Transcript – Episode 8: Chat with Jennifer Kleniewski

David Morrison: Hey Jennifer, thanks for coming here to GAC Files global headquarters. Jennifer you are the or have been the coordinator and before that the deputy coordinator of the Critical Incidents Task Force. We want to hear all about that because my assumption is certainly that many people at Global Affairs don't actually know about the existence of the task force or what you guys do every day. Who's on it and the vital role that it plays for Canada. But before we get there let's go back to where you started, which you told me was in the foreign service in the sense that your father was a foreign service officer and you are a self-described foreign service brat with eight postings under your belt. So tell us about that.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Yeah that's correct. And this is where I usually insert my patented joke that I've been with the Department for 40 years longer than most here. Yeah my father was with the...well in his time it was Citizenship and Immigration Canada. And so I grew up on a series of postings across Europe and Southeast Asia or Asia rather. So I was born in Manchester, back when we had a consulate there. And when I was three months old my parents were cross-posted to Kingston, Jamaica, were there for two years.

David Morrison: Where were they from Kleniewski?

Jennifer Kleniewski: Kleniewski, so my father is...was from Grimsby, Ontario, although his parents were I guess refugees from World War Two who had moved to Canada after, you know, losing everything World War Two. My mom's originally from Alberta, from Calgary and then grew up in Lethbridge before...before making the move to Ontario. And so they met there before my dad then joined the Foreign Service.

David Morrison: OK. And so you know when that was? I'm just trying to...

Jennifer Kleniewski: I think they got married in 1975. So I assume they were at least a couple years there before.

David Morrison: So, anyhow lots of...lots of immigration going on in those days. You go to or they go to Manchester, you're born and cross-posted where?

Jennifer Kleniewski: Cross-posted to Jamaica and they were there for two years before moving to Ottawa for two, which was where my sister was born. And then moved to Stockholm, Sweden for two years and then onward to Bonn West Germany for four, which is where my brother was born. And then New Delhi India for two then back to Ottawa for two and then Beijing China for two and then Islamabad Pakistan for two, which is where I graduated from high school. They were back in Canada for a year before then moving to Warsaw, to Poland where I think they were there an incredible six years which is long have any posting.

David Morrison: But at this time you're're at university.

Jennifer Kleniewski: This time I was at university and then actually by the time my dad went on his final posting which was in St. Petersburg, Russia I had started working in the department on a program actually that was taking me to Russia. When I was doing a WMD threat reduction work and conveniently my parents were posted in St. Petersburg.

David Morrison: Nice. I don't think we've had anyone on the GAC Files that has quite that background. Growing up what did you...what did you think home was?

Jennifer Kleniewski: That's a great question. I...

David Morrison: You had this family unit that was totally or completely itinerant.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Yes.

David Morrison: Did you come back to Canada every summer?

Jennifer Kleniewski: We did. We did and so we had the luxury of being able to come back to Canada every summer. I don't know that I ever really identified with one particular place in Canada as home. I think that was an elusive concept much through my...much my childhood and particularly in my early 20s. So there is a you know there's a family cottage not...about two hours away from the Ottawa area where that was sort of a constant fixture for me growing up.

David Morrison: That's where you guys would go in the summer?

Jennifer Kleniewski: That's where we'd go in the summer, although we'd also go out to Alberta to visit my mom's family. But yeah and it was really Barry's Bay Ontario that was the closest thing. But I don't know that I'd call it home. It was more just a yearly fixture.

David Morrison: Right, so we talked about this briefly, but and I know many of the people listening will have children and...and...and in one sense it's kind of the best of the foreign service you get to order get to offer your children this extraordinary set of experiences, growing up all over. But that brings worries as parents at the same time because it's obviously can be very challenging life in the foreign service. So how, as you look back, you mention sister and a brother?

Jennifer Kleniewski: Yup.

David Morrison: How do you think it shaped your family dynamic? Are you... anything...any reflections on having grown up all over the world without this sense of...this sense of home.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Yup. And it's funny how being a parent now myself and seeing my children have the childhood that I didn't have, there is a growing awareness of what I missed out on. But at the time...

David Morrison: It's all you knew.

Jennifer Kleniewski: I think because you are not's all I knew. So I mean I had a very wonderful loving supportive family unit and we did well. It's difficult for families to do this.

David Morrison: Not everyone does well.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Not everyone...Not everyone does well. And then people do which is... which is not to say it was always easy and it didn't come without hiccups, but I always had a very strong sense of... I guess if home is a... can become a portable concept I had that with my family. And I had that with how my parents supported us. But I also think, you know, part of it is driven by just luck of personality. I I'm sure moving around that much did a lot to shape my personality. But there are just certain inherent features that you bring to your life that...that make that a bit easier. And I think you know my siblings. I mean if they were here they'd tell a very different perspective of where they...where they struggled and that could have...sometimes that comes down to just when you're moving in your life. Maybe the fact that I moved pretty much every two years it added the sense of sort of continual momentum and looking forward to the next thing...
David Morrison: Sure, it's exciting.

