Defence department officials tried to blame a clerk for failing to challenge the military’s top legal officials who had claimed a report requested under the Access to Information law didn’t exist even though it did.
The department’s decision to assign blame to the unidentified clerk came even though Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance and police investigators were in possession of documents clearly showing senior Judge Advocate General staff discussed withholding the records and acknowledging what was being done was illegal. Postmedia revealed last week the July 2017 attempt to stymie the request made under the Access to Information law for the document, a report highlighting problems with the court martial system.
Judge Advocate General Commodore Geneviève Bernatchez, who oversees the military justice system and is the top legal advisor to the Canadian Forces, endorsed a recommendation by one of her staff to tell the Department of National Defence’s access to information officials the documents didn’t exist, according to the briefing document for Vance’s office. The JAG organization sent a “nil” response to the DND Access branch, known by its acronym as DAIP, in response to two requests for the draft report of the court martial system review.
“We conclude that the Office of the JAG’s response to DAIP indicating that the requested records do not exist is potentially unlawful in that it seeks to deny a right of access to a record,” Vance’s office was told by Bernatchez’s staff. “The records that were requested clearly exist, and have existed since at least 21 July 2017.”
At least three officers in Bernatchez’s organization raised ethical or legal concerns about the decision to withhold the records.