Canadian airstrikes linked to 2nd allegation of civilian casualties in Iraq, CBC has learned

Canadian jets have now been connected to a second airstrike in Iraq that has been reviewed by the Pentagon for possible civilian casualties, the fifth estate has learned. Canadian officials, however, were unaware this review had taken place.

Canadian commander 'not aware' of 2nd Pentagon review

A CF-188 Hornet jet sits inside a special shelter at Camp Patrice Vincent in Kuwait in May. (DND Combat Camera)

Canadian fighter planes have now been connected to a second airstrike in Iraq that has been reviewed by the Pentagon for possible civilian casualties, CBC's the fifth estate has learned.

However, Brigadier-General Lise Bourgon, commander of Canada's air campaign in Iraq and Syria, told the fifth estate she had no knowledge of any Canadian link to those allegations.

"I'm not aware of any additional allegation of civilian casualties involving our Canadian airstrikes," she said.

Brig.-Gen. Bourgon spoke with co-host Bob McKeown earlier this month in an exclusive interview via video link from the Canadian base in Kuwait.

The Pentagon review, conducted in December, looked at a joint Canadian-Australian bombing raid on a "suspected weapons factory" in Fallujah, Iraq, on Dec. 21 in which a woman and a child were seen on video emerging from the site after the airstrike.

The child was picked up by someone on a motorcycle and transported to hospital. The woman lay down on the side of the road, according to an internal Pentagon report obtained by the fifth estate.

This is the second case of alleged civilian casualties linked to Canadian bombers. The first, on Jan. 21 in Kisik in Northern Iraq, was dismissed by the Canadian military as non-credible.

The new revelations are part of a fifth estate investigation into how diligent Canadian military and the coalition have been in reviewing allegations of civilian casualties from the air campaign in Iraq and Syria.

What's more, they come as Canada's new prime minister-designate, Justin Trudeau, is wrestling with his promise to end Canadian air strikes in the conflict against the Islamic State.

"We take every allegation of civilian casualties extremely seriously," Bourgon told CBC. "Our targeting process, our deliberate targeting process, applies a very, very rigorous standard in everything we do. The safety of the Iraqi population is extremely important to us."

Bombing logs implicate

According to the internal Pentagon report, two people were spotted walking through the rubble of the blast on aerial video shortly after the strike.

"Approximately 10 minutes after the last weapons impact, a probable female and probable child were observed on [full motion video] to walk through the target area," the report says.

"A probable male arrived and carried the child to a motorcycle and transported him to the Fallujah hospital. The female walked to the media strip in the road and lay down, and was not observed any further," the report continues.

The Pentagon document only lists Australia as playing a role in the Fallujah air strike. The fifth estate investigation, however, was able to confirm with the Pentagon that Canada was in fact part of the bombing, too.

In addition, Canada's participation in the raid is posted on the Department of National Defence website.

Brigadier-General Lise Bourgon said she was only aware of one incident involving Canadian air strikes and allegations of civilian casualties. (OP Impact/DND)

That was pointed out to Brig.-Gen. Bourgon, during the fifth estate interview.

"Well, again, I'll go back," she said. "I'm not aware of any other allegation of civilian casualties."

"The fact that the commander on the ground was oblivious to potential Canadian involvement is deeply troubling," says Chris Woods with Airwars, an independent group of journalists that monitors civilian casualty allegations in this conflict.

His group was the first to spot the potential Canadian involvement in this case.

'Insufficient information'

The U.S. Central Command and the Australian Department of Defence, conducted what they call an "initial credibility assessment" of the allegation.

According to the internal Pentagon document, both concluded there was "insufficient information" to determine if there were civilian casualties in this case.

"The lack of urgency and fact that the child walked apparently normally suggest his injuries were not life threatening," the report says. "There is insufficient information to warrant further inquiry."

That's not good enough, says Woods.

"This is a woman and child emerging, effectively, from a major air strike minutes after those bombs had dropped. All of my alarm bells would have been ringing in this case. The immediate next step would have been to … seek some corroboration on the ground."

"Too often, in our view [US Central Command] are acting more like bookkeepers than investigators."

Canada didn't review allegations

When it conducts a review of this sort, the U.S. Central Command is supposed to pass along its initial findings to the coalition member involved.

In this case, it's not clear what information — if any — was passed on to the Canadian military about the Fallujah raid. But there were still several factors that could have triggered a formal investigation by Canada.

A BBC news story posted the day, after the strike, reported 13 people died in air strikes and shelling in Fallujah that day, while a further seven were injured.

The fifth estate also contacted a doctor from the Fallujah hospital who said he saw casualties on that date.

He stresses, however, his records show the casualties he saw were admitted earlier in the day, before the air strikes were to have taken place.

But it's still not clear if there were other casualties that day or what happened to the woman and boy seen in the video at the site of the bombing.

However, it is clear the Canadian military didn't contact the hospital or the doctors there.

Chris Jenks, a retired judge advocate general from the U.S. military, investigated civilian casualties in Iraq in during the first Iraq war. Investigations are essential, he says, at the very least to head off ISIS propaganda. (CBC)

Bourgon revealed at the time of our interview with her that Canada hadn't conducted a review of this 10-month-old case.

"We are not aware of any additional allegation and we have not done any other reviews than that one review for the 21st of January," Bourgon said.

"I wonder how much the coalition is having to try to avoid some of the talking points that were made concerning there have been no civilian casualties," says Chris Jenks, a retired judge advocate general from the U.S. military who investigated civilian casualties in Iraq in during the first Iraq war.

"I don't expect [the military] to be happy about investigations," he says. But you have to recognize "when you are essentially blowing things up, when you are breaking things and killing people, investigations are going to be part and parcel of that equation."

Jenks says the military should be investigating any strike that is near an area populated with civilians, to find out what happened and to head off Islamic State propaganda.

"We should do an investigation, and we should look towards releasing that investigation to kind of control the narrative about what happened with that strike, and if we don't do that, ISIS will — and that's what ISIS has been doing."

For confidential tips on this story, please contact Timothy Sawa at or 647-382-7789.

Bob McKeown's full report on Canada's "Hidden War" airs Friday night on the season premiere of the fifth estate at 9 p.m. ET, 9:30 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador.


Timothy Sawa

Host, Evil By Design

Timothy Sawa is the host of CBC's podcast series investigating Peter Nygard, Evil By Design. Sawa has been an investigative journalist with CBC for more than two decades. For more than half that time, he's been digging into allegations of sexual misconduct involving the former Canadian fashion mogul. Sawa is also a producer with CBC's The Fifth Estate. He has produced investigations exposing police corruption, sexual abuse in public institutions and offshore tax evasion.