Skip to main content

Katie Telford, chief of staff to the Prime Minister, via videoconference in the Wellington Building in Ottawa, July 30, 2020.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Liberal MPs pushed back at the idea of having the Prime Minister’s chief of staff testify before a parliamentary committee, and said that the committee must move on and produce a report on sexual misconduct in the military.

The resistance from the Liberals on the defence committee came after the Conservatives introduced a motion on Friday calling for Katie Telford to testify about how she handled an allegation of sexual misconduct made against former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance.

Bloc Québécois and NDP members on the committee said they support the Conservative motion, while Liberal MPs said they had heard from enough witnesses. When the meeting ended, the committee had yet to vote on whether it would hear from Ms. Telford. It will meet again on Monday.

Endless spin and circles of inaction mark Liberals’ response to sexual harassment in the military

You should be angry about the government’s failures to address sexual assault in the military

Former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour to review sexual harassment, misconduct in the military

Conservative MP James Bezan, who introduced the motion, said its purpose is to follow up on previous testimony from Elder Marques, a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Last week, Mr. Marques told the same committee that Ms. Telford knew about an allegation against Mr. Vance, which was first brought to the attention of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

“It is very much germane to our study to find out what Katie Telford was told,” Mr. Bezan said.

Mr. Bezan said that Ms. Telford needs to say if she briefed the Prime Minister and, if not, why not. Mr. Trudeau has said that he was not aware of the allegation against Mr. Vance and learned of details in news reports earlier this year.

Liberal MP Sven Spengemann said the Conservatives want another witness called with the goal to take themselves somewhere in their “largely political argument.”

“We are running out of runway to formulate the recommendations that this committee really needs to make, that Canadians need to hear, in parallel with the work of Madame Justice Arbour,” he said. “For that reason … we should embark on that work.”

NDP MP Randall Garrison said efforts to hear from Ms. Telford are not intended to drag out the committee, but instead to hear from a final witness and to help restore trust that those at the highest level of the Forces and government will act on cases of sexual misconduct.

Trust will be central to any changes to be recommended in the future, Mr. Garrison added.

“If women serving in the Canadian Forces, and indeed men serving in the Canadian Forces, don’t trust that there is understanding at the highest level on sexual misconduct – and that there will be action at the highest level – then I fear that any reforms will have very little credibility, very little trust and any system set up will not be used by those survivors,” he said.

Mr. Garrison said that in 2018, when former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne attempted to present evidence to Mr. Sajjan, there was no investigation completed. Instead, he said Mr. Vance remained as chief of the defence staff and was in charge of Operation Honour, designed to root out sexual misconduct in the military.

The Trudeau government and Mr. Sajjan have come under increasing political pressure in recent months after Mr. Walbourne’s committee testimony.

Mr. Walbourne said in March that he told Mr. Sajjan about an allegation against Mr. Vance in 2018 and tried to show him evidence but he refused to look at it.

Mr. Sajjan told his chief of staff, who informed the Prime Minister’s Office. The PMO then referred the matter to the Privy Council Office (PCO), which is the department that supports the Prime Minister and the cabinet. The PCO could not obtain more information about the allegation from Mr. Walbourne, who has repeatedly said that the complainant came to him in confidence.

Ian Brodie, a former chief of staff to prime minister Stephen Harper, said Ms. Telford should appear before committee in the wake of Mr. Marques’s testimony. “I hope that when Ms. Telford testifies, she could provide more detail.”

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.