Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ministerial Rebuke - Board of Inquiry purposely bypasses legal counsel and summons grieving parents to appear at in-camera military hearing

When a soldier dies from a sudden death, the military normally conducts an in-camera military Board of Inquiry (BOI) convened pursuant to section 45 of the National Defence Act. At a BOI there is no right to standing for relatives of a deceased. The final report of a BOI is not disclosed to the public nor a copy given to the family of the deceased. Also, the final report normally takes years to be approved by the convening authority.

Also, the military authorities normally refuse to respect the grieving parents's desire to act through counsel in any of their dealings with the BOI. They have also refused to respect the wishes of many families to have a post-morten examination by a (civilian) Coroner instead of a military BOI>

A recent case concerning the passing of Lieutenant Shawna Rogers is part of a growing chorus of grieving parents asking that the death of their loved ones who served in the Canadian Forces be investigated by a Coroner through the medium of inquests where any person having a substantial and direct interest in the inquest can apply to have "standing" and, if granted can play an active role during the inquest, including cross-examining witnesses, introducing evidence and asking questions during the public hearing. A Coroner's inquest report is also made public.

The Canadian military not only forged ahead with the conduct of the BOI but actually threatenened her grieving parents with legal action if they did not turn over documents they had collected in their attempts to get to the bottom of their 27 year-old daughter's death. This includes her medical records and electronic records documenting her correspondence and communication including her private cellphone records. Instead the couple requested that an independent, external and impartial Coroner's inquest. 

The late Lieutenant Shawna Rogers - Circa 2012
Mr. and Mrs. Rogers' repeated requests that the military deal with their lawyer were also blatantly ignored. To prevent any misunderstanding the Office of the Judge Advocate General wrote noting that the request for communications to be sent through legal counsel would NOT be honoured. It got worse. The President of the military BOI issued a formal Summons to each of the two parents.  Only after their lawyer moved the Federal Court to quash the two Summonses did the military back down. 

Ottawa Citizen - October 22, 2014.

 http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/canadian-military-threatened-soldiers-grieving-parents-with-legal-action 

Within hours of its publication of this newspaper article, the matter was raised during Question Period in the House of Commons. In response the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence observed: "What transpired in this case is not acceptable. As soon as our government learned of this the Minister of National Defence asked the Department to respect the family's wishes and turn over the necessary documents to allow for a Coroner’s inquest by the Alberta provincial government."

See video from Global Television:

 http://globalnews.ca/video/1627311/circumstances-surrounding-soldiers-death-kept-secret

See follow-on article published in the Ottawa Citizen on October 22, 2014:

http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/conservative-government-blames-dnd-for-mistreatment-of-dead-soldiers-parents

The Alberta Government will now take steps to ensure that Shawna's death be properly investigated.

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