A lengthy grievance:
Justice delayed equals justice denied
By R. Douglas McBride
When my son Andrew was 12, we enrolled him in the Canadian Scottish Regimental Cadet Corps in Nanaimo. Understand that Andrew had been waiting to turn 12 so that he could join and that, even then, at least part of him was entertaining (albeit in the manner of a 12-year-old) a career in the Canadian military.
Two years later, his younger brother, Stephan, followed in his footsteps, and though their years in cadets were terrific and rewarding for both boys, for Andrew it was something more than an after-school and summer commitment. Andrew knew, early on, the path he wished to follow, for what might have started out as a boyish fancy at 12 soon took the form of a concrete goal.
Andrew wanted to serve his country.
During his last year at high school, he applied for the Regular Officer Training Program. He was accepted and was sworn in as an officer cadet at CFB Esquimalt on June 8, 1995, three days shy of his eighteenth birthday. His mother and I were, of course, immensely proud of him. Ours was, after all, a family with strong military ties. My father had served as an RCAF pilot instructor in World War Two and my grandfather served in France with the Canadian Army in the Great War. My wife’s father, too, served in the Canadian Army during World War Two and saw duty throughout Western Europe — in fact, he served in the Canadian Scottish Regiment.
Andrew spent that summer doing his BOTC at CFB Chilliwack, and from there it was off to RMC in Kingston. In May of 1999, he graduated with a BA in Military and Strategic Studies, was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and posted to 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery in Petawawa. An eager, tech-savvy junior officer, Andrew had the respect of his regiment and the eye of his commanding officer who felt he had a promising future as part of the next generation of Canadian Artillery.
But all of that went off the rails in July of 2001.
While completing his artillery training at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick, Andrew ran afoul of a course officer with whom he’d already had a contentious relationship. It was during the closing days of the last exercise of the summer, and a suspicious miscommunication as to commencement of operations meant that Andrew’s team was not ready to go the next morning. Though his team rallied and made their first assignment, the course officer made a point of dressing Andrew down. Furthermore, when he didn’t like the answers he was getting from Andrew, he accused him of lying and took it upon himself to instigate a Progress Review Board (PRB) questioning Andrew’s integrity.
The PRB featured a number of procedural irregularities not least of which was the fact that no witness was called to provide testimony to either back up or refute the accusation — even though Andrew had requested witness testimony. The board (which included the course officer, his accuser) was split as to their recommendations. The Commandant of the Artillery School, despite the fact that the case against Andrew was tenuous and the recommendations of his board mixed, decided not only to fail Andrew from the course but also recommend his dismissal from the Canadian Armed Forces altogether.
What followed was a 12-year battle with the Canadian Armed Forces’ so-called grievance process. Of course, he didn’t know it would be a 12-year battle at the time. Neither of us did. As a lawyer I could tell right away that there were problems with how things had played out in the PRB, and so I stepped in to help Andrew through the grievance process, which seemed, at first, pretty lucid and straightforward. I could not have been more wrong.
When the Canadian Armed Forces wants a certain result, they don’t like opposition. In Andrew’s case, it became obvious early on that no one was willing to take a genuine look at what had happened. The Artillery School Commandant had made a ruling, and that was good enough. And so what we were left with was not a grievance process at all, but rather a maddening, Kafkaesque theatre for the aggrieved that got progressively more absurd as the months turned into years.
Eventually, and only because we persevered while Andrew was deliberately marginalized and alienated within his regiment, the case found its way to the Canadian Forces Grievance Review Board (CFGB) — where it then sat for years. By the time the recommendation of the CFGB finally found its way onto the desk of the Chief of the Defence Staff, Andrew was not the same promising young officer with a bright future ahead of him. He had been pulled from the guns, parked behind a desk, and left to rot. After a while, the tactics brought to bear on him required that he take stress leave, and after that he was reassigned to a holding unit in Kingston.
When the Chief of the Defence Staff finally ruled on Andrew’s case, we were vindicated. The CFGB could see what officer after officer of increasing rank and responsibility had deliberately chosen not to see. Andrew had not been afforded procedural fairness. Andrew was retroactively promoted to Captain, and his release — which had only been fended off with a Federal Court stay, I might add — was overturned. (For more on this aspect, please refer to the June 2014 article “Full Steam Ahead” by Michel W. Drapeau and Joshua M. Juneau in Volume 21 Issue 5 of Esprit de Corps.)
But it wasn’t that simple.
You see, after the CFGB passed its recommendation onto the CDS but before he made his ruling, the decision was made to go after Andrew on a Medical Employment Limitations charge; he had taken stress leave after all. If they could not make the integrity charge stick, they would come back at him with MELs.
There were problems—significant problems in fact—with how they handled the MELs case, but in the end, with the help of Department of Justice lawyers backing them up, Canadian Armed Forces won. Andrew was released. That was 12 years of my life and Andrew’s life, a soldier who wanted nothing more than a chance to serve his country.
Andrew’s story is not unique. Far from it. This is consistently how Canada’s Armed Forces conducts itself when challenged or questioned. Don’t believe me? Just go online and look up recent stories on Cpl. Stuart Langridge — a story far more tragic and unsettling than Andrew’s.
There is a culture of entitlement in the Canadian Armed Forces that needs to change. When something does not go their way, the immediate instinct is to close ranks, delay, distract, spin the truth and, where necessary, cover their ass. It is an ends-driven organization with far too many means at their disposal.
When I think back to Andrew as a kid, talking about joining the military, what strikes me most is the broad level of support he received from family and friends. That same support would not be forthcoming today from anyone who knows what Andrew has gone through.
Considering that the Canadian Armed Forces is struggling to meet recruitment numbers, they ought to consider looking at how they are increasingly being perceived by the Canadian public. There is growing anger and cynicism over how our soldiers are treated both by the government and the Canadian military. If Canada’s young men and women are going to put their lives on the line in defence of their country, they deserve to know that the military in which they serve has their backs.