Murky affair of accused British Royal Navy sailors gets murkier

Aberration of due process in Nova Scotia

By TONY SEED

2014.10.25.Toronto-Anti-War-08cr3Four British naval personnel accused of a heinous crime have been moved from CFB Stadacona in Halifax to British base in Alberta. The Harper government, its Department of National Defence and Maritime Command are making special private arrangements for the British soldiers, and the courts and the crown in Halifax are letting them get away with it.

News agencies report that on May 1st the head of Maritime Command of the Canadian Forces ordered four British Royal Navy sailors – accused of sexual assault at a military barracks at CFB 12 Wing Shearwater – to leave the CFB Stadacona military base in Halifax, where they had resided since April 21, by the end of the day. With the sanction of the crown prosecutor’s office and a Nova Scotian provincial court, they were transferred to the British Army Training Unit in Suffield, Alberta (BATUS), which is leased from the Canadian Department of National Defence. [1] How the soldiers were transferred from one end of the country virtually to the other has not been revealed.

Details of the extraordinary move only contribute to what has become a murky affair.

The four British navy personnel were arrested on April 17 at CFB Shearwater. The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service charged each man with one count of sexual assault causing bodily harm and one count of sexual assault committed with one or more other persons.

The accused were reportedly part of a visiting British Navy hockey team participating in a military hockey tournament. No information was 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 was 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.” The Royal Navy’s Ice Hockey Facebook page was taken down immediately after news broke about the alleged assault. In another curious ruling, “Judge John MacDougall also prohibited the Brits from possessing weapons except as required on the job” – raising the question as to the real nature of their presence at Shearwater and in Canada in the first place.

After a weekend in a local lock-up, on April 21 the four British sailors were quickly released after appearing in provincial court on what appeared to be extraordinarily lenient terms: on their own recognizance with $3,000 cash bail each. The accused were ordered to remain in Nova Scotia, surrender their passports within the following two days and stay at 12 Wing Shearwater, located in a remote suburb of the HRM, but were immediately  transferred to CFB Stadacona on the Halifax peninsula. They were to be hosted and lodged by the Canadian Forces. All four men are to appear before a judge May 27 to elect to be tried in provincial court or in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

They were driven away from the court by one Michael O’Sullivan, 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 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.” One source close to the investigation told the London, UK The Telegraph: “I expect very high-ups in both the Canadian and British navies are going to be watching this case closely.”

The Chronicle Herald convivially referred to the accused as “the Brits” and the CBC portrayed the British military personnel as “typical tourists.”

Several more questionable aspects of the case have now emerged.

“Planning to reside locally’

Firstly, the rationale for the sudden change in the bail conditions of the accused. Crown attorney Scott Morrison told Canadian Press, “They have deposited their passports and they are still as far as I understand employed by the British military. So based on the plan we have in place we’re still confident that they will not be a flight risk.”

The statement completely contradicts earlier statements by Halifax crown prosecutors made when the accused were arraigned in provincial court on April 21. As reported by this blog, crown prosecutor Eric Taylor stated at that time:

“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.” (Emphasis added)

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.” (Emphasis added)

Defending the arrangement, Taylor said the four accused would 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.

Yet now the accused have been transferred to Alberta, a distance of approximately 4,500 kilometres, without any other changes in their bail conditions, including the amount of cash bail. The concept of “residing locally” seems to be quite elastic!

“It’s not good for morale, welfare and discipline” – “As commander, I get to exert my will in that manner”

Secondly, the reason for the sudden transfer of the accused. Both the CBC and Canadian Press news reports feature statements by Rear Admiral​ John Newton, head of Maritime Command, to the effect that “the men’s two-week stay at the Halifax base was long enough, and he had his own people’s welfare to consider.”

Rear Admiral John Newton, the commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic, asked the men to leave CFB Stadacona by 6 p.m., Crown attorney Scott Morrison said outside court.

