POLITICS

Canada's Former Top Soldier In Haiti Sues For $6.2M

07/19/2012 07:40 EDT | Updated 09/18/2012 05:12 EDT
The former commander of Canada's mission in Haiti is suing the Department of National Defence and four officers for $6.2 million in damages after allegations of an "inappropriate relationship" with a United Nations staffer caused him to be relieved of his duties two years ago.

Col. Bernard Ouellette denies all the allegations, said his lawyer, retired colonel Michel Drapeau, in an interview with CBC News.

"He has suffered emotionally, physically and his reputation has been tarnished, considerably, for something that he hasn't done," said Drapeau.

Allegations that Ouellette and his secretary were seen "frolicking together" by fellow officers surfaced after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010.

In part, the lawsuit claims that instituting an administrative review over a year after Ouellette was repatriated is "punitive" and only serves to further tarnish Ouellette's professional reputation.

A lawsuit filed in Ontario Superior Court on Jan. 12, 2012, stipulates that Ouellette was working at the UN headquarters in Haiti when the earthquake struck, that he was injured during the hotel collapse, and that many of his colleagues and friends died in the disaster.

The lawsuit goes on to say that Ouellette "saved the lives" of many injured colleagues through the aftershocks, including the life of his administrative assistant Vlora Merlaku.

According to Drapeau, Merlaku "had no place to go. So as a man of honour would do, and chivalry, he provided her with accommodation in a safe location and that accommodation happened to be his room."

But Ouellette's subordinates alleged in emails sent to the Defence Department that there was "only one bed in the room," that Ouellette was seen "with lipstick on his mouth in the middle of the working day," and that Ouellette and Merlaku were "seen walking together hand in hand."

The lawsuit maintains that Ouellette is married and "enjoys a loving relationship with his spouse of 28 years."

On June 28, 2010, Ouellette was relieved of his duties, but two subsequent internal investigations sided in his favour.

Five months after Ouellette was relieved of his duties, in November 2010, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service concluded there was "insufficient evidence to support the charge."

In December 2011, the department's own grievance board found that Ouellette "was not afforded procedural fairness." And that "following a thorough review of the evidence, the board found that it was unreasonable … to have concluded that he [Col. Ouellette] had to be removed from his command."

According to Drapeau, Ouellette wants to hold to account both the Department of National Defence and "the individuals who made the defamatory statements" which have "put his career in peril."

On Jan. 17, 2012, an administrative review that was first launched in March 2011 recommended "the (compulsory) release of Col. Ouellette as "unsuitable for further service" citing "the misconduct" and "the unsatisfactory performance" of Ouellette as "extremely grave."

The lawsuit claims that instituting an administrative review over a year after Ouellette was relieved of his duties is "punitive" and only serves to further tarnish Ouellette's professional reputation.

The Department of National Defence has yet to respond to the lawsuit.

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