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Somalia debacle a high-level cover-up

Canadian peacemakers were lauded as heroes when they went into an untamed land ruled by rebels. Their mission, Operation Deliverance, charged them with restoring order in Somalia. But in fact, the Canadian Airborne regiment was splitting apart at the seams, lacking both leadership and accountability. Murder after murder, the troops came home disgraced. Tracks were covered and responsibility shifted up and down the chain of command during an investigation that would dismantle the army and implicate the government in a high-level cover-up.

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A high-level cover-up, out-and-out lies from witnesses, systemic leadership problems and lack of public accountability -- these are the findings in the Somalia public inquiry report, Dishonoured Legacy. As has been the case throughout, leaders come out swinging in defence of their actions. But the commissioners are blunt. They suggest that there is a festering cancer in the military, as reflected in this military debacle. In these CBC reports, the commissioners' suggestions and the opposition's reactions are explored.

Leaders need to accept more responsibility, extremists must be more carefully screened, and realistic peacekeeping goals must be set, the commission finds. But, Defence Minister Art Eggleton criticizes the report as a blanket condemnation. He steadfastly denies evidence of a government conspiracy. Conspicuously absent from the report is anything on the most sensitive aspect of the Somalia affair -- the torture and murder of Shidane Arone. Given the Commission's truncated time of investigation, it remains unresolved.
• "Dishonoured Legacy goes too far. It's a blanket condemnation of our military; an unfair and unjust one. It's an insult!" -- Defence Minister Art Eggleton, 1997.
• "You have the Bosnia mission, which has its problems. You've got the Haiti mission, that has its problems too. If you keep adding them up, I think it makes a big case and a strong case for change." -- Commission chair, Judge Gilles Letourneau, 1997.

• Defence Minister Kim Campbell was preparing her bid for the Conservative leadership when the civilian deaths in Somalia occurred. She later was criticized for attempting to cover up the deaths to protect her campaign but Campbell denied that she had been informed that the deaths might be investigated as a homicide. Campbell was angry that she didn't have the opportunity to testify before the Commission and defend herself from allegations of a cover-up.

• The Commissioners protested when their inquiry was cut short. They argued that they needed more time to thoroughly examine the Somalia affair. The federal government refused and set a fixed deadline, arguing that the commissioners had already received two extensions.

• One of the issues the Commission touched on but never had the opportunity to fully explore was the drug mefloquine. Soldiers in Somalia were given mefloquine, an anti-malarial drug. Maj. Barry Armstrong argued that the drug caused serious psychological side effects including psychosis, depression and anxiety. Soldiers were given the drug on Thursdays, leading the soldiers to dub the day "psycho Thursdays."

• No one was ever charged for the murder of Ahmed Aruush.
• The Commission heard from 116 witnesses and analyzed more than 150,000 books, documents and articles. It is reported to have cost $25 million.

• "The failure was profoundly one of leadership. Although in this report we have identified some individual failings -- primarily in relation to the pre-deployment phase of the mission -- the failings that we have recounted in the greatest detail have been those that concern organizational or group responsibility for institutional or systemic shortcomings." -- Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Deployment of Canadian Forces to Somalia.

• Following the inquiry, Desbarats published a book called Somalia Cover-up: A Commissioner's Journal and criticized the military and the government for failing to respond honestly to the crisis.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: July 2, 1997
Host: Suhana Meharchand
Reporters: Ron Charles, Susan Harada, Jason Moscovitz
Duration: 10:46

Last updated: August 29, 2013

Page consulted on October 23, 2014

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