Parliamentary committee poised to investigate allegations against ex-defence chief
By Lee Berthiaume
OTTAWA — A parliamentary committee is expected to launch formal hearings today into allegations of inappropriate conduct by former defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance — and what the Liberal government knew about them.
The planned investigation by the House of Commons’ defence committee follows a Global News report last week that Vance allegedly had an ongoing relationship with a woman he significantly outranked.
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.
Vance, who turned over command of the military last month after more than five years in the job, has not responded to requests for comment by The Canadian Press and the allegations against him have not been independently verified.
Global says Vance, whose tenure as defence chief included a substantial focus on eliminating sexual misconduct from the ranks, has acknowledged that he dated the first woman nearly 20 years ago, but said the relationship had evolved over the years and was not sexual.
Global also reported that Vance said he had no recollection of making a sexual comment to the other junior member, adding if he did make the comment it would have been intended as a joke and that he was prepared to apologize.
Military police have launched their own investigation while Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has promised a separate, independent review outside the chain of command.
“As the minister has noted, the independent investigation has not been launched,” Sajjan spokesman Todd Lane said. “He is currently receiving advice so that we can get this right to help rebuild confidence. Any investigation will be independent from the military and will be thorough.”
But Conservative members of the defence committee, who requested today’s hearings, say they want to hear directly from Sajjan and other top officials, including Ian Shugart, the clerk of the Privy Council, about how the government handled the allegations against Vance.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not directly addressed the allegations, or whether he ought to have known there were concerns about Canada’s top soldier. Sajjan has also sidestepped questions, saying all proper steps are followed when he receives reports of inappropriate conduct.
“The defence minister and prime minister have repeatedly refused to be transparent about when they first became aware of the allegations against former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance and what actions they took,” Conservative defence critic James Bezan said in an email.
“Conservatives are calling on the National Defence committee to meet to get the truth for Canadians.”
Bloc Quebecois committee vice-chair Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe and NDP defence critic Randall Garrison also voiced support on Monday for a committee probe, though Brunelle-Duceppe stopped short of saying he would like to hear from Vance himself.
“I don’t want to be judging him before the military justice,” Brunelle-Duceppe said.
Garrison, meanwhile, said he also wants to know whether the previous Conservative government had any knowledge of alleged inappropriate conduct by Vance before appointing him as chief of the defence staff in 2015.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was defence minister at the time, though Garrison would not commit to trying to call him to testify.
Trudeau said last week that any allegations of misconduct or harassment are taken seriously.
The Liberal government has passed legislation and implemented rules over the last few years to address harassment in federally regulated workplaces and provide clear steps on combating it.