On May 16, the federal government issued a short press release, proudly announcing that “Canada is sending three naval experts to South Korea” to help investigate the suspicious sinking of the warship Cheonan. “We are pleased to provide assistance to a key partner in the region,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon. Peter MacKay, the defence minister, praised the military’s ability to “deliver excellence and project leadership abroad.”
Two days later, South Korean officials began briefing foreign diplomats about what the investigation found: that a North Korean torpedo struck the Cheonan, killing 46 people. On May 20—four days after Ottawa’s gushing press release—those findings were shared with the rest of the world.
Which begs the obvious question: did the Canadian experts actually arrive in Seoul in time to contribute to the investigation?
Matthew Lindsey, a National Defence spokesman, insisted that the Canadian delegation “played a critical role in the Republic of Korea-led investigation.” But he refused to provide any more details about that critical role, citing everything from “operational security” to “the norms of international diplomacy.” He wouldn’t say when the experts landed, when they left, or what evidence—if any—they examined. “What I can tell you is they were there for a short period of time in the later parts of the investigation, and they came back around the time when President Lee [Myung-bak] made his announcement,” he said. “This is all the information I have.”
Which begs another obvious question: why does the military bother writing a press release if it isn’t willing to answer basic follow-up questions? “I totally understand your frustration,” Lindsey said. “We’re just trying to get the information out there.” Some information.