Swearing, drinking, mishandling weapons: How Hamilton-area soldiers get into trouble

A total of 48 disciplinary charges were laid against Hamilton-area soldiers in the past nine years — mostly connected to alcohol and weapons handling. The final story in a CBC Hamilton series on military discipline among area regiments.

A drunk ceremonial guard, cursing at an officer, public urination among disciplinary incidents

Soldiers serving with Hamilton-area units have been punished in dozens of discipline cases over the past nine years, with incidents ranging from swearing and drunkenness to sharing an intimate image without consent. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

On a July evening in 2016 a soldier with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, who reportedly drank "an excessive amount of alcohol" and threatened to kill his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend, drove off a Canadian Forces base with another soldier hanging from the hood of his truck.

That wild ride is just one of the incidents detailed in dozens of discipline records for Hamilton-area military units from the past nine years obtained by CBC News through Access to Information laws.

The list of 48 charges includes a $500 fine for a member of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) who participated in an "after hours" club at the Hamilton armouries and a $279.68 fine for another Argyll who told a superior instructing him in the operation of a vehicle to "chill motherf--ker."​

This week, CBC Hamilton is examining military discipline among area regiments, how the military handles misconduct and the issues it raises.

Part 3 in a series examining military discipline for units based in the Hamilton area. 

The list of charges compiles almost a decade-worth of disciplinary actions against soldiers with the Argylls, RHLI, 11th Field Artillery Regiment, 31 Signal Regiment, 705 Communication Squadron and 56th Field Artillery Regiment.

Rory Fowler summed them up in one word — typical.

A retired lieutenant-colonel who served as an infantry officer and legal officer with the Office of the Judge Advocate General said the charges against Hamilton-area soldiers are fairly typical, but still serious. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The retired lieutenant-colonel, who served in the Canadian Forces for nearly 28 years first as an infantry officer and later as a legal officer with the Office of the Judge Advocate General, said both the number and types of charges are similar to what he saw during his career.

"Frankly they're kind of common," he said. "Most of the charges that are there, I'm not surprised in the least."

But that doesn't mean the military doesn't take them seriously.

Most charges connected to weapons, alcohol

In a statement to CBC News Canadian Armed Forces spokesperson Maj. Doug Keirstead said the military does not tolerate misconduct of any kind.

Among the incidents is a soldier fined for racist language, one punished for public urination and four soldiers who were disciplined for viewing and sharing an intimate image without consent.

That case resulted in the most severe punishment laid out in the documents, a demotion in rank and recommended release from the Forces for a soldier who viewed the image and distributed it on social media. 

Other notable incidents include:

  • A member of the 11th Field Artillery Regiment was fined $300 for being drunk at the Army, Navy, Air Force Club during Remembrance Day observations.
  • A member of a local unit who was part of the Ceremonial Guard in Ottawa in 2013 was fined $110 and confined to barracks for three days after being charged with drunkenness and being absent without leave.
  • A member of the RHLI was charged with mischief under $5,000 contrary to the Criminal Code and reduced in rank for "willfully damaging" two tires.
  • A member of the 11th Field Artillery Regiment was fined $300 for failing to secure the firing lock and trigger shaft of a Howitzer while on duty at the Western Fair.

The majority of charges — 15 each — were related to drunkenness and serving alcohol or negligent discharges and other issues with weapons.

The 'demon drink' a serious problem

Soldiers receive specific eduction about about the military's policy on alcohol misconduct , according to Keirstead, who added supervisors are trained to recognize signs of alcohol misuse so they can help members access support.

"Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are serious problems," he said. "They harm basic social and military values and can undermine security, morale, discipline and cohesion in the armed forces."

When it comes to the military, drunkenness refers to impairment by both drugs and alcohol, Fowler explained. He noted soldiers are held to a high standard under which they can be charged for being unfit to perform their duties or acting in a manner while under the influence that brings discredit the Canadian Forces.

Rory Fowler says alcohol has been the bane of soldiers for years. (Taylor Studios)

Despite being a teetotaler, the lawyer said he's well aware of the effect a few "wobbly pops" can have on soldiers.

"Alcohol has been the bane of many soldiers' lives for decades if not centuries. It's the demon drink."

That demon was on full display two years ago when a Hamilton soldier, who had allegedly been drinking, climbed into his truck at Canadian Forces Base Borden and threatened to head to Hamilton to kill his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend.

Holding on for dear life

A redacted statement made by the soldier who ended up holding onto the hood was included in the discipline records and describes a hectic scene.

"(Blank) started to drive forward throwing me onto the hood of his truck, he did not stop," it reads. "As the car was driving down the street I started to fall off the hoos (sic) of the truck, my foot hit the ground as the truck was still moving. The momentum of the truck forced my knee backwards and I felt immediate pain."

The soldier clinging to the hood said he was yelling "STOP, STOP, STOP," as the driver continued down the street.

Four soldiers with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada were disciplined after an intimate image of a female soldier from a different unit was shared through Snapchat in 2016. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Just as he was about to fall in front of the truck, the other soldier finally hit the brakes. As he climbed down and demanded the driver get out, the soldier at the wheel reportedly threw the truck in reverse, almost hitting another person in the process, and drove off.

Both military and provincial police were contacted, according to the statement, but it's not clear what happened with the soldier, though he was eventually charged under the Forces' Code of Service Discipline with drunkenness and quarreling for fighting with the other soldier and "deliberately" hitting him with the truck.

Sometimes training tops discipline

When it comes to weapon handling, most of the charges for members of Hamilton-area units were for negligent discharges during training exercises or at firing ranges.

"The reason the Canadian Forces takes negligent discharges, even with blanks … seriously, is because you fight like you train," explained Fowler. "If somebody is careless with their weapon with blank rounds the worry is they might be careless with live rounds."

The John Weir Foote Armouries on James Street South in Hamilton houses several of the units mentioned in discipline records from the past nine years. (Google Maps)

That sentiment was echoed by Keirsted who said soldiers receive "extensive" training with their weapons throughout their careers to ensure "the highest degree of safety and responsibility as well as confidence."

Charges are one way to underscore the seriousness of negligent fire, but members who mishandle weapons are also provided with additional training to prevent similar incidents in the future, he added.

Extra training, rather than always relying on discipline, is an approach Fowler said he supports.

It's one thing if a soldier is "cowboyish" with their weapon —in that case he believes discipline can be the best course of action.

But, he said, a nervous soldier who hasn't had a lot of their experience might just need more "trigger time."

About the Author

Dan Taekema is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: daniel.taekema@cbc.ca