20 DND staff pen letter following backlash
Written submission follows article on drunken junket, which angered leadership
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.
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.