Canada

Feeling the heat

LUKE FISHER February 10 1997
Canada

Feeling the heat

LUKE FISHER February 10 1997

Feeling the heat

Canada

The decision was already controversial. But last week, Defence Minister Doug Young’s earlier refusal to extend the Somalia commission of inquiry past its March 31 deadline became even more so. At issue was an affidavit, filed to the commission and swiftly released to the media, from John Dixon. In it, the former special adviser to Kim Campbell accused senior officials in the department of national defence of attempting to cover up the brutal March 16,1993, killing of a Somali teenager by Canadian soldiers—and of trying to keep Campbell, then the Tory defence minister, from looking into the incident. The affidavit created a furor because it is highly unlikely that either Dixon or Campbell will be given a chance to testify before the three-member commission ends its hearings. And, last week, members of the political opposition served notice that extending the Somalia inquiry will be their top priority when Parliament resumes this week. “I had looked forward to Young taking the reins,” said Reform party defence critic Jim Hart. “But his integrity is being questioned by everybody at this point.”

With the Liberals widely expected to call a June election, will Young back down? Not if the testimony of ViceAdmiral Larry Murray, acting chief of the defence staff, was any indication. On Jan. 28, Murray appeared before the inquiry—and angrily castigated commission chairman Gilles Létourneau. Refusing to obey the commission’s request for simple yes and no answers, Murray lashed out. “I have been appalled by the way this commission, and you in particular, have treated junior soldiers,” he declared. “I don’t intend to be treated the same way.” In the end, an equally angry Létourneau adjourned the hearing, then warned Murray that he risked being cited for contempt. ‘While he is here, he’s under a duty to testify and to do so in a manner that is respectful,” Létourneau said. Although the vice-admiral was more cooperative during his subsequent testimony, he remained unrepentant. And some observers speculated that he had acted with the tacit approval of his political masters. Noted retired major general Lewis MacKenzie, who will run as a Conservative candidate in the next federal election: “That was not Larry Murray acting on his own—he was likely encouraged to vent his frustration.”

But frustration that the inquiry will end with too many unanswered questions, most of them revolving around the issue of who knew what and when, also continues to mount. And Dixon’s affidavit—as well as another one filed last week by Marianne Campbell, also an aide to the former defence minister—only fuelled the debate. It came as a response to a November, 1994, memo, written by naval Capt. Fred Blair and released by the commission on Jan. 13. In that memo, Blair claimed that Dixon and Marianne Campbell were briefed on March 26, 1993, on the details of 16year-old Shidane Arone’s torture and murder—well before the story became public on March 31. Blair al-

have been appalled at the way this commission has treated junior soldiers~

-Vice-Admiral Larry Murray

m While here, he's under a duty to testify %

—Chairman Gilles Letourneau

STILL ON THE AGENDA

hey are three very busy

men. With Defence Minister Doug Young’s order that the Somalia inquiry end its hearings by March 31 and deliver a report by the end of June, commission chairman Gilles Létourneau and his colleagues Peter Desbarats and Robert Rutherford have already lengthened their daily sessions by one hour. Even so, with only seven more weeks of scheduled hearings—the commissioners will take one week to analyze testimony they have already heard— time is at a premium. The commission is now trying to get a clear picture of on-the-ground events in Somalia during Canada’s troubled 1992-1993 mission, an examination that will take the inquiry to the end of its allotted time—and, commissioners claim, not allow for crucial testimony from others.

Still on the agenda:

• Vice-Admiral Larry Murray, who will continue to testify this week.

• Next up will be Maj. Marc Philippe, who was the legal adviser to the mission commanded by Col. Serge Labbé, the overall commander of Canadian troops in Somalia. Philippe’s testimony is ex-

pected to last no more than a day. He will be followed by Labbé; the commissioners expect that he will spend almost two weeks on the witness stand.

• The commission will also hear from retired lieutenant-colonel Carol Mathieu. In 1993, Mathieu was the commander of the Canadian Airborne regiment, which made up the bulk of Canada’s forces in Somalia. He has undergone two courts martial—and both times was found not guilty of dereliction of duty. His testimony is likely to take the inquiry to the end of February. Mathieu is scheduled to be the last witness.

After actual testimony ends, the commissioners will take their week of analysis. Then, according to commission spokesperson Sheena Pennie, submissions and summations from various lawyers will likely take up the last three weeks of March. But, she adds, the three commissioners will not insist on more time for the inquiry. “They will work to get this thing done,” Pennie said, “and will not beg for another extension.”

L.F

so wrote that Kim Campbell—who was then preparing to launch her campaign for the Tory leadership—even offered “guidance” on how the military should conduct its investigation.

Campbell and her former aides have always denied that they were appraised of the details before the story broke. “These claims of Capt. Blair are utter and complete falsehood,” Dixon wrote in his affidavit, which he filed along with a request to appear before the inquiry. And he went on to level further, troubling accusations. “There is now clear evidence of a coverup” in the immediate aftermath of the Arone killing, he alleged—a coverup that included a subsequent attempt by senior DND officials to keep Campbell’s office from looking into Arone’s death. In an April 4, 1993, letter to Campbell that Dixon said was a clear attempt to intimidate the minister, Blair wrote that “in spite of the explanations that have been provided to you, you still have difficulty with the idea that the minister should not attempt to exercise political influence over the unfolding of these processes.” And, Blair added, “one may imagine the effect on the minister’s present situation should it be revealed that she had interfered, or attempted to do so, with the course of military justice in this highly sensitive case.”

Campbell, Dixon said, viewed the letter as “blackmail.” Even worse, he wrote, were subsequent attempts by senior DND officials to destroy all traces of the document. Dixon claims that then-deputy defence minister Robert Fowler, now Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, and Admiral John Anderson, the former chief of the defence staff and now Canada’s ambassador to NATO, shredded their copies of the letter to Campbell. But when military officials asked Dixon and Marianne Campbell to surrender their copies, they refused—and instead locked them in a safe. “If we really wanted to turn this whole affair into a nightmare,” Dixon recalled in his

affidavit, “then the destruction of a document was a fine first step.”

Both Fowler and Anderson have previously denied that any coverup took place. Last week, Fowler, a well-connected career civil servant who is also the brother-in-law of Gov. Gen. Roméo LeBlanc, declined to comment to reporters. Anderson, contacted by Maclean’s at his home in Brussels, refused to specifically address the issue of Dixon’s affidavit. But he was openly contemptuous of Campbell. Referring to an interview that he gave to Maclean’s in April, 1993, in which he said that the Somalia scandal reflected a possible breakdown in the Canadian military’s discipline and leadership, Anderson said that he stood by his statements. And recalling Campbell’s reaction to his comments—she was, in fact, furious over not being informed—Anderson added, “Much to the disgust of one minister Campbell.”

Like Campbell, who last week again expressed dismay that she will not get a chance to tell her story, Anderson and Fowler will not be called to testify before the commission. And despite widespread calls for extending the deadline, the federal Liberals seem intent on ending the inquiry, which began in 1994 and had gone through 151 days of testimony by Jan. 31. Having ordered the commissioners to wrap up their hearings by the end of March, Young has given them until June 30 to file their report. The minister, claimed retired colonel Michel Drapeau, a bitter critic of the defence establishment and a close observer of the inquiry, “is in one helluva rush to close this thing down and get to the campaign before the report comes out.” But with so many questions likely to remain unanswered, Young is also under growing pressure to give the commissioners time to unravel the Somalia affair—no matter what the political cost may be.

LUKE FISHER in Ottawa