Court-ordered review of peacekeeper's case still grinding through DND 2 years later

A former peacekeeping commander is still waiting for an apology two years after a Federal Court ordered a review of the way he was treated. Retired colonel Bernard Ouellette was stripped of his command in 2010 over rumours of an affair - allegations military police could not substantiate.

Defence chief's spokesman says former commander's case 'more complicated than normal'

Col. Bernard Ouellette, the top Canadian soldier in Haiti, was relieved of command after allegations emerged that he was involved in an inappropriate relationship. (Cpl. Shilo Adamson, Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

Canada's former top soldier in Haiti, who was tossed into legal limbo two years ago, said he has no intention of giving up his battle for an apology over the way he was stripped of command and brought home under a cloud of scandal.

"I won't let it go, that's for sure," retired colonel Bernard Ouellette told CBC News. "They were wrong from the beginning. They have not wanted to admit they were wrong."

It was Oct. 2015 when a Federal Court ordered the country's chief of defence staff to take another look at the way Ouellette was treated by his superiors.

He was relieved of his duties seven years ago in Port au Prince, Haiti, on the basis of rumours he was having an affair with a female UN staffer working under his direction.

Ouellette was booted from his command as chief of staff to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti even though a military police investigation failed to establish any basis for the allegation.

At the time, Ouellette allowed his assistant to stay in his quarters after the 2010 earthquake destroyed her accommodations. The two were also often seen together.

He complained that superiors, notably the chief of defence staff at the time, Gen. Walt Natynczyk, acted in an arbitrary manner.

Ouellette treated badly: court

The Military Grievances External Review Committee, in 2011, ruled his removal was unjustified and said it was aghast at the way he was treated.

The independent agency, set up to ensure unbiased disciplinary decisions are made, said the former rising star within the army was never given a chance to defend himself, nor told about all of the allegations against him.

It recommended an apology and a plan to publicly restore his reputation.

Natynczyk's successor, Gen. Tom Lawson, objected to the recommendations and refused to overturn the original actions, something which prompted Ouellette to go to Federal Court.

The justice who heard the case agreed Ouellette had been badly treated and ordered the current top military commander, Gen. Jonathan Vance, to review the original decision.

A spokesman for Vance said last summer that a decision was expected in the fall of 2016.

It never happened and Ouellette is still waiting.

"They're just playing with time," he said.

No end in sight

The court set no deadline for completing the review, and until Vance responds, Ouellette's hands are tied.

"I can't return to court before I have a final answer," he said. "There is something wrong with the system. They don't have time limits and they can do whatever they want."

A spokesman for Vance, Lt.-Col. Jason Proulx, defended the delay, saying treating each member with dignity and respect is important.

"When a Canadian Armed Forces member submits a grievance, it may take a significant amount of time to resolve because we are required to ensure every aspect of the grievance is properly analyzed and considered so that the final decision is as fair as possible," Proulx said in an email.

"Colonel Ouellette's case has many aspects that are more complicated than normal, especially since a Federal Court ruling requires us to review the entire file to ensure procedural fairness."

The answer puzzled Ouellette.

"It is not as complex as they say," he said. "They've had all of the facts since the independent tribunal [hearing]. I don't know what it will take to get an answer."

Senior soldier sues DND

11 years ago
Duration 2:48
Col. Bernard Ouellette, the former commander of Canada's mission in Haiti, is suing the Department of National Defence and five fellow officers for $6.2-million in damages


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.