Ten years ago in this column (June 24, 2000) I griped that news coverage on Canadian Forces activity was beginning to sound like the old Police Gazette. There has been a recent resurgence.
Weapons safety, a basic skill of soldiering, featured in two stories. Last March Brig.-Gen. Daniel MĂ©nard in Afghanistan ripped off a couple of accidental shots with his fully automatic C8 carbine at Kandahar airfield. There were 10 people in the immediate vicinity including Chief of the Defence Forces General Walt Natynczyk. The shots went between two armoured vehicles and headed in the direction of a couple of helicopters without doing harm or damage. MĂ©nard explained he was trying to put the weapon on safe at the time. What in the circumstances had him carrying it with the fire-selector lever off safe allowing shots with a touch on the trigger?
An earlier story was the 2007 death of an army reservist in barracks at Kandahar. At his court martial Cpl. Matthew Wilcox testified he shot in self-defence after hearing a sound behind him like a gun being cocked. The military judge instead believed evidence from soldiers that Wilcox told them he and his deceased buddy were playing quick draw when his pistol fired. Video evidence has since surfaced of soldiers training in Canada engaging in horseplay with pistols. These weapons stories brought back to me the one occasion when I have carried a loaded pistol for real, as a young military police reservist just out of high school down in Camp Sarcee, outside Calgary in 1962. Under singular circumstances which might call for a fast response, I carried the pistol ready to fire but for the safety — and keeping mindful of the potential for disaster.
Military coverage has expanded to stories resembling celebrity sexual escapade watch magazines. My youthful military police time came to mind again when Menard was back in the news with allegations that he and a female subordinate, a soldier within his sphere of authority in Afghanistan, had indulged in sexual conduct. Charges have now been laid, including an allegation that MĂ©nard subsequently attempted to obstruct justice in the matter. Back in 1962 a story ran through the Sarcee MP detachment of a captain and a female private being discovered having intercourse in the back seat of a car. That was a military no-no.
Since some instant expert bloggers have commented on the MĂ©nard affair by saying it was purely a personal matter between a male and a female, I will say what was apparent to me as a kid reservist. A sexual relationship between a superior and a subordinate is destructive of military discipline and morale, since it raises a host of questions centring on undue influence either in obtaining the intercourse or by exploiting it. Recent allegations of another sexual escapade involved Col. Bernard Ouellette in Haiti, the apparent partner not being in the Canadian Forces but a civilian member of his team. He was relieved as the allegation — which he and the woman involved apparently deny — allegedly affected morale and cohesion within the unit. It remains under investigation.
Power, Henry Kissinger famously said, is an aphrodisiac. So, I believe, is danger. But military commanders at all levels have to keep their response under control.
St. Albert resident David Haas frequently comments on military matters.