Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces

Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces

April 25, 2007 10:00 ET

Ombudsman Urges More Compassionate Treatment of Military Family Members

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - April 25, 2007) - Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, Mr. Yves Cote, today released a special report, entitled A Sniper's Battle - A Father's Concern: An Investigation into the Treatment of a Canadian Forces Sniper Deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. The report examines the treatment received by a team of Canadian Forces snipers before, during and after their deployment to Afghanistan, as well as the treatment received by a father of one of the snipers when he came forward with significant concerns about the welfare of his son.

The Ombudsman's special report follows a comprehensive investigation into concerns raised by Mr. Patrick Ragsdale, that his son, Master Corporal Graham Ragsdale, and other snipers on his Third Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry sniper team were ostracized by their unit, denied access to stress debriefings, and treated unfairly by the chain of command. Mr. Ragsdale believed that this treatment led to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder in his son and in other snipers in his son's team.

Following his son's return from Afghanistan, Mr. Ragsdale documented his concerns in a series of letters to government officials and high-ranking members of the Canadian Forces. In September 2004, the Chief of the Defence Staff referred the case to the Office of the Ombudsman after the Canadian Forces failed to satisfy Mr. Ragsdale's concerns.

After conducting 147 interviews and reviewing thousands of pages of documentation, Ombudsman investigators found that Master Corporal Ragsdale and the other snipers were generally treated fairly by the Canadian Forces.

"These were very serious concerns brought forward to the Department and the Canadian Forces by a worried father," stated Mr. Cote. He added, "Although we found that there was room for improvement - particularly regarding the military's approach to critical incident stress debriefings and its honours and awards program - we believe the snipers were treated fairly given the circumstances in which they were operating."

However, the Ombudsman also found that the Department and the Canadian Forces did not treat the concerns of Mr. Patrick Ragsdale in an appropriate manner or in a way in which any other concerned family member of a soldier injured in operations would legitimately expect to be treated.

"We have come across a number of cases where family members are treated like administrative problems and handled in an uncaring, bureaucratic way and this is fundamentally wrong," stated Mr. Cote. He added, "Although the Canadian Forces has made progress in addressing this issue, additional improvement is needed to ensure the type of treatment Mr. Ragsdale has received never occurs again. Our courageous soldiers and their anxious families deserve better than what took place here."

The Office of the Ombudsman previously examined the treatment of military families in its 2005 special report, When A Soldier Falls. This report followed an investigation into the tragic death of Master Corporal Rick Wheeler in a training exercise in 1992. One of its key recommendations was that family members seeking information need to be treated with compassion and that every effort needs to be made to apply access to information and privacy legislation in an open and helpful manner. The poor treatment afforded Mr. Ragsdale clearly highlights the need for continued improvement in this important area.

The Ombudsman's Office is currently in the process of following up on the recommendations in When a Soldier Falls related to the treatment of families whose military loved ones are killed or injured in the course of their duties. As part of this follow up, the office is reviewing other cases of alleged poor treatment.

In examining Mr. Ragsdale's concerns about his son, Ombudsman investigators conducted extensive interviews, reviewed all directives and publications relevant to the deployment of troops to Afghanistan, obtained and examined the operational mission reports specifically related to the sniper missions, and analyzed correspondence and interactions that took place between Mr. Ragsdale and the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces.

Unfortunately, during the course of their work, the investigative team faced considerable resistance in obtaining full access to all relevant documents from the Department and the Canadian Forces in a timely manner.

"The Office of the Ombudsman must be free to investigate matters without this type of institutional interference," said Mr. Cote. He added, "Even though it was the former Chief of the Defence Staff who had referred this case to our office, full access to the documents that were requested by investigators was withheld by Defence officials for upwards of ten or twelve months and our ability to do our job was severely hindered. It is clear the only way to ensure that this type of situation does not happen again is for our office to be provided with the same legislated powers as other federally and provincially appointed Ombudsmen."

In releasing A Sniper's Battle - A Father's Concern, the Ombudsman committed to carrying out a follow up review, beginning in November 2007, to ensure that the recommendations in the special report will be implemented by the Department and the Canadian Forces.

A complete list of the seven recommendations, and additional information on the Ombudsman's special report, can be found in the attached backgrounder or on the office's website at: www.ombudsman.forces.gc.ca.

Contact Information

  • Office of the Ombudsman
    Darren Gibb
    Director of Communications
    613-992-6962
    or
    Office of the Ombudsman
    Michelle Laliberte
    Communications Advisor
    613-995-8643