TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada’s top military officer in Haiti has been relieved of duty and is under investigation for allegations of an inappropriate relationship, the second time in recent months that the head of a Canadian military mission has been removed.
Spokesmen for the Canadian armed forces and government confirmed on Friday that Colonel Bernard Ouellette, who was also the chief of staff to the United Nations mission in Haiti, had been dismissed from his post.
Canadian military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Lemay told Reuters the allegations “still have to be proven.” But he confirmed Ouellette is alleged to have engaged in an inappropriate relationship with an international civilian member of the U.N. team.
He also confirmed that both Ouellette and the woman involved deny an inappropriate relationship took place.
Ouellette’s removal comes after the commander of Canada’s troops in Afghanistan was stripped of his duties in May because of allegations of an inappropriate personal relationship.
Lemay said the latest allegations caused an atmosphere where there was a lack of trust and difficulty with morale among Canadian troops. Ouellette’s inability to deal with the resulting negative environment spurred Lieutenant-General Marc Lessard to remove him, he added.
Lemay said the decision was taken while Ouellette was on vacation back in Canada and that his assignment in Haiti had been due to end this month regardless. He will be replaced as the commander of Canadian forces in Haiti by Colonel Grant Dame, who arrives next week.
Canada’s military is in Haiti supporting a broader aid effort that followed the country’s devastating January 12 earthquake. Canada is a major aid donor to Haiti.
Asked if the two removals involving allegations about inappropriate relationships could trigger a wider review of military operations, a spokesman for Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay noted they were being handled by existing procedures.
“This is a chain of command decision that was taken because of a loss of confidence in the military leader in Haiti. The allegations are under investigation,” spokesman Jay Paxton told Reuters.
Editing by Eric Walsh