To the heart of the matter

LUKE FISHER February 5 1996

To the heart of the matter

LUKE FISHER February 5 1996

To the heart of the matter


Walking through a cold drizzle in downtown Ot tawa last week, Lt.-Col. Paul Morneault snapped a smart salute as he passed Brig.-Gen. Ernest Beno, who quickly returned the formal display of respect.

But inside the hearing room in the Vanguard Building, where the federal inquiry into the deployment of Canadian peacekeepers in Somalia in 1992-1993 has been hearing testimony since Oct. 22, the tension between the two men was palpable. During Morneault’s 3!/2 days on the stand, Beno sat in a frontrow seat in the public gallery, just metres away, glaring at his former subordinate—and listening to his accusations. Morneault, removed as commander of the Canadian Airborne Regiment by Beno just weeks before the start of the unit’s ill-fated mission, described his frustration with Beno in trying to deal with worrisome disciplinary problems in the fall of 1992 when the regiment was at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in Ontario, training for Somalia. Morneault testified that the general did little to help him with his concerns and deliberately undermined him—before having him replaced. “He twisted every statement and

action of mine,” Morneault declared, “to make me look incompetent.” Morneault’s testimony was the latest ripple in the flood of recriminations, allegations and accusations that burst into the open after Airborne members savagely beat to death a defenceless 16-year-old Somali and shot two others—one of whom subsequently died. Now, as the federal inquiry continues to wash the military’s dirty linen in public, the charges of incompetence, disciplinary problems and coverups threaten to reach to the top of the Canadian Forces’ chain of command. As if to underscore that point, three generals—two of them facing accusations of high-level interference in investigations into the Somalia affair—last week announced that they would retire early. And although the generals denied that Somalia had anything to do with their decision, it is clear that the affair has critically shaken Canada’s military establishment. “It’s revolting,” said Nicholas Stethem, a director at the Toronto-based Strategic Analysis Group, which does defence and international affairs consulting. “The malaise throughout the officer corps keeps growing and growing.” Morneault, who did not waver in his testimony even during crossexamination, certainly gave voice to that malaise. Posted as an intelligence officer to NATO headquarters in Brussels since his dismissal in October, 1992, he told the inquiry how, during training for the Somalia mission, he had tried to deal with disturbing disciplinary problems, including the burning of a sergeant’s car, by soldiers in 2 Commando, an Airborne subunit. Morneault favored warning the men that they would not participate in the mission if someone did not come forward to take responsibility for the arson. But that course of action, he said, would have required Beno telling his superiors that another unit might be needed—which would have alerted others to problems within the Airborne. Beno refused, according to Morneault, saying that the problem must be dealt with at Morneault’s level.

The Somalia inquiry points to blame in the top ranks of Canada’s military

Morneault then took his men on a brutal hike lasting four nights, trying to force them to tell the truth—but they remained silent. It was then that Beno, apparently angry with Morneault’s methods and the pace of training, recommended that he be replaced. But Morneault denied ever being warned by Beno of his deficiencies as a commander before he was removed. And he alleged that he was the victim of a conspiracy, claiming that Beno left a paper trail of memos and letters complaining of Morneault’s leadership

abilities—documentation that Morneault later discovered.

Under cross-examination by Beno’s lawyer, Bruce Carr-Harris, Morneault admitted that Beno had expressed many concerns about various aspects of training in the fall of 1992. But he insisted that he was stunned by his dismissal because Beno had never openly questioned his competence. Morneault also suggested that his former superior had a bad reputation for undermining subordinates. Said Morneault: “I’m told I’m just the last in a long line of victims.”

