ARCHIVED - Allegations Against the Canadian Forces - Executive Summary

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The Privacy Act

It is the policy of the National Defence/Canadian Forces Ombudsman to conduct investigations in private. Names are avoided in the Ombudsman's public reports where their use would disclose personal information about individuals. Despite these precautions, privacy cannot be absolutely guaranteed. Some people will know the identities of people referred to because they know their positions and titles, or are familiar with the circumstances of a matter investigated by the Ombudsman.
 

This case is different. The facts and issues involved are well known to the public through media articles and public statements - many by the complainant himself. From the outset, the investigation was undertaken on the understanding that the Ombudsman's final report to the Minister would be made public.
 

To ensure that the privacy rights of individuals investigated and reported on are respected, the Ombudsman's staff contacted all of the people subject to investigation, to let them know that the report would soon be made available to the public with their names in it, in conjunction with personal information about them. The overwhelming majority wanted their names left intact in the report.
 

Three names in the report are pseudonyms* - where the individuals in question preferred not to have their name published. We are satisfied that the integrity of the report is in no way compromised by the use of these pseudonyms. Other named individuals who provided factual information did so in the course of their duties, and this information did not constitute personal information about them.
 

Our consultations delayed the publication of the final report by a few weeks, but we believe our concerns about privacy were worth the extra time. During the consultations we notified the Privacy Commissioner of Canada of our intention to publish the report, gave him a copy, and explained our assessment of the strong public interest in this case which justified the approach we were taking to disclosure. The Privacy Commissioner's Office offered a number of suggestions, all of which we followed, to reduce the likelihood of disclosing personal information not germane to the report.
 

Table of Contents
 

Executive summary

Facts

The Ombudsman's Office conducted an investigation into complaints by Captain Bruce Poulin that he was the target of harassment, retaliation and reprisal. The complaints were referred to the Ombudsman's Office at the request of the Chief of Review Services, Department of National Defence (DND), after internal DND and Canadian Forces (CF) mechanisms had been unable to resolve various aspects of this matter, and in recognition of the need for an independent investigation by an objective third party outside the CF chain of command.
 

Captain Poulin is a CF member currently serving on staff within the Director General Public Affairs (DGPA) at National Defence Headquarters. On July 9, 1996, he submitted a memorandum containing allegations of inappropriate behaviour on the part of Colonel Serge Labbé to the Deputy Commander of Land Forces, then Major-General William Leach.
 

After Captain Poulin's memorandum became public during a press conference on June 17, 1998, Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) investigations were initiated into Colonel Labbé's alleged misconduct and Lieutenant-General Leach's alleged failure to respond to or act on the memorandum. The CFNIS found no evidence to support laying charges against Colonel Labbé and insufficient evidence to warrant charges against Lieutenant-General Leach; however, it did recommend that the chain of command review the matter from an administrative perspective.
 

Captain Poulin claimed that, after the memorandum was made public, he became the target of retaliation and reprisals, suffered adverse career consequences and was alienated from the CF community in which he works and lives; furthermore, he and his family experienced severe stress.
 

Internal DND and CF mechanisms were unable to resolve Captain Poulin's concerns. Efforts were made to resolve the dispute by referring it variously to the CFNIS, the military police complaints process, the Executive Director of Conflict Management, the redress of grievance process and the Chief of Review Services. Indeed, efforts to employ these processes led to further complaints by Captain Poulin.
 

The complaint submitted to the Ombudsman's Office consisted of four volumes of documentation, comprising 95 allegations against 24 individuals, including senior DND and CF leaders and managers. This investigation has been the largest completed by the Ombudsman's Office to date, taking approximately 22 months to complete and including more than 100 interviews of 85 different witnesses across Canada and abroad. It required review of more than 2,000 pages of interview transcripts and thousands of pages of records.
 

In keeping with the Ombudsman's role, the investigation was not conducted with a view to determining whether sufficient evidence existed to warrant charges under any act or regulation but focused specifically on whether the complainant in this matter, Captain Poulin, was treated fairly and equitably by DND and the CF.
 

The Ombudsman experienced excellent cooperation from most current and former personnel of DND and the CF contacted during the investigation. However, in some instances, both subjects and witnesses expressed a reluctance to share information because documents produced by the Ombudsman's Office during its investigation can be accessed under the Access to Information Act.
 

