The House of Commons national defence committee will not invite more witnesses to testify about an allegation of sexual misconduct against former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance, government and opposition members have agreed – but they did not reach a consensus on how to proceed.
Political wrangling has stalled the committee’s progress in recent weeks, with opposition members hoping to invite a key witness, and possibly others, to testify for its study on sexual misconduct in the military, and members from the governing Liberals eager to move on.
For months, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan have faced pressure over what they knew about an allegation made against Mr. Vance in 2018, when he was defence chief. The defence committee has studied who knew what about the allegation, and the Status of Women committee has heard from victims of military trauma. The Status of Women committee is to consider its draft report this week.
The defence committee has fallen behind as the opposition pushes to uncover more about the Vance allegation. In early March, former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne told the committee he tried to show Mr. Sajjan evidence of an allegation against Mr. Vance in 2018, but that Mr. Sajjan refused to look at it. After that testimony, The Globe and Mail reported that Mr. Sajjan’s chief of staff, Zita Astravas, told the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) the minister was troubled by information about Mr. Vance. The PMO then asked the Privy Council Office to investigate, but said it was unable to obtain more information.
Conservative MP James Bezan has said he believes Ms. Astravas has important information and that the Liberals have filibustered to prevent her from testifying. He introduced a motion on May 18 to invite Ms. Astravas, and possibly to expand the committee’s study. The committee had met twice since, with no decision on the motion.
On Monday, Mr. Bezan withdrew the motion, and said in an interview he did so because the Liberals were willing to take up all of the meeting time with their filibuster.
He introduced a new motion, proposing the committee fast-track to consider its draft report and recommendations so a report on sexual misconduct in the military can be tabled before the House rises for the summer.
Liberal members have said they wanted to work on a report instead of inviting more witnesses, and they insisted the same on Monday, but disagreed with Mr. Bezan’s approach.
Liberal MP Sven Spengemann said he agrees with the spirit of the proposal, but has concerns, particularly about the fact that it would allow members only two minutes of debate on recommendations.
“For the sake of expediency, one can sort of follow the logic of why you would restrict time,” he said. However, he added, it would hinder debate.
Bloc Québécois MP Xavier Barsalou-Duval said he regrettably supported the committee’s decision to withdraw Mr. Bezan’s motion calling on Ms. Astravas and others to testify, saying the committee could have welcomed more witnesses “crucial” to its work.
He said he supports the new motion to fast-track work on its report because “we need to put an end to this sad state of affairs, these filibusters, so that the committee can get back on track.”
NDP MP Lindsay Mathyssen, who sits on the Status of Women committee and joined the defence committee on Monday, said the purpose of the defence committee is to get to the bottom of what went wrong – “so that it doesn’t happen again.”
She said it doesn’t seem that the governing Liberals are willing to get more answers. Ms. Mathyssen also pointed out that she noticed Liberal MPs used testimony from the Status of Women committee to filibuster.
The committee did not vote on the motion. Mr. Bezan said it will meet again on Friday.
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