HMCS Toronto receives rare honour from U.S. Navy for anti-drug operations
A Canadian Navy ship has been awarded a rare commendation by the United States Navy for its impact disrupting drug trafficking off the coast of Africa.
The U.S. Navy’s top admiral was in Halifax on Friday to honour the crew of HMCS Toronto with the U.S. Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation.
In the last 45 years, the honour has been awarded to a unit outside the U.S. military only five times, and only twice to a warship.
This is the first time this honour has been awarded to a Canadian unit.
HMCS Toronto was recognized for the impact it had disrupting the flow of drugs off the coast of Africa, where it was deployed between February 2013 and 2014.
The warship’s crew “conducted 60 intercepts during that 13 months, with nine major drug seizures, totaling 8,500 kilograms of drugs,” said Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Mark Norman during his address.
Norman said the value of drugs seized “could outfit between 2,000 and 3,000 armed insurgents.”
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, told those gathered that he received so much intelligence about HMCS Toronto’s exploits that he was reminded of Butch Cassidy, the Wild West outlaw made famous by Hollywood.
When Cassidy’s posse was gaining notoriety, Greenert said, they would leave many wondering, “who are these guys?”
“And that’s what was going through my mind, ‘Who is this Toronto ship that keeps knocking out one after the other of these drug ships?’” Greenert said.
“We’ve worked with thousands of ships and they’ve all made special contributions, but nothing like this,” he said.
The commendation honours two crews who served on HMCS Toronto over a roughly one-year period.
The significance of the honour wasn’t lost on HMCS Toronto crew members like Master Seaman Brandon Bonnar, of Sydney Mines, N.S..
He was a member of a boarding party tasked with seizing drugs and, on occasion, the first one to arrive on the deck of a drug ship.
“It is very nerve-wracking when you’re the first man up over the ladder and you’re alone until the rest of your shipmates come up and over,” he said.
Four HMCS Toronto commanders accepted the honour on behalf of the navy, air force and army personnel who served on the ship.
“We are definitely aggressive when it comes to operations. We have a job to do,” said Navy Capt. Jeffery Hamilton, HMCS Toronto’s former commanding officer.
Richard Riley, the U.S. Consul General to Halifax, was also on hand.
“The U.S. Navy thanks you and, on behalf of a grateful nation, the United States of America, I thank you,” he said.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Rick Grant