20 DND staff pen let­ter fol­low­ing back­lash

Writ­ten sub­mis­sion fol­lows ar­ti­cle on drunken jun­ket, which an­gered lead­er­ship

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA - DAVID PUGLIESE POST­MEDIA

The lead­er­ship of the Cana­dian Forces and De­part­ment of Na­tional De­fence have al­ways been sensitive about me­dia cov­er­age of the tax­payer-funded “Party Flight.”

Read­ers might re­mem­ber this drunken jun­ket where VIPs in­vited by Chief of the De­fence Staff Gen. Jon Vance par­tied away at pub­lic ex­pense in late 2017. The re­sult was a 2018 sex­ual as­sault charge laid against for­mer NHL player Dave “Tiger” Wil­liams (dropped in early May after an apol­ogy was made to the Cana­dian Forces flight at­ten­dant) and end­less em­bar­rass­ment for the Cana­dian Forces.

Tax­pay­ers laid out $337,000 for this ex­clu­sive party.

An in­ter­nal mil­i­tary re­port later de­ter­mined that the VIPs, some al­ready drunk, boarded the Cana­dian Forces air­craft with open al­co­hol and their on-board an­tics later put the en­tire flight at risk.

But only through doc­u­ments re­leased un­der the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion law did it be­come clear just how sensitive the se­nior de­part­ment and mil­i­tary lead­er­ship was about jour­nal­ists like my­self who were dig­ging into the be­hind the scenes story about the party flight.

These doc­u­ments show how one of my ar­ti­cles re­sulted in 20 in­di­vid­u­als – from deputy min­is­ter Jody Thomas and Gen. Jon Vance to the se­nior lev­els of the pub­lic af­fairs branch – be­com­ing in­volved in writ­ing a com­plaint let­ter to my boss about my re­port­ing on this drunken jun­ket.

The let­ter, signed by pub­lic af­fairs Brig.-Gen. Marc The­ri­ault, claimed among other things that I er­ro­neously re­ported the date that Tiger Wil­liams was to ap­pear in court. But like many of the state­ments from the mil­i­tary’s pub­lic af­fairs branch on the “party flight”, The­ri­ault’s claim sim­ply wasn’t true. The Ot­tawa Ci­ti­zen had cor­rectly re­ported the Wil­liams court date since that spe­cific date was pro­vided to the news­pa­per by his lawyer. (And as of­ten hap­pens in the court sys­tem, Wil­liams’ ap­pear­ance was pushed off to another date.)

But what was more fas­ci­nat­ing was the amount of work – and tax dol­lars – that went into the writ­ing of the 277-word com­plaint let­ter that Vance’s of­fice de­manded be pro­duced. The plan­ning and ex­e­cu­tion was a true mar­vel of Cana­dian mil­i­tary in­ge­nu­ity and bu­reau­cracy.

The ef­fort be­gan shortly after 1 p.m. April 28, 2018 when Cmdr. Kris Phillips as­signed Maj. Mark Pee­bles to be­gin writ­ing the let­ter. Lt. Col. Ja­son Proulx, the pub­lic af­fairs ad­vi­sor for the Chief of the De­fence Staff Gen. Vance also joined the ef­fort.

A judge advocate gen­eral staff mem­ber was brought in and although much of the in­for­ma­tion is cen­sored from the doc­u­ments, the ef­fort grew to in­clude Chris Hen­der­son, the as­sis­tant deputy min­is­ter of pub­lic af­fairs and Brig. Gen. The­ri­ault.

The let­ter was crafted to high­light my al­leged lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and my ar­ti­cle which “led to an er­ro­neous pub­lic per­cep­tion of the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship’s han­dling of this mat­ter (the Party Flight).”

By mid-af­ter­noon that day, Philips emailed Pebbles stat­ing he was happy with the “tone” of the let­ter. At 3:50 p.m. Proulx asked for an up­date so he could pass the in­for­ma­tion along to Vance.

The let­ter was fi­nal­ized and at 5:16 p.m. Hen­der­son briefed Vance and deputy min­is­ter Jody Thomas on the progress, also in­form­ing then Brig. Gen. David Lowthian and Bill Matthews (then an as­sis­tant deputy min­is­ter at DND, now deputy min­is­ter over at Procuremen­t Canada) and other se­nior bu­reau­crats such as JP Quinn, N Nye, G. Ven­ner and I Neville.

Maj. Pebbles ap­peared to be be­side him­self with ex­cite­ment as the let­ter fi­nally came to­gether.

“Give’er,” he wrote to Anna Nicolle, a DND of­fi­cial who handled so­cial me­dia ac­counts, sig­nalling the or­der to pub­lish the let­ter on-line.

Di­rec­tion was also given to send the let­ter to the edi­tor of the Ot­tawa Ci­ti­zen in the hopes – I was told later by DND sources – that I would be some­how rep­ri­manded or even re­moved from re­port­ing on the Party Flight.

Other so­cial me­dia advisors for the DND/Cana­dian Forces, such as An­gela Kelly, be­came in­volved. Anna Nicolle ea­gerly came up with var­i­ous rec­om­men­da­tions to “in­crease the reach” of the com­plaint let­ter, in­clud­ing post­ing links on the Ot­tawa Ci­ti­zen Twit­ter page and post­ing the let­ter on Face­book. She passed her com­ments to her chain of com­mand and they were in agree­ment. Cory Hunter, a “strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions ad­vi­sor” for DND was consulted.

POST­MEDIA

For­mer NHL player Dave 'Tiger' Wil­liams, left, dur­ing an ear­lier 2010 mil­i­tary morale tour to Afghanista­n with what ap­pear to be beads stuck up his nose.

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