Ottawa·CBC Investigates

Canadian military unable to account for all lost weapons

1,128 weapons and accessories were recorded as "losses" in public accounts last year, but the Canadian military doesn't track where they all went.

'Are they really lost or have they somehow fallen into the wrong hands?'

During the fiscal year 2014-2015, the Department of National Defence reported 1,128 weapons were removed from service. (PC/Kacper Pempel / Reuters)

Canada's military is unable to track whether weapons recorded in public accounts as "lost" are actually missing, or were removed from inventory for some other reason.

Public accounts records released in December 2015 tracked financial losses for individual departments, but don't detail how or why certain items — in the case of the Defence Department, a range of weapons and related equipment — disappeared.

So while the records show a total financial loss of 1,128 weapons and weapon accessories between April 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015, DND is unable to differentiate between items that are actually missing, and those that were damaged beyond repair in training exercises, for example.

The revelation came after Radio-Canada submitted an access to information request asking for a breakdown of the types of weapons that were lost.

One month after the request was made, DND replied that it needed more time to tabulate the data, since it does not maintain a central registry of its lost weapons.

'I am shocked'

A DND spokesperson explained by email that while individual units within the military collect specific data on lost weapons, there's no master list to track those numbers nationally. 

That absence of information is cause for concern, according to lawyer and retired Canadian Forces colonel Michel Drapeau.

Military lawyer Michel Drapeau has been working with his team to help Jeffery Beamish. (ICI Radio-Canada)
"I am shocked by it. If a unit happens to have a higher share of what you would expect for a unit to lose, and if you have no national control over it, maybe a unit, or two or three could account for 50 per cent of the losses. That should drive, at the national level, to say, 'Just a second, there is something going on here,'" said Drapeau.

Among the weapons listed as financial losses last year are one rifle, one handgun, 29 bayonets and one missile launcher — which DND was able to confirm was destroyed when a military aircraft crashed.

But the reasons other weapons were recorded as losses are not known at the national level, something Drapeau says needs to change.

Are they really lost or have they somehow fallen into the wrong hands? We need to know.- Retired colonel Michel Drapeau

"It's important that we know exactly at any given moment, who has these weapons … and if they are lost, are they really lost or have they somehow fallen into the wrong hands? We need to know."

The DND spokesperson said the department treats the security of its resources very seriously, and any theft or loss of any public asset is investigated by the chain of command, ministry officials or military police.