Boreal

Shooting the Messenger

25 - J. T. Boehm's Sense of Humour

Soon to be Ambassador John Thomas Boehm faced a much more difficult ethical choice than his predecessor.

Unlike our new High Commissioner to Jamaica, Robert Gordon Woolham, who was only required to rule on whether the character assassins' appraisal of my character and abilities was justified, Boehm was asked to overrule his boss, J. G. Harris, Assistant Deputy Minister, Personnel Branch.

In the topsy-turvy world at Foreign Affairs this made perfect sense.

Like Robert Gordon Woolham, John Thomas Boehm was keeping busy in the Personnel Branch while waiting for his next diplomatic assignment; like Robert Gordon Woolham, John Thomas Boehm had never served as Head of Post. Like Robert Gordon Woolham that too would change.

The appeal of my firing before John Thomas Boehm was the last chance for a diplomat to do the right thing.

Like Robert Gordon Woolham, John Thomas Boehm wrote me a letter in which he explains why he agrees with his boss’s decision to terminate my employment.

John Thomas Boehm's letter is dated July 9, 1985. In his letter, Director General Boehm dispenses with any formalities such as Dear Mr. Payeur or Sir in informing me of his decision. He gets right to the point.

This is a final reply to your grievance concerning the Department's decision to discharge you for cause effective May 7, 1985.

Like his predecessor, Robert Gordon Woolham, John Thomas Boehm claims to have carefully considered all the relevant information.

"In review of all the facts and circumstances I am satisfied that management's decision to discharge you was both reasonable and justified."

Like his predecessor, John Thomas Boehm takes management's word at face value.

"... I must deny your allegations that management attempted to frustrate your efforts to execute your duties by changing your working conditions. Indeed, management attempted to convince you of the importance of completing your assigned duties."

Again, the "assigned” duty was the impossible report, the massive Currency Fluctuation Report previously produced by the departmental mainframe computer which I was commanded to do using pen, paper and an adding machine by the end of the month.

After lauding management's attempt to get me to complete my assignment by taking away the means for me to do so (Kafka would have been impressed), John Thomas Boehm can't resist adding insult to injury.

I had told my supervisor that I was taking a few days off because I was near the breaking point — the unrelenting harassment and the impossible working conditions were taking their toll.

I took three days off for which a doctor's certificate was not required. When I returned to work, Richard demanded a doctor's certificate or they would deduct me three days pay ... which they did.

“With regard to the remaining portions of your corrective action, you have requested to be reimbursed for three days in which you were absent due to illness …"

"As you are aware, management requested you to provide a medical certificate in support of your claim for sick leave on April 2, 3 and 4 1985. As you were also advised that this was a condition of any management approval for sick leave."

As you are aware, and as John Thomas Boehm was aware, this request was made after I returned to work. This was both an unlawful and impossible request. To comply with what John Thomas Boehm considered an eminently reasonable demand, I would have had to travel back in time.

At this point, Kafka would have been in absolute awe.

Richard knew and I had told John Thomas Boehm that my doctor was an honest man. Doctor Dent would not give me a certificate after the fact, nor would I even think of asking him for one.

These people really had a hard time getting their heads around what honest people are all about.

They say that a good diplomat is a diplomat who can lie convincingly for his or her country; or at least twist the facts to his or her country's advantage. Here is where John Thomas Boehm really shines at his job, twisting the facts to justify the unlawful withholding of three days pay from a person who has just lost his job.

"Indeed, you stated that your doctor would not provide you with the required medical certificate."

Wonderful human beings these diplomats!

Canadian Consulate communications officer Deborah Daoust described Seattle Consular General J. Thomas Boehm, upon his death in 1998 at the age of 56, as “a genuinely thoughtful, compassionate, keen person with a wonderful sense of humour."

So that's it, it was all a joke.


How could two diplomats operating out of the same Bureau, within spitting distance of each other, one reporting to the other arrive at such contradictory bizarre conclusions: Robert Gordon Woolham finding me incapable of doing my job; John Thomas Boehm insubordinate for not doing it!

This is insane!

Was there some method in the madness of Robert Gordon Woolham, John Thomas Boehm and their boss, Assistant Deputy Minister Harris?

If the intent was to make a lasting example of the man who dared tell an outsider about the goings on at Foreign Affairs, Robert Gordon Woolham’s and John Thomas Boehm's bizarre ruthless conclusions did deliver an effective and impressive one-two punch.

To land not one, but two haymakers — one of which should have been enough to send their victim to the mat bruised, battered and disoriented — sends a clear and unambiguous message to anyone who would dare to even think of challenging the divine right of would-be-kings at Foreign Affairs to do as they pleased.

The bizarre contradictory conclusions reached by Robert Gordon Woolham and John Thomas Boehm would also explain Clark's letter to me where there is no mention of my offer to resign.

The letter was, for all intents and purposes, a carte blanche dispensation for his officials to beat up on the person who dared inform the Commissioner of Official Languages about their plans.

My talking to an outsider about the goings-on at the Department also meant that for members of the upper caste at Foreign Affairs i.e. the diplomats, I had become the equivalent of an untouchable (and remain so to this day) and had to be gotten rid of by whatever means necessary.

The caste system, an archaic pecking order most often associated with Indian (Indus) society was alive and well at Foreign Affairs during my time there. This human ranking system was publicly denounced in 1981 by Pamela McDougall, the one-woman royal commission into the state of the Canadian Foreign Service. The 3rd of 53 recommendations:

3. The caste system, which dominates the Foreign Service and unnecessarily reduces the support staff, their families and often other groups to the status of second class citizens, must be attacked immediately. Royal Commission on Conditions of Foreign Service, 1981


In defense of the actions of Woolham, Boehm and Harris they had little experience in modern personnel administration at the departmental level. They were seasoned diplomats accustomed to a rigid pecking order where you did what you were told without question or you suffered the consequences.

This may have been acceptable, and even necessary when serving abroad, but in Canada, it was unethical, immoral and grotesque.