British Royal Navy sailors arrested and charged for alleged gang rape in Halifax

2007.HeaderUSSWasp2The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service commander ​admitted that the reports were “disturbing.” The substantive issue of the Rule of Law, the presence of foreign military forces in Canada, whether in the form of U.S. bases or “visiting” marines, troops and warships, and the culture of militarization is not addressed. It is enough to have disastrous social consequences for the people, particularly young women and girls. TONY SEED

Four British Royal Navy sailors have been charged by Canadian authorities for the alleged gang rape of a civilian woman at a military barracks at Shearwater in Eastern Passage, Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). Joshua Finbow, 23, Simon Radford, 31, Darren Smalley, 35, and Craig Stoner, 24, all face sexual assault counts.

CFB SHearwater.mapShearwater is an old air force base first established by the US Navy in 1918 during World War I for its strategic position on the North Atlantic, current base for the Royal Canadian Air force’s 12 Wing Shearwater helicopter operations in support of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, and venue for an annual air show. Located on a sea channel in Eastern Passage, the Shearwater Jetty contains docks and shore-based infrastructure that largely supports the fleet operations of Maritime Forces Atlantic, as well as providing secure docking facilities (isolated from downtown Halifax) for US and NATO warships including nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers, “visiting” for “rest and recreation.” Shearwater is the base for the Rapid Reaction Force launched under the Harper regime. It functions as the home to the elite Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic, which participated in an ice dive from April 8 to 18 to explore, survey and map the HMS Erebus of the ill-fated Franklin expedition beneath the Arctic ice in the vicinity of Victoria Strait, Nunavut. In 1983 the Pentagon named the Canadian base as a strategic “forward deployment operating base” for U.S. fighter squadrons stationed in New England in the event of war with the Soviet Union.

The accused are reportedly part of a visiting British Navy hockey team participating in a military hockey tournament. Interestingly, no information has been released as to the military units of the British personnel, nor why a hockey team from the United Kingdom had even been invited to Halifax for what one is supposed to believe was a weekend beer-league event. The Halifax Chronicle Herald reported on April 18 that “Jason Price, the president of the CFB Halifax Hockey League, which is based at Shearwater, said he doesn’t know anything about the tournament the British sailors were playing here.” (CFB is acronym for Canadian Forces Base – ed.)

CBC News reports that the alleged assault took place at a party with drinking at the barracks late on the evening of April 9 or early April 10. Halifax crown prosecutor Scott Morrison told reporters outside court Thursday April 16 that the men are accused of having subjected the young woman to a “group sexual assault.” The British newspaper The Guardian reported that the woman is 21.

RELATED: 5,000 British Army troops to take part in exercises in Canada, April 26, 2014

In flagrante delicto

Information is still partial and in a state of flux. Although the media has focused on the military police’s investigation and the British sailors, it seems clear that the main reason these charges were laid in the first place was due to the silent courage of the young woman who went to a civilian hospital in Dartmouth and raised the alarm.

The crime also reveals a far greater issue than four individual British sailors who have dominated the headlines. Rape or gang rape is a criminal offence in Canadian law and viewed as a heinous crime in Canadian society. We are not dealing with an isolated case nor an aberration nor are we dealing with “tourists.” We are dealing with members of the armed forces of the US-NATO bloc, who have been given carte blanche on Canadian soil. We are dealing with a port where the ruling elite and Maritime Command have historically resorted to common prostitution as one more service to sell the warships during “Liberty visits” through the “Dial-a-Sailor” and other informal “hospitality” programs (see below). Violence against women and young girls may seem par for the course in this society but the official response to this incident is also a comment on the state of affairs that prevails in federal law enforcement and their attitude towards and relations with the Anglo-American foreign powers. It turns the spotlight on the concept of the Rule of Law applied to members of their aggressive armed forces.

The crisis for the Harper government is evident from statements that the entire 20-member Canadian Military Police local unit is involved in the investigation, along with at least two crown prosecutors. This compares with the minuscule forces deployed by the Harper government to find the missing Aboriginal women and the shameless statement by Harper that the missing women “are not on my radar.” This is how the Canadian state stands aloof of violent crimes against women, First Nations and the polity, virtually dissipating and relegating them to the dustbin of history, without ever having to render account. Yet the mere allegation of rapes in Libya in 2011, later revealed to be without foundation, was enough to justify the NATO war of aggression and Canada’s participation under the “responsibility to protect.”

