Politics

Sgt. Andrew Doiron's death a 'mistake' but won't harm relations with Kurds, general says

While the incident that led to the death of Canadian soldier Sgt. Andrew Doiron was "a mistake, obviously," Canada's top soldier says it likely won't damage the relationship between Canada and the Kurds.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson acknowledges 'awkward statements' by Kurdish officials

Members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment carry the casket of their fallen comrade, Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron, during a ramp ceremony at Erbil International Airport, Iraq, on Sunday. Doiron was killed Friday in a friendly fire incident by Kurdish forces. (DND handout photo)

While the incident that led to the death of Canadian soldier Sgt. Andrew Doiron was "a mistake, obviously," Canada's top soldier says it likely won't damage the relationship between Canada and the Kurds.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since news of Doiron's death, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson confirmed "a couple of investigation teams [are] heading over there" to look into what happened near the Kurdish front lines in Iraq.

"They [Canadian soldiers] had been there earlier in the day, and had set this meeting up for later that evening, and something went wrong, and we're going to get to the bottom of that," he said.

Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron was originally from Moncton, N.B., and attended Algonquin College in Ottawa before joining the Canadian Forces, according to his Facebook page. (Facebook)

Lawson also seemed to brush aside the claim made by a Kurdish official over the weekend that it was the Canadians, and not the Kurds, who were to blame for the deadly mishap that killed Doiron and left three of his fellow soldiers wounded.

"I'm sorry that's their assessment at this point," he said. "I think that the Kurds that we work with in that region have a far better idea of what took place there."

He added that he didn't think it would hurt the working relationship between Canadian and Kurdish troops.

Doiron and the other injured soldiers were with the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, which is training Iraqi and Kurdish forces to battle fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Forces have 'tremendous partnership'

"Although there was some awkward statements made, and we would really rather that they had not been made until an investigation is done, we've seen this tremendous partnership grow from six months ago, when our fellows went in there — we've seen the results being Kurds who are very, very effective in bringing pressure to bear against ISIL," Lawson said.

Gen. Tom Lawson, chief of the defence staff, says the death of Sgt. Andrew Doiron was a 'mistake.' (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

"There is a friendship, and a professional admiration that grows between the two groups, and that's what we want to build on."

He also discounted the suggestion that Doiron's death could jeopardize the anticipated extension of the mission.

"The government has already indicated openly that it will not — [that] this was a friendly fire incident … not combat, and that the strategic reasons for being there remain in place."

Doiron's body is being returned to Canada and a repatriation ceremony will be held Tuesday afternoon.

Result of 'mistaken identity': Kenney

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, Defence Minister Jason Kenney called the incident "a tragic question of friendly fire resulting from mistaken identity."

In response to NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie's request for a "clear account" of the events leading to
Doiron's death, Kenney maintained that the Canadian soldiers involved had "followed all … the established protocols" that had been in place for several months.

Canada's Kurdish allies say the deadly mistake could have been much worse 3:07

"They were well within the rules of engagement of their advice and assist mission to provide training to the Kurdish Peshmerga," Kenney added.

"Obviously, our operators are ensuring that steps are taken to ensure there is no repeat of this tragic incident."

But he declined to answer Leslie's followup question on the total number of Canadian Forces members "currently in combat situations in Iraq," nor would he say when the debate and vote on a motion to extend the mission could take place.

The Liberals, however, made a conscious decision not to raise the issue in the House. Instead, Liberal MP Marc Garneau offered his condolences before moving on to a question on job creation. 

"We're still of the view that now is the time to be expressing our sympathy and our solidarity with the families of the soldiers who were wounded, and Sgt. Doiron," Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray said to reporters following question period.

"It's not a time to link this with political discussions."

She added that she will be "very interested" in what the investigations into the incident ultimately conclude. 

"I am counting on the government to be transparent about the terms of reference, and the results. Until then, we don't have the information, so the analysis is premature," she said. 

"We'll put a question [to the government] when we have a question to put. Right now, we are focused on the families."

Meanwhile, retired colonel Tony Battista told CBC News Network host Suhana Meharchand that it will fall to the two investigations currently underway to determine the facts, as well as how to move forward.

'No reason' to doubt

"Whether it's friendly fire, fratricide or an act of war, we all understand that the death or injuries of any of our fellow soldiers … is unacceptable," said Battista, who is now executive director of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute.

"I have no reason to believe the Canadian version that we've heard so far is in doubt," he added.

"After all … the unit of special forces soldiers did, according to our sources, provide adequate information to the Kurdish forces [as to] where they were … coming back from the various checkpoints."

He also doesn't believe Doiron's death will have any "direct effect" on the debate over extending the mission.

"The Canadian government would want to continue providing our support to a U.S.-led coalition against this extremist group, and Canadians, in general, would agree with that," he said.

"The fact of the matter is that we've lost one of our own, and these discussions, these sensitivities, are natural."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now