Critics say the military justice system has failed

JANE O’HARA July 13 1998


Critics say the military justice system has failed

JANE O’HARA July 13 1998




Critics say the military justice system has failed

In his 37 years of military service, Everett Boyle was a by-the-book, spit-and-polish airman, a stubborn Newfoundlander who proudly “wore the fabric” of the Canadian Forces.

Trained as an air defence technician, Boyle began his career as a “fighter cop,” monitoring the Pine Tree Line radar system that tracked unknown aircraft flying over the Arctic. He ended his service in North Bay, Ont., in the highest rank possible for an enlisted man —chief warrant officer. As base CWO, he was an unflinching disciplinarian responsible for the morale, conduct and discipline of the 2,200 noncommissioned personnel at North Bay—all but the officers. In June, 1990, Brig.-Gen.

A. J. (Butch) Waldrum, North Bay’s base commander, summed up Boyle’s character when he wrote: “Simply stated, CWO Boyle will exude military excellence until the day he takes off the uniform. There are few people who can get in front of him for either leadership or dedication.”

But six months after that commendation, Boyle’s reputation was ripped apart by senior officers in North Bay when he pushed for an investigation into allegations that Col. Gary George, the commander of 22 Radar Control Wing, had been sexually harassing one of his married privates. “I took a terrible pounding,” says Boyle. “I’m a proud man and I don’t like to be kicked, but they put the boots to me. They intimidated me, they tried to fire me, they threatened to courtmartial me. They had me in their offices sometimes twice a day, sometimes for hours trying to make me back off. But I wouldn’t quit. I took on the responsibility to protect my subordinates. I would not back down.”

During his career, he says, he witnessed four other incidents where military superiors either covered up for officers —or fixed the outcomes of investigations to protect the Forces from bad publicity. In some of those instances, he also went to bat for a subordinate—and ended up butting heads with his military superiors. Boyle says that officers are taught to stick together from their first days in officer training when

they memorize the credo: ‘When a commander goes down, you surround him like a herd of elephants looking outward and you stay in that position until you’re dead.”

By the time he retired in 1991, Boyle says, he had come to believe that the military justice system had eroded dramatically—if not irrevocably. “In every case I saw where an officer was in trouble, the military’s first instinct was to cover it up,” says Boyle, who is now 62 and retired in Stephenville Crossing, Nfld., in a house overlooking St. Georges Bay, where he grew up. “If it was an enlisted man, they’d have him by the back of the ears and make an example of him. But officers protect officers. If you get in their way, they have awesome power.” And in speaking out, Boyle has joined a growing chorus of past and present members of the Forces who say the military justice system, with its incestuous structure, its closed system of investigations, trials and punishments, has failed—and must be reformed.

"ilitary commendations hang on the walls of Boyle’s house. A model of a CF-18 sits on a .table in a hallway. They are reminders of his time in the service, but the real treasures from those years are the military files that he keeps in his basement in cardboard boxes. Among them are documents—a two-inch-thick sheaf—that tell the story of his fight to get justice for Sylvie Savard and her husband, François Morel, both of whom also spoke to Maclean’s. “I got it all on paper,” Boyle says, “because I knew that some of these officers have a habit of forgetting conversations.”

For Savard, who was an administrative clerk working in “the hole”—the NORAD complex a mile underground in North Bay— the troubles began at a staff-only Christmas party at Cortina’s restaurant in 1989. George, commander of 22 Radar Control Wing, and in full uniform, asked Savard, then a private, to sit beside him and share a litre of wine. Savard, who now lives in St-Hubert, Que., says she had been drinking beforehand. “I got to a point where I was

pretty drunk,” she adds. For a lowly private, the attention from the powerful colonel was daunting—and intimidating. She confided to George that she had had a fight with her husband, also a private, before the party, and he offered her advice. “He was the big boss,” Savard recalls. “He was like a school principal and I a Grade 1 student. I looked up to this man. He was old enough to be my father.” Earlier in the evening, Savard says, she had arranged for a ride home with a friend. But George, she says, insisted he would give her a lift, suggesting that they continue their conversation—perhaps even go dancing—after the party. “I was naive,”

she says. “I thought we’d be in a public place with lots of people.” But when they left the party, the plans changed. The colonel said he had another place to go, telling Savard that he had access to private rooms he used for meetings. George then stopped by his apartment to change out of his uniform, stopped again to buy a bottle of wine—and then drove to the local Relax Inn. “A motel?” said a startled Savard as they drove up. “I remember saying very clearly to him,” she recalls, “ Well, as long as talking is all you have in mind.’ ”

