The Conservatives pressed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take responsibility after testimony last week that his chief of staff Katie Telford was aware of allegations of sexual misconduct involving the head of the military three years ago.
Elder Marques, a former senior adviser inside the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), told the House of Commons defence committee on Friday that he spoke with Ms. Telford about a concern related to then-chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance in March, 2018.
In Question Period on Monday, Conservative defence critic James Bezan questioned when the Prime Minister will take personal responsibility for the way the situation was handled.
“The Liberals can’t seriously expect Canadians to believe that Ms. Telford withheld this crucial information from the Prime Minister,” Mr. Bezan said.
Mr. Marques’s testimony marked the first time time anyone has said Ms. Telford was directly aware of concerns about Mr. Vance. Last month, Mr. Trudeau said his office knew of allegations that were directed to independent authorities, but did not know the details of those allegations. The Prime Minister has also denied that he knew about the matter personally. For his part, Mr. Vance has denied any wrongdoing in an interview with Global News, but otherwise has not commented.
Ms. Telford did not respond to a request for comment made to the PMO on Friday. A spokesperson, Alex Wellstead, said the office takes all allegations seriously and ensures they are followed up on by appropriate independent authorities.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who was speaking by video to the Regina Chamber of Commerce, said Monday that everyone around the Prime Minister was aware of allegations about Mr. Vance and that the government “did nothing for three years.”
“Our women in uniform deserve better,” he said.
NDP defence critic Randall Garrison has also called on the Prime Minister and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to take responsibility, saying survivors of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces deserve an apology for leaving Mr. Vance in his role.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, in an interview with Global News on Sunday, apologized to any woman who has been sexually harassed while serving her country.
Mr. Sajjan said Monday the Liberal government has no tolerance for misconduct and said it followed the same process as the previous government when faced with concerns about Mr. Vance. The minister was referring to testimony from former prime minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff Ray Novak before the House of Commons national defence committee that detailed how the previous government looked into Mr. Vance’s personal history prior to his change-of-command ceremony in 2015.
In recent weeks, the Liberal government has faced political heat since former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne told a parliamentary committee that he presented Mr. Sajjan with an allegation.
Mr. Sajjan declined to see the evidence about Mr. Vance. The minister told his chief of staff, Zita Astravas, about the matter. Ms. Astravas then alerted the PMO and the office brought in the Privy Council Office (PCO), but no further information was obtained at the time. Mr. Vance remained as chief of defence staff until his retirement in January.
Mr. Vance’s successor as chief of defence staff, Art McDonald, the former commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, stepped aside from his role in February amid allegations of misconduct that remain under investigation. At the end of March, the Department of National Defence also confirmed Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson, the head of military personnel, is on leave while allegations of misconduct are being looked into by military police.
The allegations, as well as the stories from survivors of military sexual trauma, have contributed to a national discussion in recent weeks about the prevalence of sexual misconduct in the the Forces and steps that need to be taken to address it, including the use and abuse of power in military culture.
The federal budget tabled April 19 said the government intends to implement measures including new external oversight mechanisms to bring greater independence to the processes for reporting sexual misconduct in the Forces.
With a report from Ian Bailey
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