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(STRINGER/CANADA/Reuters)
(STRINGER/CANADA/Reuters)

Lewis MacKenzie

Canadian coverage of the military has failed to pass muster Add to ...

Rarely has Canadian news coverage of a high-profile criminal case offered so much misleading speculation and so many erroneous conclusions as in the charges against Colonel Russell Williams. The following assertions are offered as evidence.

'RED FLAGS' WERE MISSED

A national TV news network's commentary asserting this mentioned everything but the "red flag." Presumably because there wasn't one. The competition for senior command positions in the Canadian Forces is fierce. The process is thorough, expensive and time consuming, and has produced well over 16,000 leaders at the colonel and general rank over the past century. Not one of them was ever charged with crimes even close to the seriousness of those attributed to Col. Williams.

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COLONEL WAS 'ON TRACK' TO LEAD THE AIR FORCE

Oh? Col. Williams's promotion to the rank of colonel in 2009 at 46 did not put him in the same league as officers who will reach the rank of lieutenant-general and command Canada's air force. If he was 39 or 40, the odds would be more in his favour. To use a military metaphor, he was on a fast train - but not the express.

Perhaps a word on how the military selects personnel for promotion is in order. Once a year, promotion boards are convened in Ottawa, where all personnel performance files are held. Boards are convened for each military classification - pilot, navigator, infantry, artillery, sub-surface (submariner), maritime engineer, etc.

For officers, the board's members are from the classification two ranks senior to the rank being considered for promotion. The board is chaired by an officer three ranks senior to the rank considered. As an example, if pilot captains are being considered for promotion to major, the board will consist of up to six lieutenant-colonel pilots, with a full colonel as chair.

Also of great importance is the participation of one or two "honest brokers" - say, lieutenant-colonels from an unrelated classification, such as the infantry - to ensure the process is not incestuous. An entire week is devoted to selecting those to be promoted in the coming year.

'MORALE' IS LOW

Journalists who write or say this don't know the difference between morale and attitude. When morale is low, airmen and airwomen are sullen and withdrawn. They avoid work and responsibility and won't put extra effort into their daily duties. I have never seen that attitude exist in more than 50 years of observing Canada's sailors, soldiers and aircrew. Attitude, however, is something else. You can have high morale and be pissed off at the same time. I dare say a large number of our people are angry at Col. Williams for, by his own accounts, shaming the uniform. But morale is not low - the men and women at CFB Trenton are still working their butts off to keep up with the 24/7 demands of supporting our troops in Afghanistan, Haiti, Vancouver, Nevada and a dozen other locations around the world, in addition to searching and rescuing civilians in trouble.

PART OF THE 'ELITE'

What drivel. What constitutes this "elite"? Is there some secret society I was not invited to while serving? Was there some secret handshake I was not aware of? The leaders of the Canadian Forces meet every morning at National Defence Headquarters. Col. Williams was not invited.

A GENERAL'S 'RESPONSIBILITY'

During an interview with Canada's top soldier, General Walter Natynczyk, a national television reporter asked whether, given that he had placed Col. Williams in charge in Trenton, he had any words for the families of the victims. Midway through his compassionate response, the reporter asked, "Do you feel responsible?"

The question's innuendo was barely camouflaged - do you feel responsible for the murders and the assaults? That question was the second "body blow" taken by Gen. Natynczyk in the past few days and was contemptible. To his credit, the Chief of the Defence Staff pointed out that he is responsible for more than 90,000 military personnel, regular and reserve. He avoided directly answering the question, which he should never have been asked.

Considering their current high profile and well-earned respect both at home and abroad, our young men and women in uniform deserve better treatment than some in the news media have been dishing out.

Lewis MacKenzie is a retired major-general. He was first commander of United Nations peacekeeping forces in Sarajevo.

 

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