On March 5, 2001, the Ombudsman's interim report and recommendations were provided to Captain Poulin, to the subjects of the complaints and to the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal (CFPM) to permit their comments on the portions relevant to them. Upon careful review of all feedback received, clarifications and amendments were made where warranted, and the Ombudsman's final report was produced and submitted to the Minister of National Defence on May 11, 2001.
 

Findings

  1. Despite Lieutenant-General Leach's assertion that he did not recall having seen Captain Poulin's memorandum of July 9, 1996 regarding inappropriate conduct by Colonel Labbé, evidence provided by members of Lieutenant-General Leach's staff at the time revealed that the memorandum had been placed in his office and the matter brought to his attention on more than one occasion. Based on the evidence collected, the Ombudsman found that "it is highly unlikely Captain Poulin's July 9, 1996 memorandum containing allegations of misconduct against Colonel Labbé went unseen by Lieutenant-General Leach."
     

As a result of his findings, the Ombudsman made recommendations to ensure that current procedures are improved so that complaints brought forward to the CF chain of command are acknowledged, investigated and responded to in a timely manner. The Ombudsman recommended:
 

  • the routine logging and monitoring of correspondence;
     
  • written acknowledgement of complaints and a written response detailing any action taken, including the results of investigations;
     
  • if no written response or follow-up action is logged, the matter be brought immediately to the attention of the officer who is the immediate supervisor of the member who failed to log or follow up the complaint; and
     
  • if complaints are not dealt with promptly, the matter be referred to the Ombudsman's Office for review.
     

The Chief of the Defence Staff was receptive to the Ombudsman's recommendations and has undertaken  “that current guidance be reviewed and that direction with respect to the management of recorded information be strengthened, where appropriate.”  
 

The Ombudsman found that, had his complaints to Lieutenant-General Leach received prompt and fair attention, Captain Poulin would not have embarked on what has proven to be a five-year period of frustration and anxiety for many of those involved, most of all for him and his family. The Ombudsman concluded,  “This should not have happened and his [Captain Poulin's] experience underlies the importance of truly respecting the rights of CF members to voice concerns and seek remedies when they perceive injustices or problems. Only when complaints are taken seriously will real problems be discovered and rectified and misperceptions corrected.”  
 

The Ombudsman stated,  “In my view, the system failed Captain Poulin. It did so by failing to take prompt notice of the ethical concerns he raised in his July 9, 1996 memorandum.” He also concluded that General Maurice Baril's response to the CFNIS recommendation to review the matter from an administrative perspective was inadequate and  “contributed further to Captain Poulin's perception that the chain of command had again failed to acknowledge any wrongdoing and take corrective measures.”  
 

Drawing on examples from the Australian Defence Force, the Ombudsman recommended that  “General Baril should, as the commander of the Canadian Forces personnel, issue an acknowledgement of failure and regret on behalf of the chain of command to Captain Poulin and confirm to him personally the Canadian Forces' commitment to implementing procedures to ensure that when members bring forward issues and concerns to the chain of command they will be responded to in all cases.”  
 

In response to this recommendation, the Chief of the Defence Staff wrote,  “I deeply regret the breakdown in communication and the fact that both he [Captain Poulin] and his family suffered undue stress and anxiety as a result.”  The Chief of the Defence Staff accepted the Ombudsman's recommendation and wrote personally to Captain Poulin expressing his  “personal regret that the Chain of Command was not able to address [Captain Poulin's] concerns early on” and acknowledging the unfortunate impact that this has had on Captain Poulin and his family. He also invited Captain Poulin to meet with him to discuss the way forward. Captain Poulin responded to the Chief of the Defence Staff on April 20, 2001 accepting his  “unresolved expression of reget.”   
 

The Chief of the Defence Staff also endorsed the Ombudsman's recommendation that Captain Poulin be reimbursed for certain legal expenses that he incurred. These costs were expended when Captain Poulin sought legal advice in relation to a private letter to Colonel Labbé which had become public. The letter, written on CF regimental letterhead by a senior officer, expressed support for Colonel Labbé and made disparaging comments about Captain Poulin and his motivation in bringing forward his complaint.
 

