By Rob Drinkwater
The Royal Canadian Air Force is investigating a sexual misconduct allegation against a Snowbirds pilot, and the aerobatics team will be performing a plane short for the time being.
The commanders of 1 and 2 Canadian Air Divisions issued a statement on Saturday saying the allegation has been made against a member of 431 Squadron, which is based in Moose Jaw, Sask., and the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service is investigating.
Department of National Defence spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said the member is a pilot with the aerial acrobatics team, but she noted no charges have been laid.
Lamirande said the department isn’t releasing where or when the alleged misconduct occurred.
The department’s news release said the person affected by the alleged misconduct is also a member of the military.
It said the Snowbirds will perform air displays as an eight-aircraft team, instead of nine, for the foreseeable future.
“The pilots do a number of training exercises before the show year begins,” Lamirande said of why the team can’t just fly with another pilot.
“To sub someone in, we’d have to have a spare (CT-114) Tutor pilot that is fully trained and underwent the same exercises as the other ones. At this point, we don’t have someone who is trained and ready to go.”
The DND said the member facing allegations has been reassigned to non-operational duties at 15 Wing Moose Jaw. It noted the measure “does not imply any outcomes and is intended to enable a robust investigation.”
It further said the affected person and impacted CAF members are being provided care and support.
“The RCAF takes all allegations of this nature seriously and is cooperating with investigators fully,” the release stated.
The Snowbirds team are scheduled to perform in Dieppe-Moncton, N.B., this weekend.
In a review of sexual misconduct in the military ordered by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and released last year, retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour called for the Canadian Armed Forces to be permanently stripped of its jurisdiction over the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault and other related crimes.
Lamirande said the military is not able to disclose reasons why investigations, including the one involving the Snowbirds pilot, may or may not be referred to civilian police “in order to prioritize a victim centric approach and maintain the integrity of an ongoing investigation.”
“There are various reasons that exist as to why a case cannot be referred which include allegations that occurred outside of the country, a victim’s reluctance to participate in a police investigation, or a preference for an investigation to be conducted by the military police,” she said.
Some provinces and municipal police forces have complained about the need for more funding and other resources to absorb the military’s cases into their own systems.
Defence Minister Anita Anand said last month that a federal-provincial-territorial committee has been set up to facilitate conversations between deputy ministers about the transfer of cases of criminal sexual offences.
The military said in May it has referred 93 cases of criminal sexual offences to civilian police since December 2021, and 64 of the cases are under investigation.
Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2023.