Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has asked the acting chief of the defence staff to review an investigation into allegations of misconduct in the Royal Canadian Navy.
It is necessary to look at additional steps that can be taken to ensure every Canadian Armed Forces member feels safe to come forward with any allegations, Mr. Sajjan said.
The minister’s request of the acting head of the Canadian Armed Forces follows a report published Tuesday by Global News stating an internal probe into sexual-misconduct allegations against senior naval officers had wrapped up before all witnesses or complainants were spoken to and that investigators concluded no wrongdoing took place.
The news outlet reported that senior naval officers allegedly said during a Zoom call in January that a female member who had a wall with red paint wanted to show off her “red room.”
A spokesperson for the Department of National Defence, or DND, said the investigation related to a video conference at CFB Esquimalt on Jan. 15 and looked broadly at whether any inappropriate remarks may have occurred during the call. An investigator reached out to all 132 people who were invited to attend, the spokesperson added, noting that 54 people responded with statements and that findings have been relayed to participants.
“The investigator determined that the leaders present on the call, and named in the allegation, had no knowledge of the popular culture context in which commenting on wall colour could be perceived as sexualized,” said public-affairs officer Captain Christopher Daniel.
The “red room” in Fifty Shades of Grey is where one of the novel’s characters engages in sexual activity.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan said Mr. Sajjan’s decision to request a review of the probe on conduct in the Navy is inconsistent with the minister’s position that he couldn’t receive 2018 allegations involving then-chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance.
“This is just more evidence that minister Sajjan is making excuses on why he failed to act on these allegations,” Mr. Bezan said.
In a meeting with military ombudsman Gary Walbourne in March, 2018, Mr. Sajjan declined to look at evidence Mr. Walbourne said he was trying to show him. The minister’s chief of staff at the time alerted the Prime Minister’s Office, which asked the Privy Council Office, the department that supports the Prime Minister and cabinet, to follow up with Mr. Walbourne.
The PCO’s Janine Sherman met with Mr. Walbourne later that month, but was not provided with the evidence Mr. Walbourne held regarding the allegation. Mr. Walbourne said he could not have taken further action because the complainant was clear to keep her complaint confidential.
In Question Period on Wednesday, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole cited an e-mail from former national security adviser Daniel Jean stating he was not asked to look into allegations involving Mr. Vance in 2018 and asked why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat on “serious allegations about sexual misconduct against the chief of the defence staff for three years.”
On Monday, Ray Novak, former chief of staff to Stephen Harper, told the national defence committee that there were issues brought to the then-prime minister’s attention in 2015 about Mr. Vance when he was the leading candidate for the role of chief of the defence staff.
Mr. Novak said the then-national security adviser, Richard Fadden, told Mr. Harper that Mr. Vance had 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 Forces and Department of National Defence reviewed the matter and that the woman was Mr. Vance’s fiancée.
“I was concerned,” Mr. Novak said. “I wanted to receive from our officials the facts and whether there were any outstanding investigations or information that we were not aware of. Our officials reported back that there were not.”
Parliamentary committees have been hearing from witnesses as part of efforts to examine sexual-misconduct allegations and how they are handled in the military, including at the highest levels.
Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre assumed his current role as acting chief of the defence staff after Admiral Art McDonald stepped aside. Adm. McDonald is now the subject of an investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service. A separate probe is under way for Mr. Vance.
On Tuesday, Lt.-Gen. Eyre told the House of Commons status of women committee that Operation Honour, which was established in 2015 to eliminate harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour within the forces, had “culminated.” The mission was established after former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps issued a report that year on sexual misconduct within the military.
The acting chief of the defence staff said Wednesday the operation can go further because the situation has changed. In a resignation letter, Lieutenant-Colonel Eleanor Taylor said the failure of senior leadership to set the example on Operation Honour “has poisoned it.”
Lt.-Gen. Eyre said the Forces will learn what did not work in the operation before it comes with a follow-up plan in consultation with experts.
He also said changes must be made to military culture, adding that certainly aspects of it are exclusionary and must be reformed. Lt.-Gen. Eyre said other aspects, such as the willingness of military members to help in crises, such as they are doing with the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines in northern Manitoba, must remain.
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