Volume 90, Issue 61

Tuesday, January 14, 1997



Somalia inquiry gets sticky

By Adrian Leung
Gazette Staff

The ongoing saga of the Somalia inquiry will soon come to an abrupt end without having key questions answered into the allegations of a cover up within the Department of National Defence.

Yesterday morning in a news conference the three commissioners from the inquiry announced they will execute the federal government's wishes to conclude their inquiry early, however, they will do so under protest.

"We basically objected to the government lowering their boom on the inquiry but we will carry on within the limited time frame," said Peter Desbarats, commission member and former dean of journalism at Western. "There is not enough time to investigate and answer questions the government asked us to answer."

The inquiry involved the Canadian Airborne Regiment's mission to Somalia and the Liberal government's handling of the post-deployment phase between 1992-93. Defence Minister Doug Young announced last week that the government has ordered the inquiry to wrap up their hearings by March 31 and hand over a final report by June 30.

After hearing the government's call for a new deadline, Desbarats said he and co-commission members Justice Gilles Letourneau and Justice Robert Rutherford contemplated resigning from the inquiry out of protest but decided to complete their hearings.

Desbarats said they have yet to call upon important individuals involved at the time of the mission. Former Defence Minister Kim Campbell and Bob Fowler, former deputy minister and now ambassador to the United Nations, are two people who will not be questioned because of the new deadline.

Without the ability to probe into allegations of a possible cover up over the beating and killing of a Somali teenager by the Airborne Regiment during their mission, Desbarats said, "there is a sense that the integrity and credibility of the ordinary soldier in the armed forces will be tarnished while the top brass get off scot-free.

"It's not up to us to speculate why the government did what it did, but if the [defence] minister got the impression that the inquiry would go on forever, he was wrong," Desbarats said. "We had a tight deadline for the end of the year."

Sid Noel, professor of political science at Western, said the inquiry had already been extended several times and the government should be allowed to set a deadline to wind up.

"[The inquiry] can't go on forever and it isn't altogether unreasonable to put a lid on it finally. And if witnesses such as Kim Campbell were so important, why didn't the inquiry question them earlier?"

Furthermore, Noel said the new deadline set by the Liberal government does not have much bearing on their possible election call this year. He speculated the government is going to call a spring election and it would probably be over before the Somalia inquiry delivers its report.

"The Liberals are already late into their pre-campaign phase and public interest has already declined over the Somalia affair, he said. "The government goes into an election carrying some negative baggage, which is normal, but the public has a short term memory."

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