ARCHIVED - Overhauling Oversight: Ombudsman White Paper - Letter and Summary

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March 30, 2005

Rt. Hon. Paul Martin, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
Room 309-S, Centre Block
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A2

Hon. Bill Graham, P.C., M.P.
Minister of National Defence
13th Floor, North Tower
101 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0K2

Hon. Albina Guarnieri, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Veterans Affairs
460 Confederation Building
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Sirs and Madam,

I am pleased to provide you with a copy of my Ombudsman “White Paper” which outlines my vision of effective military oversight.

It has been both an honour and a pleasure to serve as Canada’s first Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces (DND/CF). During my seven years of service, I have had the opportunity to acquire a wealth of knowledge and insight into the workings of the Department and Canada’s military. I have been uniquely positioned to observe from an outside yet informed perspective, both DND/CF’s shortcomings and weaknesses as well as its successes and strengths.

Prior to concluding my service as Canada’s first military Ombudsman, I feel it is incumbent upon me to share with you my experience and my views regarding the future of oversight for the defence community.

During my tenure as Ombudsman, I have  had the privilege of working with DND/CF leaders in order to achieve significant improvements to the welfare of the members of Canada’s military and their families. I have seen first hand their exemplary accomplishments both in Canada and abroad. I have witnessed their sacrifices and struggles. I have also observed the distinct challenges that they face on a daily basis. It is from this perspective that I am offering my views on what is required to provide them with fair, efficient and effective mechanisms to address their complaints and to ensure they are treated with respect.

As I leave the Office of Ombudsman, it is my sincere hope that this “White Paper” will serve as a vehicle to pave the way forward for effective military oversight in Canada. Our CF members who give the ultimate in service to their country deserve no less.

Yours truly,

André Marin

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Executive Summary

Canadian history shows that civilian oversight of the military is required. This became clear under the intense light of the Somalia affair at a time when increased attention to the Canadian military revealed an institution that was suffering from leadership and morale problems, a failed grievance process, an increase in reported incidents of sexual harassment, and a culture that gave insufficient attention to the quality of life of its soldiers. Recent history in this country has also shown that the most efficient and effective way to deliver that oversight in a manner compatible with the need for ultimate military authority is by an ombudsman’s office. Moreover, it has become abundantly clear that there is a burning need to rationalize the dispute settlement agencies of the Canadian Forces. Based on any performance measure the way to do that is evident:

(1) There is no need for a separate dispute settlement regime for military police complaints. These matters can be handled more effectively and far less expensively by an ombudsman’s office.

(2) In the interests of efficiency and fairness, Veterans Affairs matters should be referable to the same ombudsman’s office, which deals with veterans’ complaints about Department of National Defence (DND) and Canadian Forces (CF) issues.

(3) Resistance to permitting an ombudsman’s office to complement and improve the grievance process should be put aside. Where a matter can be resolved without grievance adjudication through the intercession of an ombudsman, it should be encouraged.

As effective as an ombudsman has been in resolving complaints and addressing systemic issues within the Canadian Forces, an ombudsman’s office will not achieve its full potential or make its optimum contribution as long as there are pockets of resistance within the military. Attitudes must change in the interests of the institution. In order to accomplish this, the Government of Canada must show the way by making a commitment to the Office by entrenching it in legislation so that it will have permanence, the tools it needs, and indisputable legitimacy.

New pages are unfolding as I leave the Office of the Ombudsman. Now is the time to make sure that those pages turn forward and not back.

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I will be the DND/CF Ombudsman for only a few more days. I have learned many things during my time in the job. It would be remiss of me not to share those lessons with you before my departure. They are important to the welfare of DND/CF members,and therefore to the welfare of all Canadians.

The first thing I learned as DND/CF Ombudsman may seem trite but it is anything but. I learned just how important civilian oversight of the military is. I of course knew that having civilian oversight was important before I took on the responsibility of this Office. With the benefit of hindsight and experience, I appreciate it more intensely now. In the past seven years, we in the Office of the Ombudsman have met members of DND/CF who have been variously frustrated, jaded, angry,and even desperately unhappy as a result of their experiences within the military. We have spoken to family members tormented by the fallout of misjudgement. We have seen how problems can undermine morale, commitment, and ultimately careers. And we have seen first hand, almost on a daily basis, through the work that has been done in the Office, how a modicum of distance, an outside perspective and a relationship of trust can defuse situations, solve problems, and reduce acrimony. Civilian oversight, if exercised well, quite simply improves not only the lives of those who are in the Canadian Forces, but also the institution itself.

