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Canadian soldiers patrol in the Dand district of southern Afghanistan in 2009. An analysis of military statistics shows that 17 members of the military have been convicted of selling drugs between April 2007 and March 2009. ((Colin Perkel/Canadian Press))

When a British newspaper ran a report this week suggesting Canadian and British soldiers were part of a scheme to smuggle heroin out of Afghanistan, the Canadian military was quick to defend itself.

Exploring the numbers

Every year, the Judge Advocate General produces a report that makes for fascinating reading for people with a little time on their hands.

Perusing the statistics for the two most recent reports, and going through the painful process of getting the numbers into Excel after the military refused to produce the numbers in a database format, allowed me to compare drug trafficking to other crimes for which military personnel have been found guilty. 

In the tables I've produced from each JAG report, you can see the offences that have drawn guilty convictions ranked in descending order:

Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance, the outgoing commander of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, flatly denied there was any truth to the story. Defence Minister Peter MacKay quickly issued a statement saying the allegations are "unfounded."

While the military says there’s no truth to the heroin smuggling allegations, there's no denying that drugs are a problem for the Forces.

An analysis of military statistics shows that there were 17 trafficking convictions between April 2007 and March 2009.

According to the statistics contained in two annual reports by the military's justice system, known as Judge Advocate General (JAG) Reports, the number 17 breaks down as follows:

  • From April 2007 to March 2008, there were 12 trafficking convictions, making trafficking the most common offence for which Canadian Armed Forces personnel were convicted.
  • From April 2008 to March 2009, there were five convictions, and trafficking was the fifth-most common offence. The most common conviction was being absent without having proper leave. 

Col. Michel Drapeau, one of the force's most ardent critics, has suggested that instead of flatly denying a story that contained sensational allegations, the military should have also admitted that it is concerned about drug use in its ranks.

Such an admission, he said, would have allowed the military brass to come clean about a very real problem, and in the process help those individuals struggling with drug habits.

Audio

Listen as Col. Michel Drapeau discusses the heroin allegations in a World Report piece by David McKie that aired at the height of the scandal.

"It would be foolhardy and naive to suggest that all of our guys are good guys, and none of that could possibly happen to a Canadian," he said. "I think these [JAG reports] suggest otherwise."

The military has issued warnings about drug use and drug trafficking within its ranks in the past.

According to a 2006 intelligence report obtained by CBC News through access to information: "The most common drug used by CF members is marijuana followed by cocaine, ecstasy…. While marijuana continues to be the drug of choice for CF members, cocaine and ecstasy are closing the gap."

And then there was this warning from another intelligence report a year later: "Based on a variety of indicators … there is a high probability that some CF personnel will involve themselves in the drug trade."

A case study

The JAG reports post all the information related to cases, information that introduces you to the troubled individuals behind the statistics.

Ex-ordinary seaman C.A.E. Ellis is a case in point, a cautionary tale that reads, in parts, like a Hollywood movie.

According to the report, on June 20, 2007, Ellis approached an undercover operator (UCO) with the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service and said he could get "two grams of cocaine for $100 or an eight-ball for $160."

Ellis also told the undercover operator that he is the only person in his block selling drugs, and he deals to six other people in the quarters.

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"The UCO then gave ex-ordinary seaman Ellis $100 for two grams of cocaine," the report says. "At 2333 hours, ex-ordinary seaman Ellis gave the UCO one small clear plastic bag containing cocaine."

Two days later, "the UCO asked to buy some more, this time an 'eight-ball' or about 3.5 grams of cocaine."

The price? Between $160 and $180. A few hours later, "Ellis slid a 'baggy' of cocaine under the UCO’s door."

This was not Ellis's first brush with trouble. In 2007, he was nabbed for being absent without leave. Ellis testified that he had a four-year- old son who was living with his ex-wife, and that he was addicted to cocaine and sold it for "personal gain."

He described Esquimalt, the base where he was stationed at the time, as a "drug environment," and claimed he only started using coke when he arrived there.

Ellis is no longer a member of the Armed Forces. He told the judge that he attempted to stop taking drugs and put his life back in order. But the judge had the last word.

At 10:53 a.m. local time on March, 28, 2009, Ellis was sentenced to nine months in jail.

Ellis' penalty falls in the middle of sentences judges have handed out for the 2007-2009 military drug convictions. Penalties have ranged from 19 months in prison, to a reprimand and a $2,000 fine.