Jennifer Kleniewski: That I thrive with. But I don't know that all other kids would do that.

David Morrison: So have your... have your siblings opted for foreign service or life outside of Canada?

Jennifer Kleniewski:'s's just me that sort of maintained this...this interest.

David Morrison: They are both accountants or?

Jennifer Kleniewski: My sister works for a national charity in the Toronto area and my brother is in the Ottawa area working in computer science type areas. But yeah not...haven't pursued that same nomadic lifestyle and...

David Morrison: And your parents are living in Ottawa?

Jennifer Kleniewski: They are.

David Morrison: So you go to university and then did you immediately join the Foreign Service? Or did you immediately come into public service I guess, because you've been non-rotational, you're now rotational.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Yup, so I...I came to Ottawa to do my master's degree and this was after having lived in Ottawa in my preteens and swearing that one I was never going to live in Ottawa and two I was never going to work for the public service. So it was to my great (inaudible) amusement I found myself in Ottawa in the early 2000s applying for work with the federal government. So I started off with a small parliamentary committee before...because I'd had the frankly the opportunity and the privilege to work at a lot of diplomat...diplomat brats do in embassies or high commissions overseas for summer work. There's probably, you know, lots of us who've been visa clerks at one point or another.

David Morrison: In Canadian missions.

Jennifer Kleniewski: In Canadian missions. Yeah Canadian missions. So, in my case my path to the department came from somebody finding out that I had, I was now working for the public service and there were opportunities that were opening up in the department and I knew that the parliamentary committee I was working for was likely only going to take me as far as Toronto. And I was interested in, you know, perhaps broader a broader scope and so it was a very easy decision to come over here. Although I often question that you know have I accomplished big things or did I just come back to the village that I grew up in.

David Morrison: It's striking how many people have stories just like that. You know, I'm never going to and then by some force of gravity they end up...they end up doing just that. So let's fast forward to your current job and let's stipulate that there's elements of it that you're not going to be able to talk about. It is. You get involved in some of the most sensitive security files that the government of Canada deals with. But can you tell us why the critical incidents Task Force came into being or maybe it had...maybe it had some predecessors. I do...I asked you the question just before we went on air as to whether the kidnapping of Bob Fowler and Louis Guay was the catalytic moment. Anyhow, tell...tell the story of the...of the unit and what it does and then we'll get a little bit more into your role.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Sure, so there is indeed a unit in the department that's responsible for and we call it the Critical Incident Task Force, but I would say our bread and butter is responding to hostage takings that have a terrorist dimension to them. My understanding of the history of the task force is that...that it was driven by the confluence of a number of these kinds of hostage takings that occurred around 2008-2009. That...that because of the degree of coordination that needs to happen across the national security community to respond to one of these events it required having...having a team in the department to coordinate that whole of government effort.

David Morrison: Remind listeners who...which entities you consider part of the national security community. So that would be military and intelligence and law enforcement.

David Morrison: Right.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Across the Government of Canada. Yup.

David Morrison: So that's five, six, seven, eight entities.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Yes I would...I would say that.

David Morrison: So lots of scope for calibrate... lots of need for coordination.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Exactly. Particularly because in responding to any one of these things when you're looking at the tool kit that you were going to use to try and reach a hopefully happy conclusion means that you have to know what...what every part of that tool kit is doing.

David Morrison: And Global Affairs is the lead or the centre.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Yeah Global Affairs is the lead in part because the well chiefly because the the minister is responsible for events involving...involving Canadians who are in distress overseas. So that responsibility...

David Morrison: So it's derived from the consular mandate.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Yeah...yeah it would derive from the consular mandate, but also because these are events that are happening overseas. They are happening in other countries where we're needing to work with and... and cooperate with them they are responding to events in their country. There's there's a diplomatic and inherently diplomatic and foreign policy focus to that work.

David Morrison: So is that where you started? I mean no you started... joined a St. Peterbourg.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Ya, I started...

David Morrison: How did you migrate into this...this rather specialized line of work?

