Military commission investigating handling of complaint alleging recruits tortured in 80s
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, April 12, 2018 8:04PM EDT
TORONTO -- A decision by Canadian military investigators to shut down a probe into allegations that recruits were stripped and tortured during exercises decades ago will now come under independent scrutiny, the Military Police Complaints Commission of Canada announced Thursday.
In a detailed written explanation, the chairwoman of the commission, Hilary McCormack, said the "public interest" investigation will determine whether the matter was properly handled and whether improper considerations influenced the decision to close the case.
"It is in the public interest for the allegations in this complaint to be investigated in an open and transparent manner," McCormack said. "The allegations in this complaint are serious and raise issues that can impact on confidence in the military police and its independence."
It was not immediately clear how much of the original torture allegations will be aired in the commission's review.
The complaint about the investigation was made in December 2016 by Jeffrey Beamish, a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Beamish had initially alleged he was "tortured" during exercises at the infantry battle school at CFB Wainwright, Alta., between October 1983 and March 1984. He alleged others among the 33 recruits were also tortured during a prisoner-of-war scenario in which they were stripped and placed in cells too small to sit down in.
"The complaint alleges that over the following 24 to 48 hours, the naked recruits were sprayed through the jail door bars with cold water from a hose while the windows were left open, letting in the outside air," McCormack said. "It is alleged that the temperature outside was between -15 C and -30 C. As the recruits did not have access to bathrooms, they had to urinate on the floor."
Beamish said the experience left him with major depressive disorder, PTSD, night terrors, paranoia and adjustment issues. He went to military police, and they turned the matter over to their investigative arm -- the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.
In August 2016, the lead investigator called Beamish to advise him the investigation was closed, according to McCormack. Beamish maintains he was told among other things that the courts would not punish anyone for what occurred, and that "torture" wasn't an offence under the Criminal Code at the time of the original events. Beamish also said he was given nothing in writing and that the investigator confirmed he had not actually reviewed the file.
His complaint alleges "professional negligence, incompetence, and failing to investigate serious criminal allegations."
McCormack said a professional standards investigation decided in September his complaint was unsubstantiated. Among reasons given was the initial investigator's experience and quality of his work, but it did fault his communication skills.
Beamish then turned to the military police complaints commission. After reviewing the available materials, McCormack said she decided to exercise her discretion and call for a proper review. While expressing no view on the merits of the complaint, McCormack called it important to decide whether "improper considerations" influenced the decision to close the initial investigation.
The gravity of what Beamish initially alleged is "indisputable," she said.
"They involve an allegation of torture, a very serious offence, and they are also alleged to have been the result of institutional conduct by a CAF Battle School chain of command and/or persons occupying positions of power or leadership in the CAF," McCormack said.
The possibility that military police were declining to investigate serious allegations against the military brass could give rise to a perception of a lack of independence and "discourage" other complainants from coming forward, she said.
As a result, she said, it would be in the public interest for the commission to conduct its own investigation and would now start that process.