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Former recruit's alleged torture getting fresh look from investigators

Following a Go Public investigation and pressure from a former soldier's lawyers, the public will get a rare look at how military police investigated allegations that a young recruit was tortured by his own military during training in the 1980s.

Jeffrey Beamish and others told Go Public their harsh training in 1980s crossed a line

An independent commission will review how Canada's military police investigated allegations by former soldier Jeff Beamish that he was tortured during training at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright in 1984. (CBC)

It rarely happens, but following a Go Public investigation and pressure from a former Canadian soldier's lawyers, the public will get a rare look at how military police investigated allegations that a young recruit was tortured by his own military during training in the 1980s.

The Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC), a quasi-judicial body independent from the government and the Armed Forces, announced Thursday it will launch a "public interest investigation" to see if the case had been properly handled when, in 2016, military police decided not to lay charges.

Last April, CBC's Go Public revealed how Jeffrey Beamish, and other recruits, believe their training crossed the line when they we were stripped naked, crowded into small military jail cells in the dead of winter with the windows open, denied food, and repeatedly sprayed with cold water.

Beamish alleges that he and around 32 other recruits were subjected to these conditions, the MPCC said in a statement announcing the investigation.

The men told Go Public they weren't allowed to use the bathroom and had to endure days of hunger while freezing, naked and surrounded by urine and feces after they were forced into a prisoner-of-war training exercise on Canadian Forces Base Wainwright, 200 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.

Beamish was 19 years old at the time.

He was cautiously excited to hear about the new investigation. 

"I don't know how high to jump… because I don't understand the full ramifications," Beamish said from his home in Cochrane, Ont. 

Jeff Beamish was 19 when he underwent prisoner of war training. (Supplied by Jeff Beamish)

"Right now I'm just kind of pacing… saying 'Well, they're going to open it up, they're going to relook at everything and come to a proper conclusion rather than a fast conclusion."

After suffering for years with mental illness, struggling with work and relationships, Beamish was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder linked to the events of 1984.

He reported the abuse to the military more than 30 years later, but a military police investigation, by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) in 2015-16, failed to result in any action.

That investigation, and how it was handled, is what the MPCC will look into. 

Lawyer Michel Drapeau has been working with his team to push for another look at Beamish's case. (ICI Radio-Canada)

Recorded phone call 

One of Beamish's lawyers, Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel who's been practising military law since 2002, has been pushing for a review of the investigation for years.

A public investigation is needed, he says, to either restore faith in military police or to expose its failure to investigate complaints properly.

"The military police failed its duty to investigate properly," Drapeau said. "In the process, they show a lack of independence, a lack of competence and lack of desire to do their job.

"The military complaints commission feels it's in the public interest to have a public investigation… if it's not a precedent, it's pretty close to it."

Drapeau points to a recorded conversation, provided to Go Public, between Beamish and the investigator who was assigned to the initial complaint. He says it's evidence the military had no intent to lay serious charges.

"What is the court going to do to that person for this type of offence?" the investigator says to Beamish on the recorded call.

"Are they going to put somebody that's 65 years or whatever in jail for something like this?"

On the recording, the investigator also tells Beamish no charges were laid because "torture didn't become an offence until 1985," a year after the prisoner of war course. 

Beamish wants an apology from Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, whose office declined an interview. (CBC)

Wants apology

Drapeau says he thinks military police are often blasé about these things. 

"More often than not, crimes are not investigated as fully as forcefully and as effectively as they should, and it also lacks independence," he said. Drapeau said he expects the investigation to be done quickly, and is hoping for results in the fall.

The CFNIS tells CBC News it "embraces" the role of the MPCC.

"We look forward to the role that the MPCC has as an external body to offer a second look when there are some people who are questioning the way our investigators dealt with some issues," spokesperson Maj. Jean-Marc Mercier said Wednesday. 

Beamish is hoping this new development will encourage the military police to reopen the criminal investigation into what happened.

He also wants an apology from Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan.

Go Public put that to the minister last April, but at the time, no apology was forthcoming. His office also declined an interview on the new investigation.

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About the Author

Rosa Marchitelli

@cbcRosa

Rosa Marchitelli is a national award winner for her investigative work. As co-host of the CBC News segment Go Public, she has a reputation for asking tough questions and holding companies and individuals to account. Rosa's work is seen across CBC News platforms.