Veteran Stories:
Brian Honeybourn

Civilian

  • Brian Honeybourn's forensic skills at work in Kosovo, 1999 when he was commissioned by NATO to investigate war crimes committed in the region..

    Brian Honeybourn's forensic skills at work in Kosovo, 1999 when he was commissioned by NATO to investigate war crimes committed in the region..
  • Serbian paramilitary badge given to Brian Honeybourn in Kosovo, 1999.

    Serbian paramilitary badge given to Brian Honeybourn in Kosovo, 1999.
  • Bomb casing found in a field in Kacanik, Kosovo in 1999 by Brian Honeybourn.

    Bomb casing found in a field in Kacanik, Kosovo in 1999 by Brian Honeybourn.
  • Commomorative discs of the U.S. Army 1st Division, Artillery unit 'Big Red One' given to Brian Honeybourn for his service in Kosovo, 1999.

    Commomorative discs of the U.S. Army 1st Division, Artillery unit 'Big Red One' given to Brian Honeybourn for his service in Kosovo, 1999.
  • Brian Honeybourn's Medals (L-R) : Canadian Police Long Service Medal, NATO Kosovo Medal, Canadian Peacekeeping Medal.

    Brian Honeybourn's Medals (L-R) : Canadian Police Long Service Medal, NATO Kosovo Medal, Canadian Peacekeeping Medal.
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Transcript

My name is Brian Honeybourn. I was a member of the Vancouver Police Department for thirty-two and a half years. During the latter part of my career I was attached to what's called the British Columbia Unsolved Homicide Unit. As a result of being a member of that unit, during the spring of 1999, I was asked whether I would be willing to go to Kosovo with the backend of NATO's invasion to investigate war crimes, genocide and to assist in the exhumation of mass graves.

NATO Air Forces had bombed Kosovo for 78 consecutive days during the spring of 1999 in an effort to drive the Serbian forces from the province of Kosovo. Which was a former province of Yugoslavia. When the NATO invasion began into Kosovo itself, the armed forces found evidence of atrocities and mass graves and genocide. They were not equipped to deal with these. As a result, the NATO countries were asked to provide forensic teams to go into Kosovo. Canada was approached and put together a team in relatively short order. And, from across Canada came up with nine of us with different disciplines to form the first Canadian team to go in. I decided to go as it was nearing the end of my career and the police service had been very good to me and I thought it would be time to share some of my experience by doing this.

We assembled in Ottawa and, very quickly, ended up in Skopje, Macedonia which was the staging area for NATO's invasion into Kosovo. Kosovo was divided into various sectors. We ended up being assigned to the US sector even though we were living with the Canadian Army. During that time, we conducted 55 field autopsies and investigated several atrocities and unearthed one mass grave where there were 20 people in it. The rest were pretty well single graves but our 55 field autopsies resulted in identifying about 53 of the victims.

My particular function with the unit was the forensic investigator. Once the bodies were unearthed it was my job to take charge of all artifacts that we'd got from bodies such as, anything from money to watches, rings, jewellery, things like that. And to try and identify the remains. This was done by interacting with the populace of Kosovo naturally. There were so many people missing that the various relatives, friends and neighbours would come to the scenes where we were unearthing graves and provide me with a description of the victim they were looking for and anything pertinent to the investigation that might lead to their identity. Basically that was my function.

We did a lot of good for the population. We were primarily deployed in a rural area. And we were dealing with the - and I don't mean this in a derogatory manner - but the simple folk that didn't have any other agenda other than to try and find out what happened to their friends and loved ones. I think that Canada could hold its head pretty high on what we did and the professional manner in which we did it. But I don't think that all the teams did that. In fact, I know of a case where one team was asked to leave.

I was proud to be part of it. As a result of it, each of the team members was awarded the NATO Medal and the Canada Peacekeeping Medal even though we were never actual members of the military. All during my career, not being a member of the military, I had very infrequent contact with them and I can tell you as a Canadian, I'm very, very proud of the Canadian Army. The conditions that those soldiers had to work under in Kosovo and the length of the hours they had to put in, the average Canadian probably doesn't know just how hard our military forces work. I have nothing but respect for them. In fact, to this day, I wear the dog tags I was issued out of respect for the Canadian soldiers.

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