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In the category of understating the obvious, last week the Department of National Defence released the results of an audit. The auditor's findings concluded that the organization within DND which was responsible for a drunken 2017 VIP junket dubbed the "party flight" had been operating for years without proper oversight.
“Without formal administrative controls and guidelines, events may not be planned and executed in accordance with mandatory requirements, including obtaining appropriate expenditure authorities” the audit stated.
In layman’s terms, this means that without specific rules in place the personnel at the time with the P.R. Operations Program had no way of knowing what was considered excessive.
To put some perspective on this whitewash, we need to revisit the details in the 2017 party flight that set this audit in motion.
These VIP junkets originated as morale boosting tours for Canadian troops fighting in Afghanistan and serving in other overseas operations. They were usually led by the chief of defence staff and included a mix of celebrities, athletes, musicians and retired NHL hockey players.
The 2017 VIP flight was bound for Greece to entertain the crew aboard a RCN frigate and then to Latvia to mingle with Canadian troops there.
By all accounts, the trip went off the rails before this flight even left the ground. Some VIPs were visibly drunk when they boarded the RCAF Polaris aircraft, and they continued to drink once airborne. At least one VIP was so over-refreshed that he urinated on himself.
The band on this tour was the Carpet Frogs – a 70’s rock & roll cover band. To get things even more festive, they set up their instruments and amps in the aircraft cabin.
Facebook video of the incident captures the Carpet Frogs blaring out a version of the Doobie Brothers hit China Grove. The organizer of the P.R. Operations Program is visible in that video dancing to the beat.
According to the flight crew, some of the VIP passengers were abusive and disrespectful, some travellers chewed tobacco and left plastic cups full of the sludgy residue in the cabin.
A more serious incident resulted in a sex assault charge against former NHL’er Dave "Tiger" Williams.
The cost to taxpayers for this Caligulian extravaganza was around $337,000.
While the recent audit did not evaluate whether or not DND received value for these flights in return for the tax dollars spent, I think it is safe to say on this case the answer is a resounding no.
As for the auditor’s suggestion that the guidelines were not clear enough for the P.R Operations Program organizers to follow, this is complete hogwash.
Civilian airlines do not allow intoxicated passengers to board aircraft, and in ordinary circumstances military flights are strictly dry. There is also a no chewing tobacco rule for RCAF flights and anyone who has passed their Smartserve alcohol course knows it is illegal to continue serving people who are visibly drunk.
Flight safety rules prohibit passengers from having a carry-on case on the floor of the emergency exit row, so I’m pretty sure it is against regulations to use a guitar amp to block an entire aisle during flight.
As for getting value for the tax dollars spent, this party flight resulted in DND getting a $337,000 public relations black eye, not the least of which stemming from the charge of sex assault against Williams. For the record the charge against Williams was dropped after the ex NHL’er apologized for his actions.
Which brings us to the point of just who exactly are these morale boosting junkets aimed at?
At best our young servicemembers would think to themselves "Tiger Williams, my dad would be impressed.” Ditto for the Carpet Frogs and the music they play, which was popular before any of the rank and file were even born.
It would seem that these junkets were organized more for the entertainment of those senior military generals who travelled with the VIPs rather than to truly raise morale of our young troops.
The audit also noted that “given the significance of those events as well as the increased public scrutiny … practices supporting this program need strengthening.”