2. Although the Ombudsman was not satisfied that the CFNIS investigation was inadequate, he found that there was inappropriate contact between the Chief of the Land Staff, who was then under investigation, and the CFPM. He also found that the Military Police should not have called Captain Poulin's complaint "vexatious." Furthermore, the Ombudsman found the CFNIS press release announcing the results of the investigation into allegations against Lieutenant-General Leach was misleading in at least three material respects.
 

In his review of the CFNIS investigation into the allegations of misconduct against Colonel Labbé, the Ombudsman found that there was no basis to conclude that the investigation was inadequate or that relevant witnesses had not been interviewed. With respect to the allegations against Lieutenant-General Leach for failing to act on Captain Poulin's memorandum, the Ombudsman noted that a different standard is applied by a police agency in determining whether sufficient evidence exists to warrant laying charges, and that it was beyond the mandate of the Ombudsman's Office to review police charge-laying discretion.
 

The Ombudsman also found that CFNIS investigators acted appropriately in not investigating other issues Captain Poulin raised during the course of their investigations. With respect to Captain Poulin's allegations that false information had been leaked to the media in an attempt to discredit him after his memorandum became public, the Ombudsman recommended that the CFNIS provide Captain Poulin with a formal, written explanation that they did not investigate this complaint because it fell outside their jurisdiction. As a follow-up to this recommendation, although an initial review by the Ombudsman's Office did not disclose evidence that Captain Poulin's personal information had been leaked, the Ombudsman directed his investigators to meet with Captain Poulin to explore whether he wished the Ombudsman's Office to further pursue this portion of his complaint in light of the findings contained in the final report.
 

The Ombudsman did not find the decision by the Deputy Provost Marshal Professional Standards to dismiss Captain Poulin's military police complaints was unreasonable in the circumstances. He did, however, conclude that, while the use of the term  “vexatious”  in dismissing Captain Poulin's complaints may have been technically correct according to military police policies, it was  “inflammatory and counterproductive”  in these circumstances. The Ombudsman recommended that the letter indicating that Captain Poulin's military police complaints were unsubstantiated be rewritten to remove the term  “vexatious.”  
 

The Ombudsman further concluded that a hand-written memorandum Lieutenant-General Leach submitted to the CFPM, then Colonel Patricia Samson, at the commencement of the CFNIS investigations did not influence or alter the terms of the investigations. He found nothing to suggest that Lieutenant-General Leach, then the Chief of the Land Staff, was attempting to interfere improperly in the CFNIS investigation in which he was implicated or that Brigadier-General Samson was personally vulnerable to undue influence.
 

However, the Ombudsman did conclude that the memorandum by Lieutenant-General Leach, which contained his personal version of events as well as descriptions of incidents in which he claimed to have assisted Captain Poulin, was inappropriate and created the perception that there was an attempt to improperly influence an independent CFNIS investigation. The Ombudsman commented that such perceptions serve to undermine public confidence in the CF and erode members' trust in leaders. He further expressed the view that it is unlikely that Lieutenant-General Leach would have written such a memorandum if directives from the Chief of the Defence Staff had been in place to discourage such actions.
 

The Ombudsman noted that, while it is the role of the Military Police Complaints Commission to deal with specific complaints of interference in particular military police investigations, there is nothing in the Accountability Framework for the CFPM and the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff to prevent the implementation of general policy directives and guidelines from the Chief of the Defence Staff. In fact, the Accountability Framework expressly confers upon the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff the responsibility to provide  “education and training to the chain of command and the members of the military police to assist in understanding their respective roles.”  In keeping with the Accountability Framework, the Ombudsman specifically recommended that the Chief of the Defence Staff ensure that appropriate directives are put in place to:

  

  • prevent actions by CF members that constitute, or may be perceived by a reasonable person to constitute, attempts to influence the course of military police investigations outside of the normal investigative process, and
     
  • ensure that, where incidents are referred to the CFPM for investigation, the referral comes from persons within the chain of command who are not identified as potential subjects of any allegations to be investigated.
     

