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Former chief of defence staff Jonathan Vance at a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in December 2019.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Former chief of defence staff Jonathan Vance, who is under investigation over allegations of sexual misconduct, has been charged with obstruction of justice.

After months of controversy in the Canadian Armed Forces over misconduct allegations against Mr. Vance and other senior military leaders, the Department of National Defence released a statement that said the now-retired general was charged under the Criminal Code on Thursday.

The DND statement said the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) assumed investigative responsibility for the allegations of misconduct on Feb. 4., and it was during this investigation that the obstruction of justice allegedly occurred.

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Documents filed in court allege Mr. Vance “did willfully attempt to obstruct the course of justice in a judicial proceeding by repeatedly contacting” an individual by phone and “attempting to persuade her to make false statements about their past relationship” to the CFNIS.

Mr. Vance has not publicly commented on the charge.

The CFNIS said it decided it would be in the interest of justice to use the civilian system because of the limitations of the military justice system outlined in an external review by former Supreme Court Justice Morris Fish. Mr. Fish released a report in June that called for changes, including in the prosecution of sexual misconduct, such as upgraded protections for victims and the removal of such cases from the military justice system until improvements are made.

The CFNIS is considered a specialized unit within the Canadian military police. Its mandate is to investigate serious and sensitive matters in relation to DND property, employees and Canadian Armed Forces personnel serving in Canada and around the minister’s office “cannot comment due to ongoing legal proceedings.”

Retired colonel Michel Drapeau, who is now a lawyer, said in an interview that one of the conclusions that can be drawn from the case is that the military justice system is unable and ill-equipped to deal with offences under the Code of Service Discipline or the Criminal Code that involve a high-ranking officer.

The code is the basis of the military justice system, which is designed to help commanders maintain discipline, efficiency and morale in the forces.

This year, the Canadian Armed Forces has been shaken by allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Vance and Admiral Art McDonald, who initially replaced the former defence chief. Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson, head of military personnel, is also under investigation by military police amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Mr. Vance and Vice-Adm. Edmundson have denied the allegations. Adm. McDonald, who stepped aside in February, has not commented.

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In June, Lieutenant-General Michael Rouleau resigned as second-in-command of the Canadian Armed Forces after he and the commander of the navy, Vice-Admiral Craig Baines, went golfing with Mr. Vance on June 2 at an exclusive Ottawa golfing venue for the military.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan have faced political pressure to reveal what they knew about an allegation made against Mr. Vance three years ago. Opposition parties said they failed to act appropriately, but Mr. Trudeau maintains an appropriate process was followed at the time.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the Liberal government has long promised to address sexual misconduct in the military, but failed to act.

“We’ve known for years that this is a problem and Mr. Vance’s case is just the tip of the iceberg. The entire institution of the military needs to be reformed,” he said.

James Bezan, the Conservative defence critic, said on Thursday that accountability starts at the top and the latest development with Mr. Vance is “just one more reason why Minister Sajjan needs to resign.”

Mr. Sajjan told the Commons defence committee in February that he was “shocked” when the allegations were made public against Mr. Vance two weeks earlier. MPs on the committee asked repeatedly when he learned about the allegations. He said “any reporting or any allegations brought to me were always taken to the appropriate authorities very quickly and were taken very seriously.”

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Shortly after, former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne testified to the committee that he told Mr. Sajjan three years earlier about an allegation of inappropriate sexual behaviour against Mr. Vance.

Mr. Walbourne said he told Mr. Sajjan on March 1, 2018, that an individual came forward in confidence, that the complaint was not formal, and he wanted the Defence Minister to get back to him on how to proceed. Mr. Walbourne said Mr. Sajjan refused to look at evidence he tried to show him.

Mr. Sajjan testified before the defence committee for a second time to talk about his meeting with Mr. Walbourne. Mr. Sajjan said he refused to look at the evidence because he wanted to ensure the investigative process was independent and without political interference. He said he considered the investigation open from the moment Mr. Walbourne received the complaint.

Janine Sherman, who is responsible for senior personnel in the Privy Council Office, testified she met with Mr. Walbourne but, because the complaint was confidential, he could not give her more information “upon which to take further action.”

In April, the federal government appointed former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour to lead an independent review of the military’s handling of sexual assault, harassment and other misconduct.

Ottawa also announced that Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre, the acting chief of the defence staff, and deputy defence minister Jody Thomas would create a new internal organization to be led by Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan as the chief of professional conduct and culture.

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