Jennifer Kleniewski: It was almost a bit of an accident by geography in that prior to the assignment with the critical incidents Task Force I was doing work coordinating across security capacity building assistance programs. The department also runs counterterrorism anti-crime capacity building programs overseas, so its equipment, its technical assistance, its legal assistance to countries that are looking to bolster their ability to respond to transnational organized crime and terrorism. And the position I was in previously required me actually bouncing between two divisions that were located in different buildings and a great degree of...of coordination. And so what I found was that although my office was in another building and in sort of the Foreign Affairs complex I suppose, I had found a spare office to squat in four days that I needed work in the Pearson Building. And the...the outgoing coordinator of the task force and the incoming walked past the office because I had I had as it happens just parked outside where there with where they were located. And I remember them walking by and seeing the pass out of my field of vision and then having them move back into the doorway again to ask me what I was considering applying for the next year. So I mean the reason there was I think within the department once you find yourself in the role of doing coordination across multiple divisions or multiple branches or even starting to get into multiple departments you develop a reputation for being effective at it or not. And so I think that's what brought me there. And then also just being within the international security branch certainly helped.

David Morrison: Also squatting offices is a tried and true way of getting jobs. A friend of mine got a job at the White House when he was...when he was asked to deliver some documents in the early stages of the Clinton administration. And then he just didn't leave until they gave him a job. So for more junior listeners it is a put...put that in your tool kit.

Jennifer Kleniewski: There you go.

David Morrison: Just create the reality. So you joined and were first the deputy coordinator and then eventually the coordinator and you told me you recently left that position having trained someone up and... you’re doing some policy work. So let's come back to exactly what you're doing now. But tell me in your four years operationally leading the...or helping to lead and then leading the Critical Incident Task Force. What do you, you know, how's that shape your view on, you know, Canadians abroad, the responsibilities of the federal government. You know, you're at the very pointiest end of some of our most challenging...most challenging things that this department does. mentioned that one of the things you called upon to do is to talk to families of hostages. to us a little bit about the human dimension of the work you've been doing.

Jennifer Kleniewski: That's a great question and it's maybe one of the reasons why in a department where we tend to go through assignments fairly quickly, why I've I think gravitated towards continuing to do this work. Perhaps is because there's a human dimension to it that...that you, unless you are working in the consular services branch when you're in the international security portfolio there is...there is less of that contact with...with the Canadian public frankly than you would otherwise experience. And so it brings a realness to the work and I don't mean to undervalue the work that colleagues are doing across the building. But there is something that...I...affects you to your core in a way when you were sitting across from a family in crisis and a family who is going through an experience that is so unique. There is really only a handful of Canadian families even broader internationally...internationally families that have been subjected to this kind of trauma and this kind of experience. And so and I think how that translates into the work and particularly and what I see with my team and anyone I've ever worked on, and there are multitudes of people across the government who come in to help when one of these events happen, is the degree of caring that I see across the community. And yeah it's it affects everyone very deeply who comes to work on the file. People feel very passionately about it and then that that helps drive your enthusiasm and your own passion for that work.

David Morrison: I've...I've had a window on some of this in the past six months since I've been in my current job as I've had a look into consular in general and the commitment just as you said of our colleagues who deal on a daily basis with Canadians in distress is really quite remarkable. And...and it has to take a lot out of them. That degree of emotional commitment. I know...I know we've, I was at an event last night where we were talking about the concept of a Care Bear, which is a...which is a tool in the tool kit of some consular teams when they're actioning a crisis or responding to a crisis that there is a member of the team whose job it is to make certain that the other members of the team are looking after themselves. Because people will literally work 24/7. They get so wound into what they're doing. So I think that aspect of what you've recently been doing makes it different from what most colleagues do. Another aspect that probably makes it a little bit different is that the political level is often deeply involved. Right? That's certainly the case one could imagine for consular affairs where politicians and cabinet members and up to the prime minister are deeply committed to helping to resolve all sorts of circumstances that Canadians find themselves in abroad. How...what is the interface like? And again there's I'm sure there's things you can't talk about, but it must almost be a unique working relationship between the elected officials and the likes of you all who are the professionals doing critical incidents on an ongoing basis.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Yup, no there's certainly that...that interface. And again I think I'd underscore again the the human dimension to this work. I've we, you know, as part of our work one of the things we were up regularly briefing, you know, Minister’s office where people who will be briefing the minister's office on these cases. There is a great degree of interest in and I know I'll qualify the use of the term interest, the what I've always encountered from the political level across...across myriads of people who have worked on these files has been a great degree of concern about what's going on. And again that...that again the very human desire to want to help and to assist. And I mean our my colleagues who work on this file the some of the emotional strain that can come of it is that feeling of responsibility that...that comes with the work and a feeling that because these are life or death issues that failure becomes a lot more real. And that's...

David Morrison: Not...not everyone gets out alive.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Not everyone gets out alive. And so, so that...that concern about that kind of failure I think is especially owned by the, by the political level as as decision makers. So as human beings, they're...they're invested emotionally, as emotionally invested in these officials will be. Because like us they're owning were owning and responsible for the response. So the...the reaction that I've seen from the political level and it's not just something that is trotted out in front of families, there's deep concern and caring there, which pervades one of these files from beginning to end.

