Message from the Ombudsman (May 16, 2014)

This is the first of many updates I intend to provide over the coming years.

I’m honoured to serve as Ombudsman to the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces. I’m new into the job – this is week five – but the transition from my previous role as Deputy Veterans Ombudsman has been a relatively smooth one.

I’ve had a number of opportunities to meet with senior leadership from the Department and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). In all my meetings there has been universal agreement that the Ombudsman model works well and the office provides a vital service to the defence community. 

I have been struck by the extent of the professional and collaborative working relationship between my staff and all levels of the Department and CAF.  The public release of a report, and the department’s response to it, rarely marks the starting point for addressing our recommendations or findings. The reality is that in many cases, flagged issues or concerns are tackled as soon as they are brought to the attention of the Department and CAF by my office.

I gratefully acknowledge the fine work of my predecessors. In particular, the Ombudsman’s office has been at the forefront of identifying areas for improvement in meeting the needs of ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces personnel.

Harmonizing the transition process for ill and injured CAF personnel to Veterans Affairs Canada care and life as a civilian is a priority for both Departments of National Defence and Veterans Affairs, so too is it for the offices of the veterans ombudsman and defence ombudsman.  To that end, we are already working together.

Yesterday, I testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence. I confirmed that I had received approval from the Minister of National Defence to proceed with an investigation into the treatment of cadets impacted by a grenade explosion which occurred at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier on July 30th, 1974. Six cadets were killed and dozens injured.

The mandate of the Ombudsman office took effect in 1998, therefore investigations into issues which predate the mandate require ministerial authority. My predecessor wrote to the Minister seeking his approval to conduct an investigation last year. We have now started the investigation planning phase and will move quickly on this issue.

Gary Walbourne

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