Jean Boyle (Profile)

Jean Boyle is used to being the best. An athlete as a youth in Ottawa's largely francophone east end, he won a black belt in judo by the age of 20. As an officer cadet at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.

Boyle, Jean (Profile)

Jean Boyle is used to being the best. An athlete as a youth in Ottawa's largely francophone east end, he won a black belt in judo by the age of 20. As an officer cadet at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., he was quickly recognized as a man who would go far, and sent off for fighter-pilot training. Boyle later commanded Canada's fighter wing in Germany in the late 1980s, and in Ottawa's military bureaucracy he vaulted over more senior generals to become the youngest-ever chief of the defence staff last December. Back in the mid-1970s, former air force commander Lt.-Gen. Scott Clements was Boyle's commander at 434 Tactical Fighter Squadron in Cold Lake, Alta. At the time, Clements told Maclean's last week, "Jean was an outstanding fighter pilot and he stood out absolutely."

Boyle, 48, continues to stand out - although few would envy him his current position. As the head of Canada's besieged military, he stands accused of complicity in the alleged military coverup of the Somalia affair. Within some defence circles, the talk is not of the possibility of Boyle's termination, but of when he will be forced to resign. It would be a bitter end to a Canadian success story that, symbolically, began in 1967 when Boyle, then in his late teens and inspired by soldiers parading on Parliament Hill during Centennial celebrations, joined the military.

Graduating from the Royal Military College in 1971, Boyle fell in love with flying and was immediately recognized as having outstanding eye-hand co-ordination and a skill for instant decision-making - the most important qualities in the high-speed world of the fighter pilot. After a career as a fighter pilot and a brief stint in Ottawa - during which he was promoted to colonel - Boyle moved to Lahr, Germany, in 1988 to assume command of Canada's No. 4 Fighter Wing. In 1989, he was promoted to brigadier-general, and given the command of the 1st Canadian Air Division in Lahr - a job that saw him oversee the deployment of Canada's CF-18s during the Gulf War.

In 1991, Boyle returned to Canada and a new posting as commandant of the Royal Military College. Well-removed from Ottawa during the early months of the Somalia affair, he could not escape the spreading crisis entirely: when he returned to defence headquarters in 1993 he became the head of the working group entrusted with co-ordinating the Forces' response to the Somalia scandal. And his high-flying rise through the military's ranks, meanwhile, has brought charges of careerism. One former defence official says that, once in Ottawa, Boyle very deliberately set his sights on the top job. "He worked very hard to garner Defence Minister David Collenette's trust," said the onetime official. "It was commonly recognized within the department that Boyle was working very actively to become the next CDS. That was his plan."

Boyle's absence from Ottawa during the beginning of the Somalia crisis was among the factors that swayed Collenette to name him chief of the defence staff. Now, the minister continues to defend his choice. "He is the best man for the job," Collenette told Maclean's last week. "I think it is tragic that so many people are maligning him." Others, though, say that the Canadian military's top gun has much to answer for. "He is accountable - he was the direct boss of the organization which is now under scrutiny for covering things up and destroying documents," notes one defence insider. "He either has to 'fess up - or prove conclusively that he didn't have anything to do with it."

Maclean's April 15, 1996