ARCHIVED - Ombudsman Updates Minister on Concerns of Military Families

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March 8, 2011

The Honourable Peter MacKay, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of National Defence
National Defence Headquarters
Major-General George R. Pearkes Building
101 Colonel By Drive
13th Floor, North Tower
Ottawa, ON K1A OK2

Dear Minister MacKay:

This is further to my letter of December 10, 2010, and my commitment to provide you with a status update on the treatment of military families who, as detailed in our previous correspondence to you, have endured the death of a Canadian Forces loved one.

My Office has been briefed on the various initiatives that are being considered by the Canadian Forces, as referred to in your correspondence of December 2, 2010. It was our understanding that these initiatives were proposed but had yet to be approved by Vice Admiral Bruce Donaldson, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff. I had the pleasure to meet with Vice-Admiral Donaldson on February 11, 2011, and ask for a status update.

On February 25, 2011, my Office was informed that Vice-Admiral Donaldson had approved the Chief of Review Services' action plan aimed at streamlining the Board of Inquiry and review process and that they are moving ahead for implementation. We will continue to monitor the developments in the hope that these initiatives will ensure that families are kept informed from the moment they are apprised of the death of their loved one until they receive, in a timely fashion, a copy of the Board of Inquiry report.

My Office was also in contact with each of the military families to confirm the following information:

The Allen family

Mrs. Elaine Allen is the widow of Master Corporal Mark Allen who died of a heart attack while on sick leave on August 31, 2008.

As indicated in my December 1, 2010, letter, Mrs. Allen was advised in September 2010 that the Summary Investigation into her husband's death was completed and forwarded to the Commander 1 Canadian Air Division for endorsement.

In November 2010, Mrs. Allen advised our Office that she was read a letter from the Commander 1 Canadian Air Division that accompanied the Summary Investigation that was submitted to the Chief of Air Staff. She was also informed that, in the letter, the Commander 1 Canadian Air Division did not support the finding that Master Corporal Allen's death was as a result of service.

Mrs. Allen was informed on February 2, 2011, that the Summary Investigation report was sent to a cardiologist for review and that this review could take another month. After the cardiologist has completed the review, the Summary Investigation report would then be further analyzed and the Chief of Air Staff would provide recommendations. She was promised monthly updates by the Wing Commander. Mrs. Allen stated that, when the Canadian Forces are late in providing updates, she contacts them directly.

On March 1, 2011, Mrs. Allen indicated that, if she did not hear from the responsible officer by March 7, 2011, she would contact him for an update. Mrs. Allen is expecting the Canadian Forces to respect their commitment and provide her with a copy of the Summary Investigation report within the next six months.

The Gibson family

Mr. and Mrs. Gibson are the parents of Corporal Stephen Gibson who was killed on September 26, 2003, in a traffic accident on a public road while carrying out his military duties.

The Gibson family met with the Chief of Land Staff G1 Investigator on December 20, 2010, and they were provided with a complete copy of the Board of Inquiry report. They were pleased to finally receive the information that they had originally requested through the Access to Information Act in May 2004.

The Grozelle family

Mr. Ron Grozelle is the father of Officer Cadet Joe Grozelle who died in October or November 2003 while attending the Royal Military College in Kingston.

Mr. Grozelle was contacted by the Director of Casualty Support Management on February 16, 2011, to share the following information: the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service cannot yet provide specific answers to Mr. Grozelle's questions, no date for a meeting or attendees can be confirmed at this time and "the CFNIS will be in touch as soon as the picture becomes clearer". Mr. Grozelle continues to wait.

The Fynes family

Mr. and Mrs. Fynes are the parents of Corporal Stuart Langridge who committed suicide on March 15, 2008.

The Fynes family have been in ongoing communications with the Director of Casualty Support Management since December 2010. The Director of Casualty Support Management provided an interim response to questions raised by the Fynes family but also advised that a full response would be given at the debriefing on the Board of Inquiry, and this would take place as soon as the report is approved. However, no date or tentative date was provided at this time.

A representative of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service contacted the Fynes family on February 18, 2011, to schedule a meeting and to provide them with a debriefing on their investigation. The Fynes family asked for their lawyer to attend the meeting. The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service informed them on February 24, 2011, that a meeting would no longer take place and they would be provided with a letter.

The Fynes family still have concerns with the Board of Inquiry process in that they believe that some of the witnesses interviewed had a vested interest in the outcome of this process, whereas others who could have shed more light on the situation were not interviewed. They continue to wait for a debriefing on the Board of Inquiry report.

The Ouellet family

Their son, Bombardier Jérémie Ouellet, died in Afghanistan on March 11, 2008, while awaiting repatriation for an ankle injury.

Their daughter and the sister of the deceased, Marie-Chantal Ouellet, met on February 24, 2011, with the Chair of a new Board of Inquiry. She was provided with a list of witnesses before the Board plans to schedule interviews. Ms. Ouellet expressed concerns that some of the issues raised in the family's letter of December 5, 2009, to Lieutenant-General J.G.M. Lessard have not been included in the mandate issued to the Board of Inquiry. Specifically, the Ouellet family is concerned that their son, Jérémie, who had been asking for a transfer out of Shilo to a francophone base was told that he had to go on operations in Afghanistan in exchange for a transfer to another base.

We have recommended that this matter be addressed by the Board of Inquiry.

The Sorbie Family

Mrs. Marie-Anne Sorbie is the widow of Chief Warrant Officer Joel Sorbie who died of a heart attack on August 31, 2006, after participating in a Terry Fox run organized by his base.

Mrs. Sorbie was pleased to receive a visit from the Director of Casualty Support Management on January 20, 2011, and she was provided with a copy of the Board of Inquiry report. Mrs. Sorbie expressed that, for the first time in almost five years, she was given the opportunity to bring closure to her painful loss.

I take good note of this long awaited progress that has been made in contacting the families and providing them with updates and information. I thank you for your assistance in this matter. As indicated, some of the families still require further follow-up and information. I also want to take this opportunity to inform you that more families, who unfortunately have had similar experiences, have contacted my Office and I have informed the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff accordingly. We continue to work with the Canadian Forces and to assist, in any way we can, to bring information to these families who continue to grieve the loss of their loved one.


Pierre Daigle

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