The Trudeau government attempted Monday to fend off a barrage of criticism from opposition parties over its handling of a 2018 sexual misconduct allegation involving the former head of the Canadian Armed Forces on while a Liberal chair cancelled a House of Commons defence committee meeting.
Tory defence critic James Bezan put forward a motion on Friday seeking for the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, to testify on what she knew about the allegations three years ago.
Mr. Bezan said the purpose of hearing from Ms. Telford is to follow up on previous statement from Elder Marques, a former senior adviser in the PMO. Mr. Marques recently told the defence committee that Ms. Telford knew an allegation involving Jonathan Vance was brought to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s attention three years ago.
Mr. Bezan’s effort is supported by the Bloc Québécois and the NDP, but Liberal MPs urged the committee to move on to produce a report on sexual misconduct in the military.
“The Liberal cover-up into sexual misconduct in the CAF continues,” Mr. Bezan wrote on Twitter on Monday. “Why are they more interested in protecting Katie Telford than our troops?”
Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon, who chairs the committee, did not specify why the meeting was cancelled on Monday. She said MPs will meet later this week and that the committee is focused on producing its report.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole also called for Ms. Telford to be fired on Monday.
“If the Prime Minister is telling the truth, and he wants Canadians to believe that he had no knowledge of the evidence of sexual misconduct against General Vance, he will fire his chief of staff,” Mr. O’Toole said. The Conservative Leader will ask the House of Commons on Tuesday to back a motion calling for the Prime Minister to remove Ms. Telford from her role as his most senior adviser.
If the Prime Minister does not remove Ms. Telford, it will amount to an “admission that he has been lying about his knowledge of the sexual misconduct allegation against General Vance,” Mr. O’Toole said. Mr. Trudeau has maintained he did not know about specifics of the allegations involving Mr. Vance until news reports this year. The now retired former chief of defence staff is currently the subject of an investigation by military police.
The Liberal government has faced months of pressure over who knew what and when about a three-year-old allegation of sexual misconduct against Mr. Vance. Mr. Vance denied any wrongdoing in an interview with Global News earlier this year, but otherwise has not commented.
Mr. Sajjan, Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Telford have been criticized by opposition parties for the handling of the 2018 allegation. Two parliamentary committees have been studying the issue of sexual trauma in the military in the past number of weeks, including the defence committee, which has focused on Mr. Vance.
Alex Wellstead, a spokesperson in the Prime Minister’s Office, did not comment directly on calls for Ms. Telford to be fired on Monday. He reiterated a previous statement by his office stating it always takes allegations of misconduct seriously and it follows proper processes. Mr. Wellstead noted the process that the Liberals followed in 2018 by referring conduct concerns to the Privy Council Office mirrors the one followed by the Conservative government in 2015 when Mr. Vance was appointed to his position.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said it is not good enough to see a staff member or a minister “take the fall.”
“This falls squarely on the shoulders of the Prime Minister,” Mr. Singh said.
The federal government announced on Thursday that it appointed former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour to examine sexual harassment and misconduct in the military, charting a path for how the Canadian Armed Forces could set up an independent reporting system.
Mr. Sajjan said that Ms. Arbour will conduct an independent review, providing recommendations on how the military and the Department of National Defence can create such a system for those affected by sexual misconduct.
The minister also apologized to members of the Forces and those in the department who have been affected by sexual harassment and violence and who felt they did not have adequate support.
It was also announced Thursday that Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre, the acting chief of the defence staff, and defence deputy minister Jody Thomas will create a new internal organization to be led by Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan. She will be the chief of professional conduct and culture. The DND said this will ensure that immediate steps are taken to act on any interim recommendations that are made.
Mr. Sajjan said Monday Lt.-Gen. Carignan will be assigned to unify, integrate and co-ordinate all policies, programs and activities that address systemic misconduct and support culture change across all national defence and the armed forces.
In 2015, another former Supreme Court justice, Marie Deschamps, recommended an independent centre of accountability for sexual assault and harassment outside the Forces.
In Question Period on Monday, NDP women’s critic Lindsay Mathyssen said that the report by Ms. Deschamps has been “collecting dust” for six years while women continue to experience unfair treatment while serving their country.
“Women in Canada’s Armed Forces deserve a government that will protect them, not one that is only willing to protect their own image.”
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