Air force officers reinstated after reprimand over offensive pilot call sign

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Two air force officers who were handed reprimands and minor pay suspensions for failing to enforce the military’s orders on preventing sexual misconduct will resume their posts, says the commander of the 1st Canadian Air Division.

Lt.-Col. Corey Mask, who was suspended last summer as commander of 409 Fighter Squadron in Cold Lake, Alta, has been reinstated, Maj.-Gen. Iain Huddleston told CBC News.

The suspension initially was kept under wraps and was not reported publicly until CBC News questioned the Department of National Defence in October as the military investigated the fallout from a so-called “call sign party” last summer.

Huddleston said a second officer, Col. Colin Marks, also will be allowed to assume command of the air wing at the country’s other main fighter jet base — CFB Bagotville in Quebec. The ceremony to install Marks was slated for early last September but was publicly postponed due to the investigation.

A disciplinary hearing last week saw both Mask and Marks reprimanded and fined for not intervening after a sexually inappropriate call sign was assigned to a junior pilot, who had just arrived following training.

“In this particular case, both officers recognized the mistakes they made and the harm that was caused,” Huddleston said, adding that the two leaders fully accept responsibility for their failure to step in.

“I have confidence that both officers will work hard to be the change we want to see in the RCAF, having learned from this experience.”

Multiple defence sources told CBC News last October that a junior officer inappropriately bestowed a sexually-charged call sign on a junior pilot, with the concurrence of other members, at a social function at the Cold Lake air base on June 23, 2022. 

The sources, who spoke on background, alleged that the officer, a long-standing member of the fighter pilot community, was the instigator.

A military spokesperson says the process for assigning call signs is being reviewed. (Submitted by City of Cold Lake)

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 a sexual fling during training with another second lieutenant — a woman who was in a committed same-sex relationship.

While Mask and Marks were present, they apparently did not take part in the vote but did fail to step in to shut it down when they learned of it.

The unidentified junior officer, and others present, also faced administrative discipline over the incident but the defence department refuses — citing privacy reasons — to explain what happened to them.

CBC News is not publishing the call sign because it is offensive.

In an interview with CBC News last fall, Huddleston said the process of assigning call signs will be reviewed and formalized to provide better oversight.

“I expect this new approach will be ready early in the New Year,” Huddleston said Tuesday.

No date has been set for Marks to take over command at 3 Wing in Bagotville, Que.

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