MPs asked to stand up against intimidation of soldier threatened with discharge

OTTAWA – Opposition Liberals will try again Wednesday to hold military officers to account for allegedly attempting to intimidate an injured Canadian soldier into toning down his testimony before a parliamentary committee.

Cpl. Glen Kirkland, who was severely wounded in Afghanistan five years ago during a Taliban ambush, said last week that he was told to “not speak about certain things” when he testified before the House of Commons defence committee.

In an interview with CTV News, Kirkland claimed that he was even threatened with a dishonourable discharge.

Liberal defence critic John McKay says that’s tantamount to trying to intimidate a witness, and he’s put forward a motion calling on the committee to inform the Commons of what’s been going on.

What happened is alarming, and an attempt to “shape” testimony before Parliament is “as serious as lying to a committee,” said McKay.

The motion was initially tabled on Monday, but Conservatives on the committee refused to grant the unanimous consent required to deal with it before time ran out and MPs had to leave to vote.

McKay said he’ll try to get the motion considered again when the defence committee meets Wednesday to hear testimony on the mission in Afghanistan.

It is not the first time the military has tried to intimidate serving members when it came to speaking out about problems with the care they receive.

When former veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran held his farewell news conference in September 2010, complaining about bureaucracy and red tape, two soldiers at the event said they had been ordered by the brass not to speak publicly.

In often moving testimony last week, Kirkland told of the struggle to rebuild his life following a devastating September 2008 attack in Zhari district, west of Kandahar city, which left three of his comrades from the same vehicle dead.

The 29-year-old said he suffers from survivor’s guilt and severe post-traumatic stress.

The military recently presented him with a discharge plan that would have seen him out of uniform within six months, well ahead of the 10-year service mark he wanted to achieve for a full pension.

Kirkland rejected it, and told National Defence he wanted to continue serving until September 2015.

Both McKay and NDP veterans critic Peter Stoffer have complained, saying the young man shouldn’t be drummed out of the military early because of his disabilities.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Tuesday that Kirkland would face “no ramifications” for speaking out, and insisted that no Canadian Forces soldiers would be released until they were ready to return to civilian life.

“All injured members are not released from the military until they are prepared to do so,” MacKay told the Commons on Tuesday.

They will leave “when it is appropriate for their families, when they are ready to make a shift into the private sector. There is a program specifically designed to help with that transition. That will be the case for Cpl. Kirkland. That will be the case for injured members of the Canadian Forces on my watch.”

Stoffer described Kirkland’s treatment by the military, particularly the six-month discharge plan, as “unconscionable.”

Ron Cundell, a veterans advocate, said the minister’s statement does not guarantee Kirkland will stay in the military until the date he wants out.

Unless the guidelines are changed, National Defence is obliged to begin discharge procedures once a medical assessment determines there’s nothing more to do, and the soldier does not meet the universality of service rule, which requires all members to be ready to deploy overseas.

Even after vocational programs are stretched out, Kirkland might very well not make his self-imposed exit date, Cundell said.