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Sailor who deserted ship gets reprimand, fine

Lt. Derek De Jong and his wife Maria head from court after his court martial in Halifax on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. De Jong was given a severe reprimand and a $5,000 fine for deserting his post on a navy supply vessel in September 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan -
Lt. Derek De Jong and his wife Maria head from court after his court martial in Halifax on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. De Jong was given a severe reprimand and a $5,000 fine for deserting his post on a navy supply vessel in September 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
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By Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

HALIFAX - A Royal Canadian Navy officer was given a severe reprimand and a $5,000 fine Wednesday for deserting his post on a supply vessel after alleging he faced harassment and ridicule.

Lt. Derek de Jong told his court martial that prior to deserting on Sept. 17, 2012, he was subjected to behaviour that at one point involved a female colleague urinating in his cabin. HMCS Preserver was docked at Key West, Fla., when he left the ship.

The defence asked for a reprimand and a fine, while a military prosecutor wanted de Jong reprimanded and demoted one rank to sub-lieutenant. The maximum possible sentence in the case was five years.

Speaking outside court, de Jong said he felt the sentence was just.

"I feel the courts were more than fair. I had assumed the penalty would be greater than a severe reprimand and $5,000," said de Jong, 43.

"As the judge said, I'm being given a second chance. I hope I can re-earn the respect of those appointed under me."

Military judge Col. Michael Gibson said it is completely unacceptable for a senior officer to "pick up their marbles and go home" even if he was being mistreated.

Gibson didn't accept the harassment allegations as a mitigating factor in the sentence, saying de Jong could have pursued other methods to resolve his grievances.

"There are many appropriate mechanisms, but you did not engage them or persist in engaging them," said Gibson. "Instead, you chose to run away."

De Jong said he has launched a formal grievance over the alleged harassment.

"Those should be dealt with at a later date I hope," he said.

At a news conference later in the day, Commodore Scott Bishop, the commander of the Atlantic navy fleet, said he heard about the urination incident after de Jong left the ship.

Bishop said "remedial actions" were taken against the accused officer but he declined to give details of what those were. He said the woman is still in the navy.

"We had a process there and it was followed," he said.

Bishop said now that de Jong's court martial is over, the navy can examine his harassment allegations.

"There will be a formal investigation that will look at the entirety of the issue to find out what is at the bottom of Lt. de Jong's allegations and we'll go from there," he said.

During the court martial, defence lawyer Maj. Sara Collins argued that de Jong had an "impeccable" service record and the unqualified support of his superior officer.

The agreed statement of facts in the case says de Jong signed a letter to his commander on the day of his desertion. It says he had been working in a toxic environment and that he had visited the sick bay and requested to be sent back to Canada for medical reasons.

The statement says despite attempts by a senior officer to persuade him to stay, de Jong left the ship in civilian clothes. He flew back to Halifax where he turned himself in to military police.

During testimony earlier this week, de Jong said his decision to leave was wrong and he feels remorse for it.

He said a medical examination completed after he returned to Canada indicated he was suffering from excessive stress and a heart condition.

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