David Morrison: Yeah, and the we don't need to get into the details, but it strikes me that what are by any measure extraordinarily complex situations are made even more complex by decisions about not paying ransom by the employment of private resolution firms or...or you know other actors that are in I think different families choose different ways to try to help. And so all of those things must just make the situations unbelievably complex. Just before we...before we move on many different cases would you have dealt with in your four years? Just order of magnitude can because some of them are highly public and some of them presumably operate in the shadows.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Yeah, no. I mean we have had the advantage of some cases, are some events that have come and gone fairly quickly without you know hitting the media or without much attention and then certainly there have been cases that that have. And the whether they've run over nine months or five years. There, it's their deeply complex and all very different and sometimes the, you know, in our enthusiasm to take lessons learned from one situation and apply it to the next you find it's not not applicable at all.

David Morrison: They are all (inaudible) generous. You are a single mother and your job sometimes required you to travel at short notice or work unpredictable hours and how have you squared work in life with this role.

Jennifer Kleniewski: I should probably qualify that. I mean I'm a...I'm I'm a divorced mom so I'm so well...well I suppose I fit into the terminology of a single mom. I have an extremely supportive ex-partner and very involved dad who we were able to spell off each other for our respective work obviously he doesn't. He's...he's in education so he does not have the same sort of elements of crisis that I...

David Morrison: Flying around the world saving hostages.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Yes exactly. So...So I mean my first, first sort of you know I suppose a volley of gratitude and it is to him as a somebody who knows that I care very deeply about the work and is able to step in. But beyond that I mean the next and probably equally as important circle is having, you know, the luck of having my parents in town. I really...considering that within this department there are people from all over Canada whose families aren't necessarily based in Ottawa I really got lucky with having my parents so close and you know willing to come over to my house at you know 10 to midnight because I have to run in to deal with know something that's evolving.

David Morrison: What are your...what do your kids say their mom does? So they...I've tried to be very, as open as I can with them about the kind of work that I do particularly because there have been situations where I've had to go away for three to five weeks. And I think I wanted them to understand why they know to their mind they're being put second to something else. I mean I do remember before leaving on one assignment my son saying, "well why are you going?". And I said, "Well these...these people need help and I'm going to be part of...of...of trying to help them and his response was , well why can't their government help them?" And I said, "well sweetie we are their government and that's why we are going to help them". So you know it's...there's... it's a fine balance in a job like this because you're respecting I mean not just issues of national security, but privacy of families as well. So you know it's a balance and explaining to the kids what I'm doing, but in such a way that...that, you know, protects those equities or those considerations. Although it did occur to me one day that perhaps I'd shared a bit too much with my kids because there was one night where I was heading off to go and do something and my son looked up to the couch and said, " it a new proof of life video?". And I thought Wow I think yeah when my 11 year old knows some of the terminology it's time to start realizing when he's listening in on my Blackberry conversations.

David Morison: They absorb everything.

Jennifer Kleniewski: They do.

David Morrison: Just before letting you go speak to us a moment about being a woman in that department. You've been here 15 years. Most of that in the security area, which is very male dominated. Any reflections on that trajectory.

Jennifer Kleniewski: I feel like I'm a bit atypical in that for most of the 15 years of my career particularly those aspects where I was working on weapons of mass destruction, capacity building issues, counterterrorism and anti-crime and then on critical incidents I had a number of female managers and bosses and colleagues. So while there certainly are still situations where I will find myself as the only woman in the room within the department less so, internationally absolutely.

David Morrison: And around...and around town.

Jennifer Kleniewski: And around town. Ya, but even around town I was I was meeting with a group of colleagues from law enforcement a couple of weeks ago and the man in the room, there was one man in the room who looked around and realized that he was it.

David Morrison: So change is possible.

Jennifer Kleniewski: So change...change is possible. And I mean I think my other perspective I'm always...I'm hesitant to opine on part because I have had a very positive experience, which I know has not been shared by all, but by other colleagues who are women in the department. And I don't want to imply that because my experience has been positive and I haven't run into some of the #MeToo type stories that my colleagues have run into that it doesn't happen. I also think I...I'm coming at it from a fairly privileged position in that I'm white, Anglophone, straight. You know there's a...there's a number of barriers that I haven't had to contend with that my colleagues do and that do inform their experience of working in the department. So that's...that's been experience.

David Morison: Well that's...that's good to hear. We had Heather DiPenta here recently who's the harassment guru and I think the...what I took away from that...that chat was that we have a ways to go, but there is some...some good change happening. Jennifer thanks for coming by. You've done extraordinary work on the Critical Incidents Task Force and thanks for sharing that with our listeners.

Jennifer Kleniewski: Well, thank you for having me.

Date Modified: