ARCHIVED - Minister's Response to Ombudsman's Follow Up

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Dec 14, 2009

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 October 14, 2009, concerning the Canadian Forces policy and programs in response to the findings and recommendations from the special report entitled When a Soldier Falls: Reviewing the Response to MCpl Rick Wheeler’s Accidental Death.

In your correspondence, you identify two areas of persisting concern: insufficient information, support, and assistance to the families of deceased Canadian Forces personnel; and insufficient progress on amendments to Board of Inquiry (BOI) and Summary Investigation policies and processes.

In 2009, as part of the Canadian Forces commitment to improve the care and support of ill and injured members, their families, and the families of deceased personnel, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces established the Joint Personnel Support Unit, a new Regular Force unit of the Canadian Forces. It consists of Integrated Personnel Support Centres (IPSC) from coast to coast which are one-stop centres integrating the services of the Canadian Forces and Veteran Affairs Canada to ensure that members and families have access to timely and relevant assistance, information, and support.

As a result of the Wheeler Report and other recommendations, a national standard for assisting officer training was established and the Directorate for Casualty Support Management began national assisting officer training in 2007. Additionally, as a result of this report, the Assisting Officer Guide was rewritten to address several of its recommendations.

Assisting officers are a vital link between the Canadian Forces and the families of the deceased. They provide unlimited assistance and guidance through the initial bereavement period, ensuring families receive compassionate support and consideration, as well as comprehensive information regarding financial entitlements, services, and programs. Assisting officers may also serve as a point of contact for families requesting a copy of the investigation report, when completed.

Formal transitional processes have been established between the assisting officer and the local IPSC manager to ensure that once the mandate of the assisting officer concludes, families will have continual and seamless professional support.

In addition to the organizational systems established to enhance support for the families of deceased personnel, the Operational Stress Injury and Social Support family bereavement program (HOPE – Helping Others by Providing Empathy) provides peer support to families of deceased Canadian Forces personnel. Furthermore, planned enhancements to the Military Family Service Program, targeted for implementation in 2010, will ensure ongoing professional mental health and community support services for the families of the fallen.

With respect to departmental processes pertaining to BOIs and Summary Investigations, the Department of National Defence has instituted a very successful, mandatory two-day training period for participants in the BOI process. I am pleased to advise that an interactive, online Summary Investigation training package has just been tested and finalized. This training package will be available online in the very near future. Drafting of revised departmental policy is complete and is being staffed internally for approval and promulgation.

Canadian Forces policy has been to investigate unexpected non-combat deaths, and the direction that this be in the form of a BOI or a Summary Investigation remains. The recommendation that a BOI must be convened is not supported. The Canadian Forces understands and is fully supportive of the need to provide as much information as possible to the families of our fallen comrades. Where practical and appropriate, the family will be allowed to attend sittings of a BOI. Exclusion will be the exception; however, Canadian Forces policy will not direct that the family be given full standing as a matter of routine.

I trust this information is helpful, and thank you again for writing.



Peter MacKay

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