Brig.-Gen. Sylvain Bédard, the director general of public affairs for National Defence and the Canadian Forces, did not mislead the public in comments regarding Defence Minister Peter MacKay's July 9, 2010 Cormorant helicopter flight, a navy captain has said.
On Sept. 23, the front page of The Telegram carried a story (headlined "Free ride or work related?") about MacKay being criticized for being flown by a Canadian Forces helicopter from a private fishing lodge on the Gander river in July 2010. Critics had accused the minister of using the search and rescue helicopter as a taxi.
Having contacted the Canadian Forces requesting further information, The Telegram received a phone call the next day from Bédard, who supported statements from the minister's office that the purpose of the flight was to allow MacKay to see the aircraft in operation and be briefed on search and rescue capabilities.
"On that day, there was a planned sortie for training. Just a routine sortie that takes place," he said. "So it was sort of a good match to get the minister to see certain operations for our search and rescue."
This week, internal emails by Canadian Forces members regarding the flight were revealed, dug up by The Toronto Star through an access to information request. Quoting from the emails, opposition MPs have again claimed MacKay's flight was only under the "guise" of observing search and rescue training.
On Friday morning, The Telegram requested a followup interview with Bédard to address the apparent contradictions between his image of the helicopter flight and that contained within the emails.
"In that regard, all I can say is that the emails and the access to information documents speak for themselves. So I'd say, you have to report as to your interpretation of those documents," navy Capt. Dave Scanlon said in responding to the interview request.
However, Scanlon said Bédard's comments (available in full on The Telegram website) were all factually correct.
"Was there an intent to mislead? No. There was no intention to mislead. The only intention was to offer a Canadian Forces perspective," he said.
In one example of where details from the emails apparently change the overall story, Bédard said time out by the Cormorant team lasted a total 0.9 hours. He made no mention of the need for the search and rescue team to make at least one "recce" (reconnaissance) flight in the days prior to MacKay's pickup, in order to scout potential landing areas.
"If you know there's a possibility that a couple of days hence you may have an opportunity to host the minister, you're certainly going to take advantage of one of those training flights to have a look at the possible destination," Scanlon said when asked about an email's reference to a recce flight. "So again, it's leveraging existing training hours.
"But the bottom line is, they fly every day, they would have been flying anyway and that's all we're saying," he said.
He also said the Canadian Forces continue to welcome any opportunity to host the minister.