DND postpones change of command as military police probe comments at airbase event

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A pilot positions a CF-18 Hornet at CFB Cold Lake in Cold Lake, Alta., on October 21, 2014. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A pilot positions a CF-18 Hornet at CFB Cold Lake in Cold Lake, Alta., on October 21, 2014. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Canada's air force has postponed the installation of a new commander at one of the country's two main fighter jet bases after military police launched an investigation earlier this summer into alleged inappropriate remarks at an informal gathering.

The Department of National Defence is staying tight-lipped about the specifics of the incident. It's alleged to have taken place at the 4 Wing airbase in Cold Lake, Alta., on June 23, 2022, in the course of something called a call-sign review board — an event during which call-signs, or nicknames, are assigned to pilots and aircrew weapons controllers.

The incident was serious enough to trigger a military police investigation and lead to the postponement of the change of command ceremony at 3 Wing in Bagotville, Que., set for Tuesday.

Lt.-Gen. Eric Kenny, recently appointed commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, said plans for the ceremony are on hold.

"An investigation was launched into statements made during this activity and remains ongoing," Kenny said in a brief media statement on Monday. "The investigation will examine actions of those involved during the call-sign review board."

Contacted by CBC News, a DND spokesperson would not say whether the investigation involves Col. Colin Marks, who was due to assume command in Bagotville.

Marks could not be reached for comment.

Kenny said in his statement that multiple individuals were present for the call-sign review board.

He refused to offer more specific information, citing a need to protect the integrity of the investigation.

"We are committed to upholding the highest standards of integrity and professionalism across the RCAF," he said. "It is also important we ensure procedural fairness for all of our personnel as we make the critical changes required to foster a culture of absolute respect, dignity and inclusivity."

The Canadian military is in the midst of a major crisis over inappropriate behaviour — including episodes of sexist and discriminatory attitudes — by senior leaders. The air force, however, has rarely been singled out in the multiple cases that have come before the public.