John de Chastelain | The Canadian Encyclopedia


John de Chastelain

A.J.G.D. (John) de Chastelain, twice Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff, Ambassador to the US, head of the International Commission on Decommissioning in Northern Ireland (b on 30 July 1937 at Bucharest, Romania).

A.J.G.D. (John) de Chastelain, twice Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff, Ambassador to the US, head of the International Commission on Decommissioning in Northern Ireland (b on 30 July 1937 at Bucharest, Romania). John de Chastelain is the son of American-born Marion (née Walsh) DE CHASTELAIN and English-born Alfred Gardyne de Chastelain (Chas). John de Chastelain was born to a life of privilege. His father was an oil executive in Romania during the false optimism of post-WW I Europe. His parents were dashing, cosmopolitan people who led an affluent lifestyle and rubbed elbows with the rich and powerful in Bucharest, "The Paris of the Balkans."

As the Nazis plotted to occupy Poland and Romania, the de Chastelains realized their danger. The British government recruited Chas to lead a sabotage team to destroy Romanian oil installations to keep them out of German hands. Marion escaped to England with John and his older sister Jacquie. She later took the children to live with her parents in New York. She was recruited by William STEPHENSON, the Canadian master spy in charge of counterespionage for the British and Americans. They remained in New York until Marion was given an assignment in England and relocated with the children. London was still being bombed, so Marion sent them to a boarding school in northern England. Chas was being held in protective custody by the Romanians to shield him from the Germans.

At the end of the war the family was reunited, but with Romania in Communist hands they were essentially homeless. They lived in Kensington, England, for a time while Chas tried various business ventures, with little success. He returned to the oil business, and in 1954 the de Chastelains, without John, moved to Calgary, Alberta. John opted to study for a military career in Edinburgh, Scotland. But his father wanted to keep the family together, and John went to Canada in 1955. He joined the Militia as a Private in the Calgary Highlanders. In 1956 he transferred to the Army and was admitted to the ROYAL MILITARY COLLEGE. He graduated from RMC with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history in 1960.

During his military career de Chastelain served with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) in Canada and overseas. His senior appointments included Commandant of RMC, Deputy Commander of Mobile Command, Assistant Deputy Minister for Personnel and Vice Chief of the Defence Staff. In September 1989 he was promoted to General and was appointed Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) by Prime Minister Brian MULRONEY.

As CDS, de Chastelain led the CANADIAN FORCES through the end of the COLD WAR, the Oka Crisis and the Gulf War. During the Oka Crisis of 1990, de Chastelain's negotiations were key to resolving the dispute. His handling of the crisis also increased the military's accountability to the public. De Chastelain initiated daily press conferences to report on the situation and answer media questions. By reporting directly to the citizenry, he increased the extent to which military action is held up for public scrutiny.

Transferring to the RESERVES in 1993, de Chastelain was appointed Canada's 17th ambassador to the US. He was recalled to active duty in 1994 by Prime Minister Jean CHRÉTIEN to fill the position of CDS again, the only person ever to have been appointed to the position twice. During his second tenure as CDS, the blame for the Somalia Affair was placed squarely on de Chastelain's shoulders. The Somalia Inquiry's Final Report concluded that de Chastelain had "failed as a commander." He tenured his resignation, which the prime minister would not accept.

In 1995 de Chastelain retired from the Canadian Forces. His decorations include Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Officer of the ORDER OF CANADA, and Commander of the Order of St. John.

He was appointed to the International Body on the Decommissioning of Arms in Northern Ireland. In 1997 he was asked to chair the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, which oversees the disarmament of paramilitary forces in the troubled area. Negotiations with the combatants have been difficult. Although the IRA claims to be "committed to the search for a just and lasting peace" the group has cut off contact with the commission twice, in February 2000 and in October 2002. It remains to be seen if de Chastelain's renowned perseverance will bring an end to "the troubles."

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