The House of Commons national defence committee passed a Liberal motion Monday to limit the timeline of its study of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, including allegations against former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance.
The motion, brought forward by Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld, passed with the support of the Bloc Québécois. It asks that MPs send recommendations to the committee’s clerk by Friday afternoon, and says the committee needs to complete a review of a draft report and adopt it no later than May 28. The motion also says that the chair of the committee should table the report in the House of Commons no later than June 10.
“I believe that we owe it to the survivors to make sure we are focused on them,” Ms. Vandenbeld said, adding they do not want to see parliamentarians pointing fingers and dragging out the study. The House of Commons national defence committee has so far heard from more than 30 witnesses.
The Liberal government is facing questions about why Mr. Vance was able to stay in his position after then military ombudsman Gary Walbourne brought an allegation about him to the attention of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan in March, 2018.
When Mr. Walbourne tried to show evidence to Mr. Sajjan during a meeting, the minister declined to review it and alerted his then chief of staff, Zita Astravas, of the matter. Ms. Astravas then referred the issue to Elder Marques, a senior adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office, who asked the Privy Council Office (PCO) to follow up with Mr. Walbourne. The PCO’s Janine Sherman met with Mr. Walbourne but was not able to obtain additional information. Mr. Walbourne said he did not have the complainant’s permission to share it.
Both the Conservatives and the NDP voted against the motion and said that MPs still have not heard from critical witnesses regarding the matter involving Mr. Vance, including Ms. Astravas and Mr. Marques. Mr. Vance has denied any wrongdoing.
During question period, Conservative defence critic James Bezan said the Liberal government wants to bury the truth rather than stand up for the brave women who serve in uniform.
“Why did the Liberal government shut down the defence committee investigation that is trying to protect women in the military?” he asked.
In response, Mr. Sajjan said he will always respect work done by colleagues at the committee, adding that he delivered testimony before MPs on three occasions. The government will not stand for any form of sexual misconduct, he added, noting that he looks forward to recommendations from the committee on how to stamp out such behaviour in the Forces.
Prior to the vote, NDP defence critic Randall Garrison said Monday it would be premature to end the study without hearing from key witnesses. He said the subject of the committee’s work is to find out why nothing was done when allegations of sexual misconduct were raised against a chief of the defence staff who was then allowed to serve for an additional three years.
“What we are trying to do is give confidence to Canadian women that they can serve equally in the Canadian military. And that confidence comes only when they know that these issues will be taken seriously at the very highest level.”
Rear-Admiral Rebecca Patterson, the commander of the Canadian Forces Health Services Group, told the committee Monday the areas that need to be focused on include moving ahead on culture change in the Forces and the need for external advice, support and monitoring.
In March, the acting chief of the defence staff, Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre, said the Forces are at an “inflection point” that must be acted upon to make it a better place to serve for all Canadians.
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