But once in the room, while counselling her about her marital difficulties, Savard says, George started unbuttoning her blouse. She immediately asked to go home and George seemed upset. “I remember him saying so clearly, ‘No one has ever turned me down before.’ ” He drove her back to the officer’s mess parking lot and dropped her off in the freezing cold, a 10-minute walk from her home. “I could have passed out and people would have found me the next day frozen stiff,” Savard says. She came home to a worried, distrustful husband—and lied about where she had been.

While her marital situation worsened, so did her life in the military. She says George began harassing her at work. To this day, Savard says, “I can still hear his voice whispering in my ear, I can still feel him rubbing up against me at the photocopier. I was getting so sick and tired of this, I would just get home and cry.” She considered telling her supervisor about George, but thought that course of action would destroy the career she had dreamed of since first joining the air cadets at the age of 13. “I was afraid nobody would believe me, him being a colonel,” she says. Instead, she asked for a transfer and within a year she was posted to the Forces recruiting centre in Montreal. She left her husband, a Canadian Forces firefighter, behind, but he visited often as they tried to patch up their marriage. “The main reason I left was I didn’t want to go to work any more,” Savard says angrily. “I didn’t want to see George’s face.”

Once out of North Bay, Savard finally told her husband about the Christmas party incident and the pressure George had put her under at work. ‘That’s when I got very mad,” says Morel, now living in a Quebec City suburb (the couple finally divorced in 1993). “Officers don’t have the right to do this. If I had done this with a colonel’s wife, I would have been destroyed.” Morel decided to rejoin his wife and baby son in Montreal, and put in his release from the service. But before he left he consulted with Boyle—and filed a three-page redress of grievance, dated

Nov. 26, 1990, against George. “Now, I’m no longer afraid and will complain,” Morel wrote. “It is not fair that these officers go on like nothing happened knowing that people are scared to step forward because of their rank. Do they know the damage they caused? I deserve the satisfaction of knowing they will be stopped from doing this to others.”

For Boyle, who had spent much of his career disciplining enlisted soldiers, the grievance—if borne out by an investigation— could have resulted in three charges against George: conduct unbecoming an officer, abuse of authority and fraternization with a subordinate. But Boyle’s rank did not give him the authority to investigate officers. He took the grievance to base commander Col.

Edward Jackson, who in turn passed it up the chain of command to Maj.-Gen. Dave O’Blenis. But a warning came down: Boyle was to stay out of the affair and not help Morel. “I started to sense that I was the villain,” says Boyle, who at the time was scheduled to retire in four months. “They started an investigation not on George, but on the two privates. They were trying to find dirt on them. I wasn’t having any of it.”

When Boyle refused to stay out of the fight, Jackson sent him a twopage memo, dated Feb. 18, 1991, dismissing him from most of his key duties. He was reinstated a few days later, when Jackson discovered Boyle had written to two highlevel chief warrant officers informing them about the situation. One of them, Pat Sarty, the chief warrant officer of the air force, took the complaint to Gen. Fred Sutherland, then the commander of the air force. Sarty, now retired after a distinguished 37-year military career, recalls that Sutherland was upset by George’s alleged behavior. “Everyone at every level who came in contact with this information thought that something was definitely wrong,” he told Maclean’s.