He also concluded that the CFNIS press release that announced the results of the CFNIS investigations, entitled  “CFNIS finds no evidence to support allegations against Colonel Labbé and Lieutenant-General Leach,” was misleading in at least three material respects. The Ombudsman accepted the explanation of the former CFPM that there was no intention to mislead. He did, however, conclude that, as a result of the misleading effect of the press release, it appeared  “as though Captain Poulin had brought a largely groundless complaint against a superior officer, when such a conclusion was not the finding of the investigation.”  He commented that  “tremendous care must be employed not to release public statements that can be misinterpreted as spin-doctoring, whether due to inexactitude, over-simplistic headlines, the ambiguous employment of technical concepts such as 'chain of command' or failure to include all information needed to form an accurate impression.”  He noted that, when this happens,  “The first casuality is the reputation of the CF for openness and transparency; furthermore, the real credit for a job well done is not received.”  The second casualty is the  “little” person, as happened in this instance, when  “this press release left the impression that Captain Poulin's complaint had been found to be groundless, when it had not been so determined.”  The Ombudsman recommended that the CFNIS:
 

  • issue a further press release to inform the public of the complete results of its investigation into the allegations against Lieutenant-General Leach, including the fact that evidence was uncovered that other individuals within Lieutenant-General Leach's office had seen the memorandum submitted by Captain Poulin in July 1996 and were aware of its contents. The press release should also include the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service recommendation that the matter be reviewed from an administrative perspective by the chain of command.
     

The Ombudsman stated that he was  “disappointed and disheartened”  by the current CFPM's response to the recommendations in the interim report. He expressed concern that  “objections based on jurisdictional grounds detract from the substance of the issues and needlessly undermine the benefits that specific recommendations can accomplish.”  The Ombudsman strongly encouraged the CFPM to view his recommendations substantively and expressed hope  “that the CFPM will accept this opportunity to help remedy the instances of maladministration and unfairness that this Office has identified, and will come to view its contributions in the area of Military Police and the military police complaints process as a positive thing.”  
 

  1. The Ombudsman did not find that acts of reprisals and retaliation were committed against Captain Poulin.
     

The Ombudsman concluded that neither Captain Poulin's immediate supervisors and peers nor those involved in attempts to resolve his complaints abused their authority or engaged in behaviour designed to retaliate against him. Rather, the Ombudsman found that an ongoing conflict in the workplace that predated the public release of Captain Poulin's memorandum was exacerbated by Captain Poulin's lack of faith in the system after his complaints to Lieutenant-General Leach went unacknowledged.
 

The Ombudsman also commented that, given the amount of media interest in the ongoing CFNIS investigations, Captain Poulin's activities may have been monitored more closely at times than those of his peers; however, the actions of Captain Poulin's supervisors did not constitute an abuse of authority nor were they intended as a form of retaliation.
 

The Ombudsman stated,  “I view the ongoing stress and tension Captain Poulin suffered during this time and his feelings that he was being targeted and subjected to retaliation as directly related to the fact that serious allegations he had brought forward to the chain of command in 1996 had not been acknowledged or responded to.”  
 

The Ombudsman commented,  “Many people became implicated in the long ordeal that began with Captain Poulin's effort, on July 9, 1996 and again on July 15, 1996, to speak out on matters sufficiently important that he took the personal risks that reporting superior officers can entail. Many of those implicated did nothing wrong, undoubtedly contributing to the perception by some that Captain Poulin was a perennial complainer. The process whereby Captain Poulin's reputation was tainted and other persons exposed to the stress of being the subjects of his complaints might well have been prevented had his initial complaints been dealt with judiciously. Instead they languished. They lay dormant until made public nearly two years later, on June 17, 1998, when Captain Poulin's original memorandum of July 9, 1996 was circulated at a press conference. In the interim, Captain Poulin had no doubt come to suspect the worst, that the CF was not interested in his complaints or in addressing injustices, that it was closing ranks to protect its own and avoid public scandal.”  
 

Conclusion

The Ombudsman conveyed to the Minister his hope that "we will all learn from what has happened here" and that "this odyssey will come to a close for Captain Poulin and for all of those who have been implicated in this matter." He further expressed his desire that the recommendations which he and his staff have crafted will be implemented and that the Minister will use his good offices to prevail on those who would resist to reconsider their positions and place the best interests of DND and the CF and its members first.
 

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