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MPs duck bid to fight intimidation of soldier threatened with discharge

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

OTTAWA - An attempt to hold military officers to account for allegedly trying to intimidate an injured Canadian soldier into toning down his testimony before a parliamentary committee has been smothered behind closed doors.

The House of Commons defence committee met for almost an hour out of the public eye on Wednesday to deal with a motion by Liberal MP John McKay over the case of Cpl. Glen Kirkland.

Following the meeting, the only thing McKay and New Democrat defence critic Jack Harris would say was that the motion, which called on the committee to ask the Commons to investigate the alleged intimidation, no longer existed.

Neither of them were allowed to say whether the motion had been voted down or withdrawn because proceedings that happen behind closed doors are to remain secret.

Kirkland, who was severely wounded in Kandahar five years ago, testified last week that he was told to "not speak about certain things."

He even claimed in a broadcast interview that he was threatened with a dishonourable discharge — something McKay described as attempted witness tampering.

Conservative MPs, who form a majority on the committee, used their numbers to force the closed-door session, which have become more and more common around Parliament, even on routine matters.

"Witness tampering is a serious offence," said McKay. "By instructing Cpl. Kirkland to stay 'within his arcs' his commanding officers were instructing him to withhold information from the committee, making it virtually impossible for parliamentarians to understand the issues that ill and injured members of the Canadian Forces face."

The Canadian military claims it was only offering communications guidance when it issued those instructions, but both Opposition parties say they look at it as an attempt to stifle the flow of information, particularly the kind that embarrasses the government.

"It is important in a functional democracy that Canadians have the ability to speak freely to their parliamentarians, especially when their experiences can be of help to the committee," McKay said.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has given repeated public assurances that Kirkland will be able to stay in the military until September 2015, his 10 year anniversary, at which point he'll be able to collect a partial pension.

His pledge, made on the floor of the House of Commons, also applies to other wounded veterans and may have inadvertently opened up a complicated can of worms because there potentially are hundreds of soldiers, many of them on the way out without qualified pensions.

The current Defence Department policy states that once the military medical system has done all it can and the soldier cannot meet the universality of service standard, which requires them to be deployable, the system of discharge must kick in.

There is no indication, at the moment, that the Harper government intends to rewrite the policy.

The country's military ombudsman indirectly addressed the issue in a report last fall, suggesting the government adopt a more "modern application" of the principle of universality of service.

Pierre Daigle says there are limited options available to those deemed no longer fit to fight.

While the military can never become an employment agency, Daigle wrote that the perception that soldiers are expendable runs deep among the wounded.

"Some see it as an outright betrayal; members are valued until they become ill or injured as a result of operations. If they cannot be patched up and returned to the fray, they are "thanked for coming out and kicked to the curb," said his September 2012 report.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/the-canadian-press/130612/mps-duck-bid-fight-intimidation-soldier-threatened-discharge