Canada's former top soldier in Haiti sues for $6.2M

Col. Bernard Ouellette, the former commander of Canada's mission in Haiti, is suing the Department of National Defence and four fellow officers for $6.2 million in damages.

Allegations of an affair led to removal from command

The former commander of Canada's mission in Haiti is suing the Department of National Defence and four officers for $6.2 million in damages after allegations of an "inappropriate relationship" with a United Nations staffer caused him to be relieved of his duties two years ago.

Col. Bernard Ouellette denies all the allegations, said his lawyer, retired colonel Michel Drapeau, in an interview with CBC News.

"He has suffered emotionally, physically and his reputation has been tarnished, considerably, for something that he hasn't done," said Drapeau.

Allegations that Ouellette and his secretary were seen "frolicking together" by fellow officers surfaced after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010.

Timeline of events

June 28, 2010: Col. Bernard Ouellette is relieved of his duties as both commander, task force, Port-au-Prince and chief of staff, United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, over allegations that he is having a "personal relationship" with his UN secretary.   

Nov. 2010: The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service concludes "there is insufficient evidence to support the charge." 

March 31, 2011: Maj. Gen. A.J. Howard submits a request for an administrative review that could lead to Ouellette being expelled from the Canadian Forces. 

Dec. 29, 2011: The chair of the Canadian Forces Grievance Board, Bruno Hamel, concludes that Ouellette "was not afforded procedural fairness' and that the Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk ought to set aside the original decision to relieve Ouellette of his duties.

Jan. 17, 2012: An administrative review recommends the compulsory release of Col. Ouellette, saying he is "unsuitable for further service." 

Jan. 12, 2012:  Ouellette sues the Department of National Defence and four officers for defamation.

A lawsuit filed in Ontario Superior Court on Jan. 12, 2012, stipulates that Ouellette was working at the UN headquarters in Haiti when the earthquake struck, that he was injured during the hotel collapse, and that many of his colleagues and friends died in the disaster.

The lawsuit goes on to say that Ouellette "saved the lives" of many injured colleagues through the aftershocks, including the life of his administrative assistant Vlora Merlaku.

According to Drapeau, Merlaku "had no place to go. So as a man of honour would do, and chivalry, he provided her with accommodation in a safe location and that accommodation happened to be his room."

But Ouellette's subordinates alleged in emails sent to the Defence Department that there was "only one bed in the room," that Ouellette was seen "with lipstick on his mouth in the middle of the working day," and that Ouellette and Merlaku were "seen walking together hand in hand."

The lawsuit maintains that Ouellette is married and "enjoys a loving relationship with his spouse of 28 years."

On June 28, 2010, Ouellette was relieved of his duties, but two subsequent internal investigations sided in his favour.

Five months after Ouellette was relieved of his duties, in November 2010, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service concluded there was "insufficient evidence to support the charge."

In December 2011, the department's own grievance board found that Ouellette "was not afforded procedural fairness." And that "following a thorough review of the evidence, the board found that it was unreasonable … to have concluded that he [Col. Ouellette] had to be removed from his command."

According to Drapeau, Ouellette wants to hold to account both the Department of National Defence and "the individuals who made the defamatory statements" which have "put his career in peril."

On Jan. 17, 2012, an administrative review that was first launched in March 2011 recommended "the (compulsory) release of Col. Ouellette as "unsuitable for further service" citing "the misconduct" and "the unsatisfactory performance" of Ouellette as "extremely grave."

The lawsuit claims that instituting an administrative review over a year after Ouellette was relieved of his duties is "punitive" and only serves to further tarnish Ouellette's professional reputation.

The Department of National Defence has yet to respond to the lawsuit.

With files from CBC's Terry Milewski and James Cudmore