We have also observed how we were able, using civilian oversight and proactive investigative practices, to identify and provide meaningful solutions to broad-based and long-entrenched problems. We have provided proactive strategies and solutions for tackling systemic problems. It should come as a surprise to no one, then, that I am leaving this position as a strong advocate for entrenching and improving the Office of the Ombudsman.

I appreciate that my vista is from the driver’s seat, and that consequently these observations will appear to some to be self-congratulatory and perhaps a bit harsh. I also appreciate that there are many others within the military equally committed to improvement. The record of this Office, however, catalogued in annual and public reports and in countless media pieces speaks for itself. No one can credibly deny the impact that this Office has had. In the last seven years, we have processed more than 9,000 complaints, released 18 special reports to the Minister of National Defence, and conducted dozensof major investigations, each of which has resulted in meaningful improvement to the Canadian Forces. We have done soexpeditiously, and under budget. And we have done so without the cost and acrimony of litigation. We have left a vapour trail of satisfaction, save perhaps among those few who would prefer to bury problems rather than learning from them and moving forward. The brief history of this Office shows that civilian oversight of the military works. I am not being smug about this. An ombudsman’s office could do even better. As I will explain in this “White Paper”, it could do better if it is given the tools it needs and a mandate that permits it to solve a full range of problems.

It is because of the heightened understanding that I now have of the importance of what the Office of the Ombudsman does, and my resolve to see an ombudsman’s office with the tools it needs to maximize its potential, that I am presenting this “White Paper.” I have decided that I must do it even though it will not be a flattering portrayal of the DND/CF problem-solving approach to date, of the other dispute settlement institutions that have been created within DND/CF, or of the culture that continues to prevail within pockets of DND. I am presenting this “White Paper”  because I care intensely about the welfare ofthe DND/CF members. I have said it before, and I am fully aware that it may sound hackneyed and melodramatic, but it is a truth that does not become less so in the repeating: Canadians owe more than a debt of gratitude to our military personnel and simply must treat them well.

The men and women who serve this country work for modest wages, sacrificing personal control over their own lives even when that lack of control requires difficult compromises not only by them but also by their families. These men and women do notjust serve this country in the laudable fashion that other civil servants do – they make a pact with us that they will put their lives on the line for Canada. The pages of history show that many have fallen, tragically some during the very time that I have held this Office. It is easy to care deeply about the welfare of people who do so much. It should therefore be easy to understand that I could not leave this job with a clear conscience unless I did all that I could to help make the military experience as positive and rewarding as it possibly can be. In the days ahead, I will not be able to offer my advice. What I am left to offer now that I am leaving is my candour and my vision for the future – a vision that has not been dreamed up in the abstract in some boardroom. It has been hewn, a stroke at a time, from the real wood of experience. In the hope that they will help those in power to make the right decisions, I therefore offer the lessons that I have learned. I am certain that those with open minds who are well intentioned will benefit from what I have to say.

Those lessons lead to the following conclusions:

(1) The legislative complaint mechanisms grounded in the National Defence Act, the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) and the grievance process, are failing. They are failing because they are not allowed to be sufficiently independentand because they are premised on adversarial models, administered by bloated bureaucracies. They are expensive andineffective.

(2) There are pockets of resistance to civilian oversight that have been bred in a military culture that is at times self-protecting and resentful of effective oversight. When a critical report is issued, a damning “you made us look bad” isthe response most often heard from the CF leadership, instead of a reaction that lends itself to fixing the underlyingproblem identified in our findings.

(3) The way forward requires:

(i) rationalizing the confusing network of dispute settlement mechanisms within DND/CF. This can be done by expanding theuse of the ombudsman model to include resolution of military police and Veterans Affairs matters and by welcoming theombudsman’s contribution ; and

(ii) entrenching a military ombudsman’s office in legislation and giving it the permanence, tools, and legitimacy it needsto maximize its potential.

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Continue to Part Two

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