ARCHIVED - Minister responds to Ombudsman's concerns

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December 2, 2010

Mr. Pierre Daigle
Ombudsman for the Department of
National Defence and the Canadian Forces
100 Metcalfe Street, 12th Floor
Ottawa ON K1P 5M1
 

Dear Mr. Daigle:

Thank you for your correspondence of December 1, 2010, concerning the treatment of families of deceased Canadian Forces members.

You highlight significant problems experienced by a number of families who have lost a loved one and urge the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces to effect changes to ensure that all families of Canadian Forces members are treated fairly and with compassion. Since my letter to you dated August 20, 2010, the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and the Chief of Review Services have been working together to improve our processes, which are focussed towards administrative excellence but which at times lack the compassion needed by families during these troubling times. To that end, the following initiatives are being reviewed for implementation:

  1. Revising the current format of standardized convening orders to streamline the process, reduce the number of findings, and decrease the overall time for completion;
  2. Reducing the number of levels of review required to approve a Board of Inquiry and/or Summary Investigation;
  3. Empowering the Administrative Investigation Support Centre with governance and oversight responsibilities;
  4. Publishing the repository of lessons learned on the Chief of Review Services Defence Information Network site, making them available to all members of the Canadian Forces;
  5. Developing an ongoing list of all board recommendations for follow-up and implementation;
  6. Continuously updating our training package for members tasked with the responsibility of conducting a Board of Inquiry;
  7. Reinforcing the inclusion of family members throughout the Board of Inquiry process to ensure transparency on all matters;
  8. Forming a working group among the Administrative Investigation Support Centre, the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal, and the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service to facilitate the sharing of information to enable the Board of Inquiry to begin as early as possible;
  9. Forming a working group between the Administrative Investigation Support Centre and the Directorate of Casualty Support Management to facilitate a more timely review process;
  10. Reinforcing the addition of a Military Police advisor to Boards of Inquiry to facilitate coordination with civilian police services and the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service;
  11. Liaising with allies to seek out best practices - initial contacts will be made with the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia;
  12. Adding a chaplain advisor to sensitive Boards of Inquiry to facilitate communication with families and provide guidance to Board of Inquiry members; and
  13. Introducing into the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff team a senior non-commissioned member who will track all sensitive Boards of Inquiry and/or Summary Investigations from a family's perspective to advise on timely interaction and staffing.

With respect to your concerns on the specific files discussed in your letter of December 1, 2010, I provide the following updates:

Corporal Stuart Langridge

The Board of Inquiry is under its final level of legal review. Upon completion it will be forwarded to the Office of the Chief of the Defence Staff for review and approval.

Due to the prospect of litigation, the Summary Investigation report to which you refer remains privileged in law and cannot be released.

Master Corporal Mark Allen

The file was received by the Chief of the Air Staff on November 22, 2010, and is currently under review. Once the Chief of the Air Staff review is complete, the file will be forwarded to the Directorate of Casualty Support Management for review and final approval. After final approval, Mrs. Allen will be apprised of the outcome and provided with a copy of the redacted report in accordance with the Privacy Act.

Corporal Steve Gibson

On November 23, 2010, Lieutenant-Colonel Hoekstra contacted Mr. and Mrs. Gibson and informed them that the Chief of the Land Staff was in the process of redacting the documentation in accordance with the Privacy Act and promised an update on November 30, 2010. A brief explanation was also provided to them regarding the process. This conversation lasted approximately 30-45 minutes.

On November 30, 2010, Lieutenant-Colonel Hoekstra contacted Mr. and Mrs. Gibson as promised on November 23, 2010, and they were brought up to date with the progress of the report. Arrangements were made to provide a further update on December 7, 2010, and arrangements will be made with respect to the delivery of the material to their residence in Ottawa. It was offered and accepted that this delivery would be in person and an explanation would be offered regarding any questions they might have. Mr. and Mrs. Gibson seemed appreciative of the update and indicated that they would accept the home visit during the week of December 13, 2010.

Officer Cadet Joe Grozelle

To date neither the Coroner's inquest nor the police investigations by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service nor the Ontario Provincial Police have been able to determine the cause, manner, or time of death, which understandably concerns the Grozelle family.

To ensure that nothing was overlooked throughout the investigative process, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service requested that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Office of Investigative Standards and Practices conduct a review of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service investigation. This review started at the end of 2008. The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service recently received the draft report and is reviewing it in consultation with the Ontario Provincial Police. The review will determine what, if any, further investigative action will take place by the Ontario Provincial Police (who remain the police service of jurisdiction).

It is anticipated that once all of the investigation follow-up is complete, all the police services will come together to provide Mr. Grozelle with an in-depth briefing.

Bombardier Jeremy Ouellet

The Board was assembled and trained but a decision was made to cancel the Board because of concerns from the family, the Ombudsman, and the Administrative Investigation Support Centre. On November 30, 2010, the Chief of the Defence Staff directed that the Board of Inquiry be held in the Province of Quebec and be conducted in French. A new Board of Inquiry will be stood up as soon as possible.

Chief Warrant Officer Joel Sorbie

The Board of Inquiry into the death of Chief Warrant Officer Sorbie will be finalized by the end of this week. Upon completion, arrangements will be made to debrief Mrs. Sorbie and provide her with a redacted copy of the report in accordance with the Privacy Act.

I believe the renewed commitment shown by the senior leadership of the Canadian Forces to improve how they investigate sensitive issues and the desire to improve how they communicate with the families of the fallen throughout this process will alleviate many of your concerns. As always, the senior leadership of the Canadian Forces would be more than willing to meet with you and your staff to keep you apprised of the status of the files you are working on. Your role as the advocate for the men and women of the Canadian Forces will ensure that we continue to move forward on these issues.

I look forward to working together to the betterment of all Canadian Forces members and their families.

Sincerely,
 

Peter MacKay

c.c. General Walter J. Natynczyk, CMM, MSC, CD
Chief of the Defence Staff

Vice-Admiral A.B. Donaldson, CMM, CD
Vice Chief of the Defence Staff

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