TORONTO – Canada's top general tried to calm troops at the country's largest Air Force base on Wednesday after the base commander was charged with the murder of two women and the sexual assault of two others.
Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's chief of defense staff, acknowledged that it has been an emotionally difficult time since Col. Russell Williams was arrested Sunday and charged with the murder of two women, including a soldier who was under his command.
Williams was once an elite pilot who flew prime ministers.
The charges rocked the military and hurt morale.
Natynczyk spoke to the troops of Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Trenton, Ontario, where Williams was appointed the base commander last July.
"I'm here in a very difficult time," Natynczyk said. "We all feel this shock. Emotionally it's very difficult to deal with."
Natynczyk said one soldier questioned whether troops should wear their uniforms outside the base.
"I said 'Stop that. We can't go back. We go forward, and we are proud to wear our uniform,"' Natynczyk said.
Trenton is Canada's busiest Air Force base and is providing logistical support for Canada's missions in Afghanistan and Haiti as well as supporting security operations for the Vancouver Winter Games.
It is Canada's most high-profile base because thee bodies of all soldiers killed in Afghanistan are flown there.
Williams is charged with the first-degree murder of Jessica Lloyd, 27, a Belleville, Ontario, resident whose body was found Monday, and Marie Comeau, a 38-year-old corporal found dead in her Brighton, Ontario, home in November.
Williams is also charged with forcible confinement, breaking and entering, and sexual assault after two women were assaulted during two separate home invasions in the Tweed, Ontario, area last September.
Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, citing several unnamed sources, reported that Williams confessed to the crimes in a lengthy statement after his arrest. The paper reported that he allegedly guided police to the body of Lloyd and delivered his statement in an "almost businesslike fashion."
Natynczyk said he met Williams on a number of occasions when he visited the base during repatriation ceremonies for soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Williams was photographed with Natynczyk and Defense Minister Peter MacKay just three weeks ago during an inspection of a Canadian aircraft that was on its way to support relief efforts in Haiti.
Natynczyk said Williams will be removed from command.
He said he's not aware of any previous complaints about Williams. He said the military leadership is reviewing his history.
Maj. Gen. Yvan Blondin, the direct commander of Williams, has said Williams was considered a "shining bright star."
Williams, 46, is a career military man who has been stationed across Canada and internationally.
Between December 2005 and June 2006, Williams was the commanding officer for Camp Mirage, the secretive Canadian Forces forward logistics base that is not officially acknowledged by the government or military but has been widely reported to be near Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Investigators are looking at other areas where he has been posted and other crimes that have gone unsolved to see if there are any similarities.