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Fighter squadron commander removed from post after probe into sexually explicit pilot call sign

Fighter squadron commander removed from post after probe into sexually explicit pilot call sign
Fighter squadron commander removed from post after probe into sexually explicit pilot call sign 20 October 2022 02:00 PM: The commander of one of Canada's frontline fighter jet squadrons has been removed temporarily from his post, CBC News has learned.

It's part of the fallout from a military police investigation into the decision to assign an allegedly derogatory, sexually explicit call sign — a military nickname — at an informal social gathering on June 23, 2022.

The police investigation resulted in administrative charges against three officers on Thursday, according to a statement from the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal.

Lt.-Col. Corey Mask, who has led 409 Fighter Squadron, attended a gathering at the Canadian Forces Base in Cold Lake, Alta. known as a call-sign review board.

According to three sources with knowledge of the file — who were not authorized to speak publicly — Mask was removed from his post at the end of August and assigned other duties.

The move to take Mask out of command was not made public by the military but was confirmed to CBC News this week by the Department of National Defence.

His reassignment happened as the air force announced it was postponing the change of command ceremony for another senior leader, Col. Colin Marks, who had been slated to take command at the country's other main fighter jet base — CFB Bagotville in Quebec.

In a statement Thursday, military police said they charged two senior officers with service infractions for "having failed to effectively enforce" regulations related to combating sexual misconduct.

The statement did not identify the two senior leaders. Sources said Mask and Marks were present at the social gathering at "the back of the room" and had heard the inappropriate call sign, which had been bestowed on an unidentified second lieutenant  — a man who recently had joined the squadron temporarily following flight training.

The third individual charged with a service infraction on Thursday was a junior officer accused of "undermining discipline, efficiency, or morale." Military police did not identify him either and said that "no additional information can be released."

Singled out over a sexual rumour

The sources, who spoke on background, alleged that the officer, a long-standing member of the fighter pilot community, was the instigator of the inappropriate call sign during the social function.

Call sign nicknames are usually assigned to established pilots and aircrew weapons controllers. In this case, the sources said, a young, recently-arrived second lieutenant was singled out over a rumour that he'd had sexual fling during training with another second lieutenant — a woman who was in a committed same-sex relationship.

According to tradition, the person being assigned the call sign must wait outside of the room while other military members vote on it. That happened in this instance but the sources all insisted that Mask and Marks did not take part in the vote.

Military police did not charge anyone else at the party who may have voted in favour of the inappropriate call sign.

'This is not a joke'

The female second lieutenant was also on temporary duty with 401 Fighter Squadron, which is co-located with 409 Squadron at Cold Lake. She heard about the derogatory call sign and initiated a complaint that was brought to Mask, the sources said.

The fact he did not immediately intervene or "call out the behaviour" upset a number individuals on the base, the sources added.

Call signs can sometimes be acronyms for rude personal references. CBC News has obtained screen grabs of texts referring to the call sign in question — including one in which Mask ordered members to stop using it. The order came after the second lieutenant's complaint.

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

"I need everyone to be very clear that this is not a joke," says one of the messages.

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

When interviewed earlier this week before the laying of service charges on Thursday, the commander of the 1st Canadian Air Division, Maj.-Gen. Iain Huddleston, wouldn't discuss the specifics of the investigation but said the air force needs to do better and learn from the incident.

'I thought we were well past this sort of thing'

He acknowledged the "temporary removal" of Mask and the fact that the air force did not reveal it publicly at the time. He said it was essentially part of the investigation and the postponement of the change of command ceremony was a public event that required disclosure.

He described the call sign as egregious and noted that the air force had gone through a process a number of years ago to weed out potentially offensive nicknames.

"I thought we were well past this sort of thing a number of years ago," he said.

Even after the purge of call signs several years ago, the process of assigning them remains informal and Huddleston suggested that should change.

The administrative charges laid on Thursday will be adjudicated by the commanding officers of each individual, military police said.

There are various possible punishments under the regulations, including fines, reduction in rank, forfeiture of seniority and severe reprimands.

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