The criminal assault on the Canadian military base by foreign sailors who have been caught in the crosshairs is clearly on the government’s radar. The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service commander Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Bolduc admitted in a statement that the reports were “disturbing.” The British Defence Ministry told England’s The Telegraph Friday that it was aware of the allegations and that “The Royal Navy takes allegations of this nature very seriously, however as legal proceedings continue it would be inappropriate to comment further,” a spokeswoman told the paper. The implication is that any comment in public opinion violates due process of law. The aim of this moralizing discourse and stiff upper lip is to shut down commentary, opinion and compassion for the victim, until due process runs out and to facilitate media manipulation in the meantime, which plays a  regular role in justifying foreign intervention abroad as at home.

The crown and local media appear to be going out of their way to normalize and depoliticize the assault and reduce the uncouth and uncivilized behaviour of foreign military personnel towards Canadians to one of a matter of “British citizens” or “typical tourists” – a unique and isolated local incident. The Chronicle Herald convivially refers to the accused as “the Brits.” In an article portraying the British military personnel as “typical tourists,” CBC reported its discovery of a web cache of their Facebook pages, concluding that “Their social media posts show them doing fairly average things when they got here, visiting different parts of the city and remarking about the weather.” The social media posts were however quickly erased: The Royal Navy’s Ice Hockey Facebook page was taken down immediately after news broke about the alleged assault and at least one of the sailor’s pages, Darren Smalley’s, has been taken down.

But how can such an embarrassing crime be kept quiet or framed as “business as usual”? Three of more British newspapers immediately carried news reports, as did teleSUR in Latin America and Naharnet in Lebanon, and the news was flashed across Canada. One source close to the investigation told The Telegraph: “I expect very high-ups in both the Canadian and British navies are going to be watching this case closely.”

At the highest level, the Command-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Canada, to whom the “Royal” was reattached by the Harper government in August 2011, is vested in Her Majesty The Queen, as declared by the Constitution Act 1867, as it had been vested in all her predecessors. Based on this archaic arrangement, enshrined in the constitution that vests sovereignty in a foreign monarch and not the people, the Queen and most other members of the Canadian Royal Family (sic, House of Windsor) also act as colonels-in-chief, honorary air commodoresair commodores-in-chief, admirals, and captains-general of Canadian Forces units. Prince Charles is Colonel-in-Chief of six Canadian regiments. Although this is portrayed as merely ceremonial, the attitude towards the members of the Royal Navy is indicative of something else. The murkiness of the crime and the response by the crown prosecutors  in Halifax is all too suspicious.

Private arrangements v public authority: Just what is being negotiated and why?

Prosecutor Morrison told reporters outside court Thursday April 17, “Obviously the fact that they’re British citizens adds a different complexity to dealing with bail, because we have to ensure that they will attend court to be dealt with according to the law. So that might slow down the bail negotiations.” It seems that “British citizens” occupy a special category – even inverted – before the law. No such “complexity” is faced by Canadian residents of Arabic or Islamic background detained by CSIS on mere suspicion (not formal charges) of vague terrorism-related affiliations, for whom the lock and key is simply thrown away.

It is evident that the crown privately began plea bargaining with representatives of the accused even before charges were formally laid in court.

Four days later, on April 21, the Halifax Chronicle Herald reported Crown prosecutor Eric Taylor as stating that “We’ve been in (bail) negotiations for a few days now, speaking to a number of parties — members of the Canadian Forces, members of the Royal Navy through the British High Commission, members of the Canadian Forces National Investigation service.” 

The Crown must represent public authority, the authority of the Rule of Law. Neither Morrison nor Taylor revealed why such private “negotiations” were taking place, nor do they seem to have been asked by local media. If they were simply “British citizens,” “the Brits” or “tourists,” then why is it apparent that the “negotiations” were at highest level of the British and Canadian military commands and diplomatic missions? Why has the commander of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service been brought into the picture and quoted publicly? Did Britain “waive” their so-called “primary right of jurisdiction” over its soldiers? (The NATO Status of Forces Agreement grants the state of nationality primary criminal jurisdiction with respect to their nationals stationed on the territory of another state.) Is Britain not obligated to cooperate in the gathering of military information to be turned over to Canada as the host state under the NATO Status of Force Agreement (NATO-SOFA) or not? Why this equivocation and debate?

After a weekend in a local lock-up, the four British sailors were quickly released on what appears to be extraordinarily lenient terms: on their own recognizance on $3,000 bail each. They were driven away from the court by one Michael O’Sullivan, who is identified as “a Royal Navy commander who works with the British High Commission in Ottawa,” who “met with the sailors Monday in the cells area of the courthouse.” The British commander moralized that “The allegations are serious and we are ensuring that we assist the Canadian authorities with their investigation,” O’Sullivan told reporters after the men appeared in court. The nature of this “assistance” is also left in the shade.

