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Somalia Affair: Mea culpa

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.

Mea culpa or "by my guilt" - this was the stunning admission made today by Gen. Jean Boyle, chief of the defence staff, captured in this CBC Television report. Boyle has come under fire for allegedly running interference between the press and the army's public relations department, leading a wild goose chase. It began when CBC Radio's Michael McAuliffe filed requests to see the internal briefing documents prepared for those who deal with the media called RTQs, or Response to Queries, in 1993.

McAuliffe received altered RTQs and when he filed for more documents, he was told they no longer existed. The RTQs in fact still existed but had simply been renamed MRLs, or Media Response Lines. On the stand at the Somalia inquiry, Boyle admitted that he did indeed deliberately violate the spirit of access to information. He blamed the altered RTQs, however, on his subordinates. "People thought I knew this, people thought I knew that," he protested. "Did they tell me? They did not."
. Gen. Boyle also received flak for another missing file fiasco during the Somalia inquiry. Officers across the country searched through filing cabinets for missing files and logs related to the Somalia affair. Gaps in the computer logs for March 1993 were also revealed.
. The search for the missing files did turn up a missing logbook of the 2 Commando unit. It was found in a filing cabinet at the Petawawa base, presumably misplaced during the disbanding of the Airborne unit.

. David Collenette resigned as defence minister in October 1996. He explained that he needed to step down after writing an improper letter to the Immigration and Refugee Board on behalf of one of his constituents. But others suggested that he had stepped down because of his poor handling of the Somalia affair. Collenette had been a longtime supporter of Jean Boyle and recommended him to fill the position of chief of defence staff when the Liberals took power. Collenette was succeeded by Doug Young.

. Jean Boyle resigned from his position as chief of the defence staff after testifying before the Somalia Commission. He was widely criticized for blaming his employees and letting the Somalia affair snowball into an unmanageable mess.
. Somalia inquiry commissioner Peter Desbarats recalled in his book Somalia Cover-up that while some of the deleted pages from the RTQs contained mostly "innocuous" background information, other critical information about the military's operations in Somalia was also deleted.

. Michael McAuliffe was awarded the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism for his investigation into the Somalia affair.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Aug. 14, 1996
Guest(s):
Host: Nancy Wilson
Reporter: Neil MacDonald
Duration: 3:47

Last updated: February 16, 2012

Page consulted on April 2, 2013

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