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Backgrounder / January 17, 1997 / Project number: BG-97.006


As early as May 1994, there were allegations of misconduct and poor performance by Canadian Forces personnel on assigned United Nations peacekeeping duties at the Bakovici Hospital in Bosnia-Hercegovina. A Military Police investigation was launched immediately, but after two years, and numerous suspensions and re-openings, it had still not reached any conclusions or closure.

On July 17, 1996, the Chief of the Defence Staff directed the establishment of a separate, administrative investigation into why it took so long to have the allegations fully and properly examined. The investigation was to be conducted by a non-Canadian Forces investigator because of a growing perception that internal investigations were biased and being interfered with by the chain of command. To carry out this important task, the Canadian Forces engaged the services of Mr. Lowell Thomas, Assistant Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (retired) on July 22, 1996. Mr. Thomas is a distinguished police officer who provided impartial and credible scrutiny to the issues. As he states concisely in his report, "[his] task in this administrative investigation can be expressed quite simply: to seek the truth."



Mr. Thomas's mandate was to make specific findings as to: the cause of the delay in investigating the allegations; whether the delay was systemic or attributable to individuals, and if so, whom; whether National Defence Headquarters was misinformed and, if so, by whom and through which documents or communication; whether or not there was any attempt made to cover up the allegations; and, if there were such an attempt, identify the responsibility for acts or omissions related to the cover up. Although there had been a number of investigations into these allegations, it was the long delay in properly investigating them, and the failure of the chain of command to identify the need to investigate in the first place, that caused the Thomas investigation.

The scope of the investigation was events that occurred between May 7, 1994 - the submission of the initial military police report and July 17, 1996 - the launching of the Thomas investigation. The focus of the examination was the interaction between the chain of command and the military police.

In the course of his investigation, Mr. Thomas collected and examined thousands of documents, conducted scores of interviews, travelled throughout Canada, visited Croatia and went to Bosnia to see the Bakovici Hospital for himself. An in-depth analysis of events, activities, processes and structure was then carried out, conclusions were reached, and recommendations were drawn up.



Mr. Thomas found no evidence, either in documents or interviews, that would indicate intentional interference or cover up, or an attempt to cover up, by the chain of command or the military police. Neither was any evidence found to indicate that National Defence Headquarters was misinformed by its subordinate headquarters. However, Mr. Thomas did determine that information provided to National Defence Headquarters was inadequate and the original Bakovici investigation process had failed.

Mr. Thomas also found that the investigation into allegations of misconduct and poor performance at the Bakovici Hospital was flawed and unduly delayed. The major contributing factors were: policies and structures, inadequate investigative processes, poor communication between the participants, and a lack of trust and confidence - in individuals, the investigative process or the organization.

Mr. Thomas concluded that, in order to ensure military police independence, military police should not be subordinate within the same chain of command they serve, and that military police investigations should not have to compete with operational requirements for scarce resources. The quality review mechanisms failed to keep the investigation on track and the structure of the military police organization and jurisdictional problems inhibited initiative, focus and a coordinated effort. A natural flow of information to investigators is required and the role of the Judge Advocate General in the proactive sharing of information needs to be clarified. Policy should be reformed so that it is simple, clear and focused. Finally, common sense, initiative, cooperation and leadership cannot be legislated. Restoring trust requires action and a vision that is shared by all. The aim is to reinforce values and ethics in the military community in a publicly visible and effective way while eliminating the perception of interference and favouritism.



Mr. Thomas made the following recommendations:

  • A vision for providing police services be developed in consultation with the community served that ensures the independence of the investigative process;
  • From that vision, policies, structures and processes be developed that demonstrate independence, fairness and impartiality;
  • Alternate policing options that are available from both within the Canadian Forces and the public domain, or a combination of both, be explored;
  • Aspects of the investigative process such as jurisdiction, priority setting and resources be examined; and
  • Periodic audits of review mechanisms and an oversight commission be considered to ensure systems function as intended and people are held accountable.


The military justice system has been under review. The Thomas Report is a keystone document contributing to the process. The Minister of National Defence has accelerated the process with the creation of a Special Advisory Group on Military Justice and Police Investigative Services.

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