But senior officers at North Bay called Morel to three meetings—where they pressured him to withdraw his complaint. During the first encounter, they warned him that he was ruining the reputation of a colonel and told him that he had no physical proof of the Relax Inn incident. On hearing that, Boyle drove to the Relax Inn and got photocopies of receipts showing that George had been at the hotel that night—and even used his military identification to get a room discount. “Not only did he want to seduce one of my privates, he wanted to do it cheaply,” he says. But the pressure on Morel continued to mount. During the subsequent meet-

ings, officers berated him about his grievance, at one point forcing him to break down in tears. “I was shaking like a leaf,” he says. “I couldn’t take it any more. I was seeing my world fall down around me.”

The hammer also swung towards Savard. Although she was never interviewed by North Bay officials about the incident, in Montreal her superiors at the recruiting centre suddenly began criticizing her behavior. She started receiving anonymous phone calls pressuring her to keep quiet. An officer, she says, told her that her work clothes—wool socks, sweat pants and a sweater—had been deemed “too sexy.” “Soon after my husband put in his redress, it turned Montreal into

North Bay,” she says. “The nightmare started again. I felt Col. George was still hunting me. It was no coincidence.”

Although Boyle retired in June, 1991, he continued to support Morel and Savard in their struggle. But the grievance went nowhere, and in 1994, while still a member of the military, Savard filed a complaint against George and the Canadian Forces with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. A year later, before the commission heard the case, all of the parties agreed to settle the complaint. Savard, who was worn out from the fight and who left the military, received a monetary settlement from the Canadian Forces—she is not allowed to disclose the amount—and a letter of apology from George.

It was small comfort, given that the incident

cost both Morel and Savard their careers, and the continual pressure contributed to the final breakdown of their marriage. In his letter to Savard, George wrote:

“I wish to apologize for any misunderstanding about any perceived intention you may have had about my conduct concerning the evening of Dec. 15,1989.1 acknowledge that my conduct was inappropriate in that a superior officer should not have allowed a situation to develop which had the appearance of impropriety. I also wish to point out that at no time did any form of sexual contact or relations take place between us. Please accept my apologies as stated above.”

After repeated requests, George, now in Air Command at Winnipeg, declined to speak to Maclean’s. Jackson, stationed in Belgium with NATO’s Airborne Early Warning Force, said in a telephone interview last week that he did all he could to help Morel with the grievance. But at some point, he noted, it had to go to higher levels because of George’s rank. “I have a responsibility to my subordinates,” he told Maclean’s, “to make sure people are supported in bringing forth difficulties. As a base commander, I would press that to the extent I could—within my hierarchical framework. And that leads to Gen. O’Blenis.”

O’Blenis, who left the service three years ago and now works in Toronto for AlliedSignal Aerospace, the world’s largest supplier of aerospace components, told Maclean’s last week that he “vaguely” remembers the incident—but not the outcome of the investigation or the recommendations he would have made before the file was passed on to National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa.

Jackson also said he did not know the outcome of the investigation against George. But he acknowledged there was a large military— and moral—issue in a colonel fraternizing with a married private. “Abuse of power and influence,” said Jackson. “Big, big problem. And we’re not talking about equal ranks here, we’re talking about a significant variance in rank. It is not something I would condone at any time. At the very least, it was extremely bad judgment.”

Allegations about inequities and problems in the military justice system are not new. They came to public attention during the Somalia inquiry, when it became clear that senior officers tried to cover up events surrounding the 1993 beating death of a Somali teenager by members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. That, in turn, provoked calls to reform the military justice system. Last year, former Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Brian Dickson delivered a report into military justice and military police investigations. The report, requested in January of 1997 by Defence Minister Doug Young, offered 35 recommendations to create a

The unwritten rule: rank has its privileges

more open and accountable system.

The final report of the Somalia inquiry, tabled June 30,1997, also questioned the fairness and effectiveness of the military justice system. Among its recommendations were that military judges be civilians “totally independent of the military chain of command,” that the director of the military police report to the solicitor general and not the defence minister, and that an independent inspector general be appointed to look into systemic problems with military justice and protect whistleblowers.

Seven months ago, Defence Minister Art Eggleton introduced a bill to amend the National Defence Act that would give military judges and defence lawyers more independence from the chain of command. It would also create a Military Police Complaints Commission to hear complaints against military police—and from military police. At the time, Art Hanger, the Reform party’s vocal defence critic, called the changes superficial, adding that they “don’t address the issue of independence of the investigative bodies within the military.” Others insist that things are changing for the better. Said David Bright, a Halifax lawyer who once served in the navy and now specializes in military law: “They’re making some progress—they’re trying hard to make changes.”