The accused have been ordered to remain in Nova Scotia, surrender their passports within the following two days and stay at 12 Wing Shearwater, a remote suburb of the HRM. They are to be hosted and lodged by the Canadian Forces. Morrison said they are not under house arrest and are free to come and go as they wish. In another curious ruling, “Judge John MacDougall also prohibited the Brits from possessing weapons except as required on the job.” This raises the question as to the real nature of their presence at Shearwater and in Canada in the first place. Is this the ruling of a civilian court or a military court?

The irrationalism of the explanation given by the prosecutor Taylor for the bail is ridiculous. “Cash deposits are often based on where an accused will be and since these four individuals appear to be planning to reside locally (sic), we determined cash bail based on that amount,” he said. Referring to the United Kingdom as if it was a nearby neighbourhood in close proximity to the court, he said “If it looked as though they would be living far away from the jurisdiction of the court, we’d be seeking a greater cash bail.” Defending the arrangement, Taylor said the four accused will apply to live in Atlantic block at CFB Stadacona, the headquarters of Maritime Command, which is located in Halifax’s North End and very near the centre of the city. He said they are not under house arrest and are free to come and go as they wish. Why this convenient arrangement, and who will pay the rent and pick up their tab was not disclosed, nor asked about. All four men are to appear before a judge May 27 to elect whether they want to be tried in provincial court or in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

A delicate problem

The presence of foreign troops on “liberty” persists as a delicate problem for the Canadian bourgeoisie, which has handed over the territory of Canada to the big powers and NATO bloc for imperialist war preparations and as a base from which to launch intervention abroad. The Shearwater assault points to a crisis: not only is the Harper government, the Department of National Defence and Maritime Command making special private arrangements for the British soldiers but the courts in Halifax seem to be letting them get away with it.

This is the result of the integration of the Canadian Forces into the U.S. armed forces and annexation of the territory of Canada by Anglo-American imperialism and the NATO bloc. At present, the Harper government provides training bases, territory and port facilities for the United States (too numerous to list here), Britain (CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick; CFB Suffield in Alberta), France (port visits, Halifax), Germany (air force training in Goose Bay, Labrador), Israel (air force training in Cold Lake, Alberta), Poland (troop training in Quebec) and Ukraine (language and staff training), etc. This year over 5,000 British troops are to exercise in Canada. It is hard to find a single day of the year when U.S. troops are not exercising in Canada. They are augmented by units of the U.S. Border Service, Coast Guard, CIA and FBI, etc, which are now permanently stationed within Canada. Since 1965, over 4,800 training positions in the Military Training and Cooperation Program in Canada have been filled by armed forces in the Americas. In 2014, the Harper government provided training to over 300 military personnel from the Americas through the program, mainly from the English-speaking Caribbean states such as Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, which have become U.S. economic dependencies.

The grave social, political and economic costs experienced by peoples throughout the world from the presence of foreign troops and bases, including by the people of Canada, are never mentioned. No government agency compiles data on crimes committed on Canadian territory by foreign military personnel: no data, no problem.  And, given the gross underreporting of violent assaults on women, it’s impossible to know how many have been committed by foreign military personnel.

The notorious “Dial-a-Sailor” program and broad popular opposition

Furthermore, the alleged gang rape by the British sailors reveals a notable problem for the bourgeoisie and its disinformation: the presence of U.S. and NATO warships and marines on “liberty” in Halifax – a NATO port, naval centre and most heavily militarized city in Canada. The people of Halifax have a living and direct experience with these troops, the accommodation of the ruling elite of the city and the culture of militarization. The media-backed glorification of the armed forces has become an ever more prominent feature of social life.

It is not ancient history that, beginning in 1981, as U.S. warships began to move into Canadian ports on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts in ever-increasing numbers, the Halifax Chamber of Commerce and media such as the Chronicle Herald and the now defunct Halifax Daily News hosted and promoted the despicable “Dial-a-Sailor” program. In parallel, the city was turned into an arena for an orchestrated series of militarist spectacles and extravaganzas – the annual Nova Scotia Military Tattoo (1979-), “Freedom of the City” ceremonies, open houses, visits of “tall ships”, fleet reviews featuring convoys of NATO warships, and annual air shows – that were unleashed to present imperialist war preparations as normal, creators of jobs, etc. For the ruling elite, militarism and chauvinism were and are crucial order to mobilise the necessary cannon fodder from amongst the youth, to pacify port and marine workers, and to suppress the broad popular opposition to war.

It emerged that the “Dial-a-Sailor” program – camouflaged as a local initiative in down home hospitality – was directly organized by the U.S. Navy in ports throughout the world during the 1980s. An identical program was launched in Vancouver in 1981 to greet the arrival of the massive aircraft carrier USS Ranger, portrayed in the media at the time as “the beginning of a love affair between visiting U.S. crews and the city.” Similar programs were unleashed in Australian and Asian ports in Japan, Okinawa, South Korea and Philipinnes.

RELATED:  ‘Liberty visits’ – Return of the ‘Dial-a-sailor’ program?June 22. 2007

RELATED:  Liberty ‘visits’: who will pay the bill? June 22. 2007

Young people were a particular target. Women and young girls were regularly enticed through “public service announcements” in the media of the target ports to “invite a U.S. Marine or Sailor to a social event” on the occasion of a “liberty visit” by a U.S. warship in violation of their civil rights. The real nature of the program to prostitute young women and girls was laid bare by the 1990 U.S. and Australian pornographic film by the same name, “Dial A Sailor.” (See related article, “‘Liberty visits’ – return of the ‘Dial-a-sailor’ program.”)

In Halifax, anti-war activists of the People’s Front (the predecessor to the No Harbour for War organization) repeatedly called on Haligonians and women and young girls during the 1980s to take a stand against such bribery and corruption by the imperialists and the culture of militarization, as a component part of the steadfast, anti-imperialist No Harbour for War program. It must also be said that this cultural aggression was facilitated by conciliators in the anti-war movement under the pretext that only the visits of American “nuclear” warships were to be opposed by Haligonians. Subject to broad protests and indignation, this venal program was finally disbanded by the U.S. Navy due to popular opposition throughout the world. Nevertheless the imperialist assault by the U.S. armed forces and the elite continues in other forms.

This opposition and the revulsion of Haligonians to the uncivilized and uncouth behaviour characteristic of foreign armed forces was to the extent that since at least 2007, following the death of an American sailor in a social contradiction at a Halifax night club, U.S. sailors were quietly instructed to deploy ashore for “liberty visits” in Halifax in a buddy system. Further, the U.S. Navy was permitted to operate its own “shore patrols” on Canadian soil with the collusion of Maritime Command and the Harper government. It is assumed that these units possessed extra-judicial as well as extra-territorial powers in violation of Canadian sovereignty.

Impunity for foreign troops

What the government and the media cannot afford to acknowledge is that the marines on board such warships “visiting” Canadian ports are guaranteed virtual sanctuary under the Visiting Forces Act, which provides broad immunity to foreign military and civilian personnel of countries designated by the Royal Prerogative – the executive order of the “Governor in Council” (i.e., the cabinet, or the Minister of Defence), to states ranging from the United States to Ethiopia. (Visiting Forces Act (R.S., 1985, c. V-2 at The highly visible arrest of the four British Navy soldiers and the outrageousness of the crime provides a conundrum to the government and military and civilian prosecutors, which cannot place themselves above the Rule of Law on these matters; how to disentangle itself from a prolonged public trial, publicly wash its hands of the British soldiers, and still manage to ensure and even modify the private arrangements vis-à-vis the stationing of foreign forces in Canada.

It is believed that as a result of these acts and other private arrangements, Canadian officials are not allowed to arrest American alleged rapists because of immunity agreements between the U.S. military and Canada known as the unequal Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The arrangement with Britain is unknown other than the SOFA-NATO. As a condition of its dictate, the United States demands immunity for its military personnel in foreign basing, as the whole world sees since the perversion of Abu Ghraib in Iraq. [1] This has also happened in Canada. In the late 1980s, U.S. sailors were charged with raping young women in Québec City. They were quickly released to the U.S. Navy under protection of the Visiting Forces Act and escaped punishment by fleeing Canadian jurisdiction on their departing warship. Everyone should remain vigilant as events unfold in Halifax and the military and civilian authorities reposition themselves.

2015.04.18.Bill C-51.Ottawa.Our securityThe “sexual assault” of Canadian women is not an isolated problem. The imperialist military nurtures a culture of sexual violence and contempt of women that is linked to the rape and sexual abuse of women in occupied countries or countries where the U.S. has military bases as well as rapes and assaults of women in U.S. prisons and jails and the battering or wives and partners of U.S. personnel. Allegations of widespread sex crimes by the U.S. military are unprecedented in recent years. In the Philippines, legal documents show that from 1981 to 1988, 2,005 cases were filed against U.S. servicemen in the former Subic Naval Base and 1,269 cases were filed against the U.S. servicemen from the former Clark Air Base. All were dismissed. In Japan, sexual and violent cases such as rape or indecent assault are often not made public, so the number of actual cases is considered much higher. [2]

RELATED: US military sexually abused at least 54 Colombian children

In reviewing the records of rampant criminality among the U.S. military, journalist Nick Turse reported this week in that a Pentagon survey estimated that 26,000 members of the armed forces were sexually assaulted in 2012, though just one in 10 of those victims reported the assaults.  In 2013, the number of personnel reporting such incidents jumped by 50 per cent to 5,518 and last year reached nearly 6,000.

In the larger context, the operations of the U.S. and British militaries in Canada are not for Canada’s defence but are part of the imperialists’ plans to establish a global network of military bases or “hubs” centred on U.S. dominance.  The continued presence of Anglo-American troops in Canada – whether in the form of U.S. bases, visiting marines or troops and the “liberty visits” of their warships –is a serious threat to the well-being of the Canadian people, as well as the people of the United States and the whole world. These are troops of U.S. and British imperialism, a predatory force which aims to take over the whole world with utter disregard for international laws or civilized norms of conduct between nations and peoples. 

These foreign military bases in Canada and Canada’s integration with the U.S. military profoundly damage not only Canadians’ desire to contribute to peace in the world, but the sovereignty of Canada and the rights of Canadians. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the Visiting Forces Act through which the U.S. and other militaries carries out crimes and indignities against the people of Canada and other countries throughout the world must be scrapped. 

Not only must all crimes committed by foreign troops against Canadians be prosecuted by upholding the Rule of Law, but Canada must withdraw from all aggressive military blocs, declare the NATO and NORAD military treaties and private arrangements null and void, and bar all foreign troops and security units at the border. All foreign troops must leave Canada immediately.


1 The Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) and Access and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) are the US military’s most effective instrument for cementing the gains of the close relationship developed with its security partners in its interests. Historically, the very first SOFA agreement was with Canada and Newfoundland & Labrador, which became the model for the deployment of armed forces within NATO governed by the NATO Status of Forces Agreement (NATO-SOFA) of June 19, 1951. This then became the model for enslaving treaties regarding bases with Japan, Iceland, the West Indies and the agreement between the United States and Canada modifying the Lease Agreement regarding the Newfoundland Bases of the United States of February 13 and March 19, 1952, TIAS 2572.

In some countries such as South Korea (and previously South Vietnam), the SOFA is the legal mechanism governing U.S. occupation; it is an unequal treaty that enables U.S. soldiers to act with impunity against Korean civilians.

A Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is an agreement between a country and a foreign nation having military forces visiting in that country. Visiting forces agreements are similar in intent to SOFAs. A VFA typically covers forces visiting temporarily, while a SOFA typically covers forces based in the host nation as well as visiting forces.

The Visiting Forces Act ( R.S., 1985, c. V-2 ) provides that the service authorities and service courts of a visiting force may exercise within Canada in relation to members of that force and dependents all the criminal and disciplinary jurisdiction that is conferred on them by the law of the designated state to which they belong. “Visiting Forces Act ( R.S., 1985, c. V-2 )”. Canada Department of Justice. 1985.

The typical provision in U.S. VFAs is that U.S. military courts will have jurisdiction over crimes committed either by a service member against another service member or by a service member as part of his or her military duty, but the host nation retains jurisdiction over other crimes. The 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States and states, in part, that:

The custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.(emphasis added) – Article 5 item 6 of VFA (Criminal Jurisdiction)

2 More recently: “Four US soldiers in Kiev raped two underage girls”

Четверо американских военных в Киеве изнасиловали двух несовершеннолетних девочек

One of the girls had just turned thirteen, the other one was younger. Two of the criminals  are employees of private military companies, the other two  belong to the personal staff of Lieutenant General Hodges in Wiesbaden.

“Japan PM says Okinawa rape case “unforgivable”

(Reuters) – “Japan’s prime minister Tuesday denounced the suspected rape of a 14-year-old girl by a U.S. Marine on the southern island of Okinawa, an episode with echoes of a 1995 case that jolted the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

“U.S. Navy seaman accused of raping a 12-year-old Japanese girl”


Filed under Canada

2 responses to “British Royal Navy sailors arrested and charged for alleged gang rape in Halifax

  1. Pingback: Murky affair of accused British Royal Navy sailors gets murkier | Tony Seed's Weblog

  2. Pingback: Patrick Brown: Am I missing something? | Tony Seed's Weblog

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