Of course they did. Of course two of the Canadian Forces’ most senior officers went for an outing with former chief of defence staff Jonathan Vance, even though the latter is still under investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct. Of course they went to play golf.
It’s hard to believe they didn’t see the problem with it, especially Lieutenant-General Michael Rouleau, the current Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, and therefore the person to whom the Forces’ national investigative service reports.
It boggles the mind that Lt.-Gen. Rouleau and Vice-Admiral Craig Baines didn’t think that – with four investigations under way against current and former senior officers, and an institutional reckoning taking place about sexual harassment – an outing on the links with Mr. Vance would send a signal that there’s an old boys’ club at the top that doesn’t take this stuff seriously.
But still, they went out to play a round at Hylands Golf and Country Club, an Ottawa club for the military. It’s as though they didn’t know the military brass is already seen as unresponsive to the years of allegations of sexual misconduct, and suspected of being a clubby bunch when those allegations are directed against one of them.
It is as though they can’t hear the evidence that the problem isn’t just the misconduct, but the response to it. On Sunday, Vice-Adm. Baines apologized for the golf outing, and for sending the “wrong signal.” The two officers seem to have missed a few signals, too.
There has been a flood of cases, some years old, coming to light in 2021. There were female veterans and Forces members who testified at a parliamentary committee that those who come forward with allegations can expect to suffer more than that transgressors. And then, shockingly, there was the case of Major-General Peter Dawe, the now-suspended special forces commander who wrote a letter of reference for a soldier convicted of sexually assaulting a female soldier.
Now the golf game when the former general, Mr. Vance, who is under investigation, seems to scream that the brass thinks their club matters more than the crisis shaking their institution.
Military police launched an investigation after Global News reported in February on instances of alleged inappropriate sexual behaviour with two subordinates. Major Kellie Brennan said she had a long-standing sexual relationship with Mr. Vance while he was her superior, and a female corporal alleged Mr. Vance once sent her an e-mail in 2012 suggesting they go to a clothing-optional resort. Mr. Vance denied the allegations.
But let’s be clear: In the case of the golf outing, the fault doesn’t lie with Mr. Vance. He hasn’t been convicted. His military buddies, former members of the Canadian Forces who served with him in Afghanistan and elsewhere, can play a round with him as they please.
But Lt.-Gen. Rouleau and Vice-Adm. Baines are not free to act like his old buddies. They are the leaders of the Canadian Forces, who hold an equivalent rank to the Acting Chief of Defence Staff, Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre. Lt.-Gen Rouleau is No. 2 in the Forces and the direct superior of the Canadian Forces provost marshal, who is in command of the military police.
In short, if you wanted to convince women in the military and Canadians generally that the fix is in to clear Mr. Vance, you could not do much better than having these two commanders take him golfing.
Certainly, it makes it look like the generals’ club sticks together, even in the face of an institutional crisis that is ripping through their ranks.
Now two more high-ranking officers who are supposed to be leading the military in rooting out sexual misconduct will face questions about whether they can remain in the Forces’ leadership ranks.
The government wasn’t pleased to find out about the brass’s party golfing with Mr. Vance. It’s yet another embarrassment on this issue for a Liberal government that failed to act on calls to create an independent system for reporting sexual harassment in the military.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at the Group of Seven summit in Britain, said the incident will be followed by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, the minister who oversaw that inaction in six years as Defence Minister and is now, we are told, tasked with fixing the military culture.
The evidence suggests he needs to start at the top, with the brass that doesn’t think the military’s sexual misconduct crisis should get in the way of a chummy game of golf.
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