its internal policies were properly followed.
“We are also taking an extensive look at our Team Canada program, for which the next visit has been postponed until further notice,” DND spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier said by email Monday. “As we probe further into the matter to fully grasp every detail of the trip and the sequence of events, we will not comment further.”
In addition, the military is examining the policy that allowed VIPs to bring their own alcohol on board the RCAF aircraft. Sources say one passenger boarded the flight with a 40-ounce bottle of alcohol and others appeared to be already intoxicated before getting on the aircraft. Excessive drinking is common on such morale tours, according to sources familiar with the junkets. In contrast, military personnel deploying on international missions are not allowed alcohol on Canadian Forces flights.
Williams’ lawyer, Michael Lacy, said it is alleged his client, “inappropriately touched the complainant over clothing on the buttocks while on a CAF morale tour.”
The complainant was a female flight attendant on board the flight.
“Tiger denies any criminal wrongdoing and is confident he will be vindicated,” Lacy said in an email. “We would urge everyone to hold off judgement in this matter until it is dealt with through the court process where the veracity of these claims can be best tested.”
The alleged incident has created a public relations nightmare for the military, officers privately acknowledge. The tour was coordinated by staff reporting to the office of Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance.
Vance, however, has also launched Operation Honour, a program that focuses on reducing sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces.
Vice-Chief of Defence Staff Lt.-Gen. Alain Parent – the second highest ranking officer in the Canadian Forces — was also on the December flight but was not aware the alleged incident happened, according to the military.
The Team Canada tours involve organized visits to the troops by entertainers, artists, athletes, and media personalities. They usually involve approximately 20 people, Le Bouthillier said.
Participants volunteer their time. The initiative started in 2006 and there are about two such trips a year.
Williams has participated in 14 such morale trips, including to Afghanistan.
“Tiger has a documented and proud history of participating in CAF morale tours and has been an enthusiastic supporter of our troops,” Lacy said. “He looks forward to continuing his volunteer efforts when this matter is disposed of.”
Le Bouthillier said the victim of the alleged sex assault was flown home early on a commercial flight so as “to distance” the individual from the accused. Four flight attendants were flown home to Canada on a commercial aircraft at a cost of $6,500 per ticket.
Le Bouthillier said Williams, “was allowed to continue on with the rest of the group to ensure sufficient distance from the victim, noting as well that he was not charged at the time and it was a fluid situation.”
Williams played in a morale-boosting hockey game which was promoted on social media by the Canadian Embassy in Latvia. He later flew back to Canada on a military flight.
Williams, 64, was an NHL enforcer who played for teams including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings. He retired in 1988.