BY SCOTT TAYLOR
Last week it was reported that Maj.-Gen Mike Rouleau is facing a court martial on the charge of having committed a “negligent discharge” from his firearm while on duty in northern Iraq.
As the commander of Canadian special operations, Rouleau is Canada’s top commando, reporting directly to Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff. The incident occurred last December while Rouleau was visiting members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment deployed as trainers to assist the Kurdish militia in the city of Erbil.
In a statement, Rouleau explained the incident: “While preparing to go to a forward trench position as I was arranging my equipment, I negligently discharged one bullet into a safe area while loading my assault rifle,” he stated, adding the mea culpa, “As a soldier and as a special operations assaulter, the only acceptable standard of care with a weapon is error-free.”
Weapon handling is something the Canadian military strictly enforces, as the consequences of any lapse can be fatal. On average, more than 100 soldiers are charged with negligent discharges every year and they are routinely dealt with at a summary trial by the perpetrator’s commanding officer. In most cases, a guilty verdict results in a severe fine.
In this instance, however, owing to his senior rank, Rouleau will have to be brought before a much more formal court martial. Rouleau has admitted his guilt both publicly, through the media, and to his own soldiers through an internal memo. As Rouleau reported the incident immediately to Vance, his direct superior, who in turn immediately ordered the requisite investigation, one can argue that, in this instance, military justice is being even-handedly administered.
While it is embarrassing for such an experienced commando and veteran as Rouleau to have mistakenly popped off a round like a raw recruit, soldiers will easily accept a mistake made by their commander. They would never forgive such an injustice should Rouleau have instead been spared the standard disciplinary measures enforced on lower-ranking soldiers. In this instance, I must give kudos to both Rouleau and Vance for showing good judgment.
However, I am convinced that on another issue pertaining to the same mission in northern Iraq, both these officers are guilty of a far greater negligence.
This is the policy of having Canadian soldiers wear the flag of Kurdistan on their uniforms while training and supporting Kurdish militia. This issue was first raised in May by CTV and the Toronto Star, following a media tour of the region. In photos and video footage subsequently published, it was revealed that Canadian soldiers were wearing the bright red, green and white stripes with a central yellow sunburst flag of Kurdistan on their right arms.
Middle East experts were quick to denounce this practice as unnecessarily provocative in a volatile region. Canada’s foreign policy remains committed to a unified Iraq in a post-Daesh scenario. The Kurds our soldiers are training are committed to the establishment of an independent Kurdistan, i.e., a completely contradictory objective from Canadian policy.
Kurdistan is not a recognized state, and within this contested Iraqi region reside numerous non-Kurdish minorities who have their own disputes with Kurdish authorities. For instance, the Arabs, Turkmen, Yazidis, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Armenians in northern Iraq must be incredibly perplexed as to why the Canadian soldiers they see on the streets are openly displaying support for a separatist movement many of them do not support.
When the same issue was raised regarding U.S. special forces wearing the Kurdish flag, the Pentagon was quick to order their soldiers to stop. The Canadian military, however, chose to ignore all logic and our soldiers continue wearing the contentious flags. The dubious claim by the brass is that wearing the Kurdish flag somehow enhances our interoperability with the Kurds.
I believe a Canadian uniform should remain a Canadian uniform and should not be adorned with foreign crests that symbolize something counter to our nation’s stated regional policy.
Vance and Rouleau get a thumbs-up on handling the negligent discharge incident and a fail on the flag issue. Get those flags off our soldiers’ uniforms!