Six months after Morneault’s departure in October, what he calls the “cancer” in the unit became frighteningly evident. In March, 1993, men from 2 Commando beat the Somali teenager to death and were involved in two questionable shootings of civilians near the Canadian base at Belet Huen. Now, as questions surrounding the Somalia mission and its aftermath continue to mount, the inquiry’s focus will shift to those further up the military’s pecking order. A parade of generals is expected to testify, starting this week with Beno and Maj.-Gen. Fewis MacKenzie. ín 1992, the latter was the deputy commander of the Canadian Forces’ Central Area, which includes CFB Petawawa, before being asked to head the UN peacekeeping force in the former Yugoslavia in February, 1993. Former

chief of the defence staff Gen. John de Chastelain is also likely to appear before the commission. Retired Col. Michel Drapeau, a close observer of the Somalia affair and a contributor to Esprit de Corps magazine, which deals with Canadian military issues, says that Morneault’s testimony paints a picture of disturbing actions up the chain of command. Said Drapeau: “Morneault was screwed big time.” He also suggests that Beño and other officers may have preferred firing Morneault to admitting to their political masters that the Airborne was not up to the job it faced in Somalia.

While Morneault talked about a conspiracy directed against him, others have suggested that the defence establishment is also making a deliberate effort to discredit Maj.

Vince Buonomici, an Ottawabased military police investigator who submitted an affidavit on Jan. 18 to the inquiry. In that affidavit, he alleged that,

among others, Maj.-Gen. Clive Addy and Maj .-Gen. Brian Vernon—two of the generals who announced their retirement last week— interfered in Buonomici’s investigation of the Airborne’s commander in Somalia, Lt.-Col. Carol Mathieu. (Mathieu’s acquittal last year at a court martial on a charge of negligent performance of duty was subsequently overturned by the Court Martial Appeal Court; a new trial has started, but is presently bogged down in procedural delays.)

But Buonomici has not yet been granted standing with the inquiry, and he was told by superiors not to speak publicly immediately after first discussing his affidavit with the media on Jan. 18. Meanwhile, Defence Minister David Collenette’s handling of Buonomici’s allegations has drawn sharp criticism; last week, Collenette told reporters that Buonomici’s concerns had already been passed on to the RCMP, who found no evidence of wrongdoing. But RCMP inspector Johnny St. Cyr revealed that the investigation had been limited to Buonomici’s claim that a senior officer had falsified a document used to get a search warrant. Jim Hart, the Reform party’s defence critic, then called for

Collenette’s resignation, saying that the defence department is trying to harass Buonomici. “They’re trying to intimidate him while the inquiry is trying to encourage soldiers to come forward,” Hart declared.

More questions were raised last week by the announcement of the coming early retirements of generals Vernon, 54, and Addy, 52. Vernon, who succeeded MacKenzie as commander of the Central Region, is currently languishing in the personnel division of headquarters in Ottawa after losing his command last year during the scandal over

‘The malaise in the officer corps keeps growing’

home videos of Airborne hazing rituals. Addy served in Croatia with the UN peacekeeping force and was a member of the military’s own investigation of the Somalia affair. (The third retiring officer is Maj.-Gen. Barry Ashton, who was the deputycommander of the UN peacekeeping force in the former Yugoslavia and was not named in Buonomici’s affidavit.) Drapeau,

for one, says that he spoke with one of the generals at Christmas and learned that their impending, simultaneous announcement would be no coincidence. Says Drapeau: “It was a deliberate display of nonconfidence the new chief of the defence staff.”

That man, 48-year-old air force general Jean Boyle, is Canada’s youngest ever mili-

tary chief and was selected over several others largely because of his relative distance from the Somalia affair. Publicly, though, the retiring generals gave few reasons for their decision. Addy said only that he is leaving for both professional and personal reasons. And Vernon, when contacted by Maclean’s last week, denied having any ulterior motive. “I want to retire to the West Coast to kill some fish,” he said. “There was absolutely no collusion among the three of us.” In addition, Vernon declared adamantly that his retirement

was unrelated to Buonomici’s claims—and that he is ready to respond to questions about his role in the Somalia affair.

He will likely get that opportunity within the coming months. With its snowballing agenda, meanwhile, the Somalia inquiry, originally scheduled to wrap up in December, 1995, is expected to ask for more funding and an extension until early 1997. And, as Collenette indicated last week, there is more unpleasantness to come. “I want to underscore to Canadians that a lot of the troubling things that have come out recently are going to continue,” he told reporters last week. “This is not going to be a very happy occasion.” For Canada’s once-proud military, the truth will continue to hurt.