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Cultural Change in Defence Forces?

Posted in Canada, Featured, View Point

Published on March 19, 2021 with No Comments

Canada’s elected representatives specially the ruling Liberals and Opposition Conservatives marked International Women’s Day in a totally unexpected way. They traded accusations over reported threats against a senior naval officer who brought forward an allegation of misconduct against Canada’s defence chief. There was only a silver lining as members of the House of Commons defence committee agreed to invite new witnesses to testify in probe of the Liberals’ handling of allegations against the military’s top brass. The list of new witnesses includes top Liberal officials as well as two former aides in the previous Conservative government. It also includes Lt.-Cmdr. Raymond Trotter, who reportedly flagged an allegation of misconduct by chief of the defence staff Admiral Art McDonald last month. “This is more evidence that Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government have gone to great lengths to cover up allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces,” said the statement by the defence committee.  “Threatening a member of the Canadian Armed Forces to secure their silence is a clear and concerning abuse of power. The lengths that the Liberal government will go to in order to hide the truth from Canadians is appalling.”  

MPs on the House of Commons defence committee voted to expand their inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct against former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance to include an examination of separate allegations against his successor, Admiral Art who stepped aside in February.  “Not only was the minister’s office not aware of the identity of the caller prior to media reports, any insinuation that our government made threatening comments is utterly false,” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s, Todd Lane, said in a statement few hours later.

The defence ministry finds itself in a dilemma to handle the accusations that are coming now from all the corners. During his five years on the job, Mr. Vance — Canada’s longest-serving defence chief in modern times — championed the fight against sexual misconduct. His first order as top commander was to launch an all-out effort to eliminate it from Canada’s military. At the same time, Mr. Vance has denied any misconduct, saying his relationship with the female subordinate was never sexual. He maintains that he has no recollection of the 2012 email — which reportedly included the suggestion he and another subordinate go on a clothing-optional vacation — but that if he did send it, the email was meant as a joke and he would be willing to apologize. Within hours of the story breaking, it was announced that military police were opening an investigation into Mr. Vance’s actions, and Mr. McDonald promised the Forces would initiate a separate independent investigation.

Another claim brings certain questions to the fore, that relate directly to the Minister of Defence and Prime Minister. The defence committee is examining the second claim, that brought to the attention of the Canadian Forces ombudsman who, in turn, notified the defence minister in 2018. Minister Harjit Singh  Sajjan passed those concerns to the Privy Council Office, but has refused to say whether he informed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or his cabinet.

Another case, where action was not taken is related to an investigation reportedly launched  by Military police in 2015 into allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Mr. Vance unrelated to the issues being probed by the Commons committee. No charges were laid in that instance. The report also alleged the former chief of the defence staff made a sexual comment to a second, much younger, soldier in 2012, before he was appointed commander of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Though, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says he’s committed to swift action on the promise of widespread culture change within the Canadian Armed Forces following allegations of misconduct against two top military officials. There is much about these allegations that is disturbing. It is deeply troubling to know that  political and military leaders were aware of them for at least three years, but nothing became public until Mr. Vance stepped out of uniform.

It is also terrible news for anyone who has been, or continues to be, a victim of sexual misconduct in the military ranks. And it does not bode well for what Canada’s Armed Forces insists is a zero-tolerance stand on such conduct going forward. No one should pre-judge the outcome of these probes, but the fact Canadians were kept in the dark for so long is unacceptable.


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