Morrison deferred questions about why the men were no longer welcome at CFB Stadacona to the Canadian Forces.

The Forces could not be reached for comment.

“It’s an unfortunate situation but it’s not good for morale, welfare and discipline, so two weeks was long enough in my mind,” he said.

“As commander, I get to exert my will in that manner.” (Emphasis added)

“Those conditions — which were exerted on us“

Thirdly, who is driving this trial. CBC reported the following:

The commander of Canada’s East Coast navy, Rear Admiral​ John Newton, said the four were no longer welcome at the Halifax base and had to leave by 6 p.m. on Friday.

“My role in this was only to provide a bridging mechanism for the High Commission and for the Royal Navy from the turmoil of the allegations to the charge being laid and I fulfilled that part as an ally and a sister service to the Royal Navy,” Newton told CBC News.

“That period of time had elapsed and we just wanted to re-approach the court to have those conditions — which were exerted on us, probably for too long a time — changed to allow the British High Commission to deal with their own people.”

From the foregoing, it seems evident that

  1. Instead of the crown representing public authority and the rule of law, the Halifax crown prosecutor’s office and the provincial court  changed the rationale behind the extremely convenient bail conditions according to dictates of the military;
  2. Canadian military rank-and-file at CFB Stadacona were up in arms that foreign soldiers accused of the gang rape of a young Canadian women were being sequestered on the base, such that within two weeks of their presence there was an issue of “morale, welfare and discipline”;
  3. The court case is being politicized by the Harper government’s Department of National Defence, which is negotiating special private arrangement with the British Ministry of Defence – with the head of Maritime Command, in his own words, stating he was serving as “a bridging mechanism …I fulfilled that part as an ally and a sister service to the Royal Navy” – which are being rubber stamped by the civilian legal system;
  4. NATO Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) as well as Canada’s Visiting Forces Act generally grant impunity to foreign personnel (the state of nationality) to crimes committed in the course of military duties when stationed on the territory of another state – what is euphemistically termed “primary right of jurisdiction” – but that they come under the jurisdiction of the host country for crimes which were not committed in the course of military duties. The Halifax trial is being quietly organized behind the scenes as if the accused should enjoy every impunity from the rule of law;
  5. The Harper government’s so-called “zero tolerance” for violent crimes against women and its criminalizing of “Barbaric Cultural Practices” is a fraud. “Zero tolerance” does not mean to uphold the rule of law and to defend the rights of all. Maximum tolerance is being extended to the four accused British military personnel. In similar cases involving crimes committed by occupying U.S. military personnel in foreign countries such as the Philippines or Okinawa, evidence came out that maximum pressure was exerted on the victim to withdraw the charges of sexual assault, recant and remain silent. This is done to suffocate all opposition so that all crimes committed by foreign military forces are made acceptable and to impose a system of criminalization of those who oppose such forces and the imposition of a culture of silence and denial; and
  6. The new normal – the attempt to get Canadians to accept the conception of a “rule of law” based on a permanent state of exception, where the police agencies and special forces are in charge and the civil power is without power. The standing army and police forces play such a role wherever the sovereign power does not rest in the hands of the people.

It must not pass! This reaffirms that:

  1. Everyone should remain vigilant as events unfold in Halifax and the military and civilian authorities reposition themselves;
  2. 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; and
  3. 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.
  4. Canadians need a government which will defend their rights. Canadians need a new and modern democracy.

Endnote

1  At the time, the massive Maple Resolve military exercise in Alberta involving Canadian, American and British troops was just ending. According to an operating agreement between the Canadian and British departments of defence announced on November 4, 2013, five thousand British troops were to train on Canadian territory within the first year.

RELATED: British Royal Navy sailors arrested and charged for alleged gang rape in Halifax, April 22, 2015

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

RELATED: CFB Suffield: Britain to train thousands of troops in Canada, November 14, 2013

 
 
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