But changes to the system, critics say, will not erase the unwritten rule known as RHP: rank has its privileges. In interviews with Maclean’s, military police sources complained that the power structure in the Forces often presents barriers to carrying out their duties: in practice, a private and an officer are not always equal under the law. “If there is an incident related to drunkenness, for example, we can throw anybody in jail up to sergeant,” said one source. “We are not allowed to incarcerate anybody over the rank of warrant officer or officer. We are supposed to put them in open custody.”

And while Canadian Forces uniforms fit impeccably, the military is not always so successful at tailoring a punishment to a crime. Last month, at CFB Kingston, there was some questioning of the harshness of a sentence given to an instructor charged with “conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline.” Four others, three males and one female, were also charged in the case, which involved numerous incidents of soldiers repeatedly exposing themselves and making lewd comments during a course. The instructor’s crime: not putting an end to that behavior. In a summary trial conducted in early June, he lost his teaching position and was demoted from master corporal to private, with his annual salary dropping by fully $10,000—or almost 30 per cent—to $25,000 a year from nearly $35,000.

Conscientious military police officers who proceed with charges against officers often leave themselves open to repercussions. But rank can be a factor even among enlisted men. In 1990, one former

corporal told Maclean’s, he answered his door at an Ontario base late at night to find the wife of his superior— a sergeant—standing on the steps with her two young children. Visibly shaken, with red marks on her face and neck, the woman, who lived a few doors away, said she didn’t know where to turn. He invited her in, put the children to bed in his room and listened to the agitated woman tell her story. Her husband, she said, had come home drunk, lost his temper and started hitting her. So she took her boys and ran for help. “If I was thinking, I would have told her to go home,” the corporal says.

He considered reporting the assault to the Ontario Provincial Police or base military police, but felt obligated to protect his boss. He decided, instead, to speak to him privately.

“The next morning, he showed up late and hung over,” he recalls. “I asked if he knew what he had done.

He said it was none of my business and to get out of his office.” The corporal, convinced that the assault was too serious to ignore, then went to his platoon commander and wrote out a statement, which the officer signed. “From that point on, my career was finished,” says the former soldier, who was a rifle technician. “I was the senior corporal in a shop of four—and now I was targeted with all the crap details.”

Several months later, he inquired about the statement—only to learn it had disappeared. About a year later, he filed a harassment grievance against his superior—without mentioning the assault. At one point, he asked a shop mate to speak out as a witness for him. “He said, ‘I can’t, I have to sit on the fence, it doesn’t pay to get involved,’ ” says the corporal. A senior officer handled the grievance, interviewed the two men and sent his report to the sergeant’s supervisor. The officer sided with the sergeant, concluding that there was no harassment. “They said he was teaching me tolerance,” the corporal says. “Because he has the rank, he has the power.”

Even after the grievance, he says the harassment persisted until he was posted elsewhere in 1993. “I took that as a punishment, too,” he says. “I was only three years from retirement.” When he did retire, in 1996 at the age of 40 and after 19 years in the Forces, he moved to London, Ont., where he is now studying massage therapy. “I don’t think the attitude will change,” he says. “It’s too ingrained.”

For Boyle in Stephenville, such stories are part of a familiar pattern. He looks back on an eventful career. In North Bay, he carried out a major cleanup of the male barracks, getting rid of the beer machines in the halls and eliminating the practice of men bringing women onto the premises. Now, Boyle is refurbishing his house and devoting time to fly-fishing. But he remains firm in his belief that those who “shame the fabric” of the Canadian Forces must be rooted out—and hopes that, by speaking out against the military justice system, he will not be viewed as a traitor by his former colleagues. “They’ll say that washing our dirty linen in public will only further tarnish the Forces,” Boyle says. “But to not speak out about it makes every one of us part of the problem. We become part of the coverup that has been going on for years.”