The former chief of staff to then-prime minister Stephen Harper said it is possible Jonathan Vance was “not truthful” with Mr. Harper when they discussed Mr. Vance’s personal conduct in March, 2015.
Ray Novak testified before the House of Commons national defence committee on Monday as part of a parliamentary study on sexual misconduct in the military. He was asked about the appointment process for Mr. Vance in 2015. He said there were issues brought to Mr. Harper’s attention about Mr. Vance when he was the leading candidate for the job of chief of the defence staff.
Mr. Novak said the national security adviser at the time, Richard Fadden, told Mr. Harper that Mr. Vance was in a relationship with a U.S. officer who was a subordinate, but not in his chain of command, while on a NATO deployment in Italy. Mr. Harper was told the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence reviewed the matter, that there was no investigation and that the woman was Mr. Vance’s fiancée.
Mr. Novak said Mr. Harper raised the issue with Mr. Vance and asked if there was “anything else he should know.” Mr. Novak said Mr. Vance said he and his fiancée were relieved the matter was reviewed and behind them.
Mr. Vance’s appointment was announced in April, 2015, and the change-of-command ceremony was planned for mid-July, but more information came forward at that time.
Mr. Novak said he received a call from the veterans affairs minister’s chief of staff, who raised a rumour about Mr. Vance: that he had an inappropriate relationship or had improperly sought to further an officer’s career during his time at CFB Gagetown. Mr. Novak said he told the national security adviser, or NSA, about the call and was informed that there would be a further investigation.
Conservative MP James Bezan asked Mr. Novak if he believed Mr. Vance misled the former prime minister when he opted not to tell him about any other possible incidents.
Mr. Novak said he could not remember the woman’s name from the Gagetown rumour, but said he watched Global News’ recent interview with Major Kellie Brennan. Global News reported allegations that Mr. Vance was involved in a relationship with Maj. Brennan, a subordinate, that started in 2001 and continued after he was named defence chief.
“She made extremely serious allegations, and if they are true, and I have no reason to doubt her, that means the general was not truthful with the prime minister in their meeting in March of 2015,” Mr. Novak told the committee.
Around the same time, Mr. Novak said, the NSA told the Prime Minister’s Office that an anonymous e-mail had been received by a senior officer at the DND. The PMO was told the e-mail alleged an inappropriate relationship during the general’s time at NATO, but it contained no new information, Mr. Novak said. He also said the PMO was informed that the e-mail triggered a further review by Canadian Forces’ National Investigations Service.
Mr. Novak said it was decided that the change-of-command ceremony would be delayed, if needed, to allow enough time to review, but over the next week, the NSA told Mr. Harper that nothing further was found regarding Mr. Vance’s time at NATO. The NSA also told the former prime minister and his office that there was nothing in the DND’s files, such as a record of complaint, regarding the Gagetown rumour.
The NSA also told the PMO that he discussed the rumour directly with Mr. Vance, who said he had been in a public relationship, the person didn’t report to him, and he denied acting improperly to further her career.
Mr. Novak said the change-of-command ceremony proceeded on July 17, 2015.
The national defence committee has been studying sexual misconduct in the military for weeks, triggered initially by allegations against Mr. Vance.
Global News first reported Mr. Vance is facing accusations of inappropriate behaviour with two female subordinates while he was chief of the defence staff, head of the Canadian Armed Forces. Mr. Vance has denied any wrongdoing.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan are facing criticism over their response to the initial allegation against Mr. Vance.
The Globe and Mail reported on Monday that Mr. Trudeau approved a bonus for Mr. Vance even after his office was made aware of an allegation against him.
In Question Period, both Mr. Bezan and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh asked about Mr. Trudeau’s decision to approve Mr. Vance’s pay increase after his office learned of the allegations involving the former chief of defence staff.
Mr. Sajjan said pay increases are based on the advice and recommendations of the public service. He also said the current government has questions now about what was known in 2015 following Mr. Novak’s testimony.
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