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In the summer of 2012, Pierre Daigle got involved in a tangle with Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay and the Canadian Forces chief of military personnel Rear Admiral Andrew Smith. Mr. Daigle condemned the Department of Defence (DOD) and the Operational Stress Injury Social Support program (OSSIS) for their alleged unfair treatment and dismissal of two veterans while they were actively on duty and when they were later hired to peer-support soldiers who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
In response to Pierre Daigle's criticism of the unfair treatment and his complaints about “obstruction” of information on the part of the government, the Canadian Forces hierarchy accused the ombudsman of “overstepping his jurisdiction” and of “advocating for men and women in uniform.”
An investigation was initiated under the former Ombudsman Yves Côté into the cases of two veterans, Kevin Clark, and a second individual whose name has not been disclosed. The veterans lodged complaints with the Ombudsman about the treatment they had been receiving at the Department of Defence (DOD) and the Operational Stress Injury Social Support Program (OSSIS).
The OSSIS, which is jointly run by the DOD and Veterans Affairs, runs a counseling service for officers who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The investigation revealed that the two veterans were wrongfully treated and dismissed by their employers, OSSIS and DOD. The findings were contained in two reports which took five years and were based on hundreds of pages of reports and interviews with about forty people. These reports are not public because of privacy concerns.
However, the press has claimed that, once it was discovered by the DOD that both the veterans were also suffering from PTSD, the Department tried to dismiss them from their jobs, even though Kevin Clark was just two months away from retirement and eligibility to collect pension for 20 years of service. Clark was forced to move to the OSSIS, where he counseled soldiers who also suffered from PTSD.
However, Kevin Clark continued to have a difficult relationship with the OSSIS as well, to the point that his health condition worsened and he was forced to take 30 days of sick-leave in 2006. Without any regard to Clark’s condition, DOD reportedly responded by demanding that Clark pay $427.97 in charges because extra sick-leaves were not covered by the Department. Clark had taken only two extra days of sick-leave.
Mr. Daigle wrote two letters to Rear Admiral Andrew Smith, Chief of military personnel, about these issues. The first was written on November 25, 2011 and the second letter was written on March 9, 2012.
Kevin Clark was eventually forced out of his job at the OSSIS due to the stress he faced at his workplace. Mr. Daigle’s report, according to the Ottawa Citizen, described the decision as “hasty, poorly thought out and profoundly unfair” and one which “damaged him further, emotionally and financially.” The report also recommended that the two veterans be compensated.
Rear Admiral Andrew Smith subsequently replied to Mr. Daigle in a letter on June 27, 2012, stating that the ombudsman had no jurisdiction to look into the complaints by the two veterans and that his reports were not balanced. The Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay voiced the same arguments and publicly implored Pierre Daigle not to advocate on behalf of serving men and women.
The censorship and prohibition faced by Pierre Daigle and the removal of the two veterans comes at a time when there is increasing discontent among soldiers who suffer from psychological problems and who are unhappy about the support provided to them by the Canadian Forces.
In addition to the two veterans mentioned in this article, other soldiers have claimed that they have been abandoned by the military and the government, after they admitted that they faced mental health issues. In fact, in a separate report, Pierre Daigle found that not enough is being done to help returning soldiers who have PTSD.
Mr. Daigle has been faced with difficulties in obtaining information and the dismissal of his finding, as well as criticisms about his work. These concerns echo similarly difficult relationships between oversight bodies in the Canadian public service and governmental departments. Former Canadian Forces Ombudsman Yves Côté had also faced considerable hurdles in making his criticism heard, and Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has just recently decided to take the government to court for its failure to provide adequate information regarding the impacts of budget cuts.
- November 25, 2011: Pierre Daigle writes a letter to Rear Admiral Andrew Smith, the chief of military personnel, in order to resolve the issues between Kevin Clark, the other veteran, and their employer.
- March 9, 2012: Pierre Daigle writes a second letter to Rear Admiral Andrew Smith, again, to no avail.
- June 27, 2012: Rear Admiral Andrew Smith replies to Pierre Daigle, saying that the ombudsman’s report was biased and that he had no jurisdiction to investigate the case brought up by the two veterans.
- September, 2012: Peter MacKay, the Minister of National Defence, publicly states that it is not the ombudsman’s task to advocate for officers and soldiers.
Role or Position
Pierre Daigle is the Ombudsman of the Canadian Forces since February, 2009. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Daigle served for 36 years in the Canadian military. He retired from duty in 2004 and worked as a consultant before being appointed by the Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay.
Implications and Consequences
- Equality: The decision to ignore the ombudsman’s report and recommendation regarding the treatment of soldiers suffering from PTSD translates into a lack of justice and care for those who need it the most, including those with disabilities.
- Free Speech: The fact that Pierre Daigle is attacked for being an advocate continues the pattern of treating advocacy and dissent as illegitimate and suspect activities, and fundamentally misstates the role of an ombudsman. This casts a chilling effect on other independent watchdogs and their ability to speak out. The attempt to curtail freedom of expression either within state institutions or in the society at large undermines basic democratic principles.
- Transparency: The refusal to act upon recommendations to resolve problems leads to more opaque and unresponsive institutions. The dismissal of findings and withholding of information from the federal government has impaired the capacity of independent watchdogs to fulfill their mandates. Previous Canadian Forces Ombudsman Yves Côté and Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page have both faced tremendous hurdles in accessing information.
Date published: 11 December 2012
Photo from The Canadian Press/Pawel Dwulit.