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Infighting plagues military watchdog
« on: May 17, 2012, 01:46:38 PM »
Infighting plagues military watchdog

Staff blame ombudsman for poisonous work environment; two former soldiers allege delays in investigations

By David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen May 17, 2012

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OTTAWA — The office of Canada’s military Ombudsman has become dysfunctional, with an employee turnover rate of 50 per cent, complaints about sexist and off-colour jokes, and some investigations into issues affecting soldiers dragging on for years, say former and current staff.
Some have labelled the environment in the Ottawa office as poisonous and they blame the problems on Pierre Daigle, a former major-general appointed Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces in February 2009.
Since Daigle’s arrival, almost half of his investigators have left, causing a backlog in cases being investigated, they say. Key staff are among those who have left, including a director general of operations, two directors of investigations, a general counsel and one director of human resources. A number of employees in the 55-member office have also taken medical leave for stress-related reasons.
In addition, two former soldiers who complained to the ombudsman’s office in 2006 about mistreatment at the hands of a senior officer have come forward to allege that Daigle has dragged his heels on the investigations into their cases.
Daigle declined to be interviewed by the Citizen. His spokesman, Darren Gibb, said the office continues to follow its mandate to help Canadian Forces and DND personnel.
Gibb acknowledged there has been a 50-per-cent turnover in staff in the last three years, but he noted that such workers are in high demand for other ombudsman organizations. In addition, Daigle also initiated a restructuring of the office. “Change is not always uniformly welcomed,” Gibb explained. “People will choose to leave an organization at that point.”
A number of employees have also raised with the Citizen their concerns about inappropriate jokes about women and other sexual references made by Daigle last year.
At a staff meeting, Daigle told a joke comparing sperm and lawyers. Employees were upset, with some viewing the joke as directed at the only lawyer in the room, a woman.
Another joke Daigle told to some employees last year, including women, had to deal with menstrual cycles.
Daigle’s staff say not only were the jokes inappropriate, but it was upsetting that they came from a person whose office might have to examine complaints about discrimination against women in the Canadian Forces and at DND.
Gibb said Daigle admits making those jokes in front of his employees and confirms that at the time some workers raised their concerns about the appropriateness. “I don’t believe he intended to offend anyone and I think it would be safe to say he would be troubled to learn that he has upset someone with these jokes.”
But Gibb said the ombudsman doesn’t agree with the concerns of some employees that there are major problems in the workplace. “I think in the ombudsman’s mind he has taken a number of steps to ensure a healthy work environment over the past few years,” Gibb said.
“I’m not sure that it’s a poisonous work environment (and) that there’s poor morale. I’m happy to say we’re almost fully staffed. I’ve never met a more passionate group of people committed to the mandate.”
In announcing Daigle’s appointment, Defence Minister Peter MacKay expressed his confidence and support for the former senior officer, stating that “he brings to the position an outstanding record of professionalism and a proven track record of advocating on behalf of the men and women in the Canadian Forces.”
One employee noted that in the early days of Daigle’s tenure, the former general did not appear to believe the Canadian Forces had any systemic problems and he did not seem to have a clear understanding of what an ombudsman was to do. That in turn significantly affected reviews and investigations into systemic issues, such as those examining how injured reservists and soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorders were treated in the military.
Gibb acknowledged that the ombudsman’s office has not done that many reviews into systemic problems in the Canadian Forces and that “they were not as a high a priority.”
But he added that Daigle has been concentrating on dealing with individual complaints, going on outreach trips to ensure that military members understand the role of the ombudsman, and restructuring the office.
Gibb noted that sometime in the summer the ombudsman hopes to release two investigations into systemic issues in the Canadian Forces: a followup review on the issue of operational stress injuries and another on injured reservists. The office has also launched an investigation into the challenges military families face.
The ombudsman’s office has received a steady flow of individual complaints since it opened in 1998 under André Marin. Such complaints, which now number about 1,500 a year, deal with a wide variety of problems, but many are concentrated on pay and benefits. Such complaints can usually be resolved with several phone calls, Gibb noted.
Some of the more complicated cases can take years to deal with, he said.
Two of those involve retired Sgt.-Maj. Mike Spellen and retired Master Cpl. Kevin Clark, who filed complaints more than five years ago with the ombudsman’s office against the senior officer they worked for at an office dealing with post-traumatic stress and other operational stress injuries.
The soldiers say Daigle’s office has continually stalled in moving their complaints forward and in both cases watered down the final reports.
The men point out that the senior officer was granted meetings with senior staff in Daigle’s office, while they were denied the same courtesy.
“If I could say something to the ombudsman I’d say, ‘Who do you represent here?’,” said Clark, who fought in the former Yugoslavia and was released from the military after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. “I thought that the office was supposed to be a non-biased organization?”
Clark believes the ombudsman’s office is trying to protect a fellow senior officer.
Spellen, who fought in the Medak Pocket battle in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, said he is aware there are other cases filed with the ombudsman’s office that are taking years to be investigated.
Spellen, who also served on the advisory committee for military ombudsmen Marin and Yves Coté, said he thinks Daigle is a “puppet” who doesn’t want to challenge the government or his former fellow generals.
“If Mr. Marin was in this office my case would have been settled within three to six months,” said Spellen. “He was thorough. People may not have liked him, but he didn’t try to brush anything under the carpet.”
Former staff at the ombudsman’s office acknowledge the Spellen and Clark reports have been continually rewritten and, in the process, changed.
Both reports were sent to DND around seven months ago. Previous ombudsmen gave DND a time limit to respond to such reports, allowing sometimes up to 90 days.
In this case, Daigle’s office put no time limit on a response from the department.
Gibb said he cannot go into the Spellen and Clark cases in detail because of privacy concerns, but noted the ombudsman was not happy with the reports produced and asked for them to be rewritten.
“I’m safe in saying that in both cases the complainants were treated unfairly (by DND) and we have made recommendations,” Gibb said. “I believe we have been pushing to get a resolution from DND. To my knowledge, we don’t have that resolution.”
Retried brigadier-general Joe Sharpe, who advised previous military ombudsmen Marin and Coté on post-traumatic stress disorders, said he is aware of the details of both cases and can’t understand why those reports have been delayed for more than five years.
Sharpe said bureaucracies can move slowly and the ombudsman’s office is no different. “Slow in the early days (of the ombudsman’s office) would have been six months, maybe a year, which is getting pretty excessive,” he said. “This is not slow. It’s glacial.”
Sharpe said his former colleagues who are still in the ombudsman’s office have informed him about the ongoing work issues.
He said the situation appears to be “a bit of dysfunctional working environment.”
“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of co-operation between the working level and the leadership level in getting things out the front door.”
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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