PTE Dominique Sarron Lee’s family has responded to the recent letter by MINDEF on their Facebook page, and we reproduce their note in full here.
We refer to MINDEF’s letter to The Straits Times Forum (NSF’s death and family’s bid to sue: MINDEF replies) on 18 March 2016. MINDEF in this latest reply, continues to evade answering the real questions the family has been asking these past years.
Yes, the coroner’s inquiry (CI) in August 2013 was a seemingly transparent process, taking the form of an open hearing fully accessible to the public and media. Yes, we, the family of Dominique, and our legal counsel were also present, and given opportunities to address questions relating to Dominique’s death. And yes, we did post our questions at the CI; however, most of the questions were not answered.
According to the State Court website, the role of the CI is to determine findings relating to factual matters such as:
- The identity of the deceased
- Where and when the deceased died; and
- How the deceased died, namely, the circumstances connected with the death and the cause of death.
The website also stated that “[t]he coroner will not frame a finding in such a way as to determine any question of criminal, civil or disciplinary liability on the part of any person or persons. As such, his findings will be factual and neutral”.
Hence, while we do not dispute with the factual findings of the CI, we do disagree with the coroner determining that Dominique’s allergic reaction was “unlikely to have been predicted”, as this framing is subjective and unsubstantiated.
Just as MINDEF has reiterated, the coroner had indeed found that Dominique had died from “acute allergic reaction to zinc chloride due to inhalation of zinc chloride fumes”. However, MINDEF has conveniently not reminded the public that the CI had also found that SAF had used excessive smoke grenades in the exercise that resulted in Dominique’s untimely death, and that none of those involved in the exercise on 17 April 2012 had any knowledge or training on the significance of the blue tag that Dominique was required to wear (and was wearing at the time of the incident) at all times. In addition, the CI had also revealed that the combat medic did not have adequate equipment to handle the dire situation at the time of the incident.
We have never disagreed with the factual findings of the CI. In fact, it is precisely these factual findings that further convinced us that MINDEF/SAF had indeed been negligent in their duty to ensure the health and safety of every National Service man and hence, must be held accountable for Dominique’s death.
We had requested at the CI that the forensic pathologist and MINDEF Respiratory Advisory Board’s reports to be made public. However, this request was refused. We had also requested the presence of the forensic pathologist and any of the five senior respiratory medicine specialist from MINDEF’s Respiratory Advisory Board at the CI, to provide answers to some of our questions, but this request was also denied. Needless to say, many of the questions we asked during the CI also received no answers.
It is startling that MINDEF/SAF, and now the AGC, are espousing the defence on the very subjective and unsubstantiated claim made by the CI that the allergic reaction Dominique suffered was “unlikely to have been predicted”. The TSR must have been designed for a reason, and it must have been implemented for a reason. If the TSR can be breached with no consequence, then it makes a mockery of its existence. In the case of Dominique, it was precisely the breach of the TSR that resulted in his death.
To rule that the breach is not the direct cause of Dominique’s death is a judgment that defies logic. Yet we are unsurprised that the AGC had decided against prosecuting anyone based on only this one non-factual finding amidst other pertinent factual ones surfaced during the CI, because the AGC is the counsel for MINDEF in this case and hence, its decision must and will favour MINDEF’s defence. The family disagrees that this is what one would consider an “independent and impartial” judgment, or a fair conclusion to the entire process.
It is a known fact that all asthmatic NSFs, including Dominique, are exempted from Chemical Defence Training where they are subjected to high concentration of zinc chloride. This fact was verified by the Platoon Commander at the CI. This exemption suggests that all decision makers in MINDEF/SAF, including both officers in this incident, knew or at least suspected that the concentration rather than the mere presence of zinc chloride would pose a danger to asthmatic NSFs. How then, can they declare unashamedly that the allergic reaction was “unlikely to have been predicted”?
There is enough medical information online, available to anyone who cares to search, about the dangers of high concentrations of zinc chloride, especially to asthmatics. Did MINDEF/SAF not have access to such easily available information when they approved the use of smoke grenades that contain zinc chloride in training? Did they not consult experts on the effects of these smoke grenades on individuals when drafting the TSR, which every training officer must to comply with? To claim that such allergic reaction as the one Dominique suffered was unforeseen and “unlikely to have been predicted” strongly suggests that MINDEF/SAF had not done their homework before exposing all NSF to the dangers of the smoke grenades all these years.
We are not asking, nor have we ever asked that the 2 SAF regulars bear greater liability for Dominique’s death, and to receive greater punishment than what they deserve. Our case has always been with MINDEF/SAF’s lack of accountability and transparency. To date, MINDEF/SAF has not revealed the exact punishment that has been meted out.
Hence, it would be impossible for anyone other than MINDEF/SAF itself, to determine if the punishment is indeed within the level of offence, and to determine the veracity of its independent and impartial judicial processes.
If MINDEF/SAF and the AGC are confident of their findings and processes, then the MINDEF/SAF should not invoke S14 of the Government Proceeding Act (S14 GPA), but should welcome the Court to independently and impartially study all the evidence available, including those offered by the forensic pathologist and MINDEF’s Respiratory Advisory Board, to arrive at a fair conclusion. It is only when MINDEF/SAF allows itself to be questioned in the open Court, and readily makes available all the evidence of the case, that the public can continue to have the highest confidence in the SAF.
We want Singaporeans to know that we are not going through this legal battle to exact revenge or to seek financial gains. We are looking for answers to explain how this tragic incident could have happened and to seek assurance that it will not happen again. MINDEF/SAF has not shown any contrition in its replies thus far, and is continuing to deny us the truth. Dominique’s death will be in vain, if MINDEF/SAF continues to deny its mistakes and refuses to learn from them.
We cannot bring Dominique back but we can, through his tragic death, put right all the things that have gone wrong. The public cannot continue to trust MINDEF/SAF if it refuses to come clean and be accountable for its actions.
We had proceeded with the legal suit because we could not get answers from MINDEF/SAF at the CI. And when we realized the presence of the law that discriminates the ones who are tasked to protect us, we are more resolved in wanting to highlight this injustice. It is with this resolve that we have decided to appeal against the High Court judgment.
It is only when we have exhausted all legal avenues that our legislators cannot argue in Parliament that the legal channels were not exhausted hence the law need not be reviewed.
The High Court judgment has brought to the attention of many Singaporeans, the unjust law that we have currently, and we owe it to Dominique, and all other NSF who have suffered and/or will suffer the same injustice, to fight against it.
We urge the public to demand that their Member(s) of Parliament rectify this injustice. S14 of the GPA needs to be repealed or at the very least, updated, to ensure that justice and equality are not just words in a tagline.
Finally, we would like to seek MINDEF’s support in helping us find closure by answering the questions we have asked, starting with those we posted in our previous statement. Please refer to our previous statement on the 8th of March 2016.