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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attend a campaign event in downtown Vancouver on Aug. 18.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The federal government’s failure to disclose the latest sexual-misconduct investigation into a senior military officer during the election campaign is sparking criticism from opposition parties and military observers that Ottawa is not being transparent on serious issues related to the Canadian Forces.

Acting chief of the defence staff General Wayne Eyre and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan were notified about the investigation on Sept 5. At the time, neither the military nor the government disclosed publicly that Lieutenant-General Trevor Cadieu’s appointment to command the Army was being postponed or that he was subject to an investigation.

The Forces for the first time on Wednesday confirmed in a news report that the incoming commander had his appointment delayed while he is being investigated for sexual misconduct. Lt.-Gen. Cadieu denies the allegation but said in a statement that he asked Gen. Eyre to consider choosing a different leader for the army.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office would not say Thursday when he or any of his staff were first notified of the investigation. His spokesperson referred The Globe and Mail to the Defence Minister’s office.

“Communication regarding investigations should not be politicized. It is up to [the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service] to communicate about investigations,” Mr. Sajjan’s spokesperson, Todd Lane, said in a brief statement Thursday.

The investigation service operates within the military command structure; its leader is appointed by the chief of the defence staff and that individual reports to the vice-chief of the defence staff. The lack of independence is a key reason why experts say the military is unable to deal with the sexual-misconduct crisis gripping its ranks.

The lack of transparency in Lt.-Gen. Cadieu’s case underscores the challenges the organization is facing and highlights the need for a new defence minister, opposition MPs and military experts said on Thursday.

Since February, former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance and his successor, Admiral Art McDonald, have been investigated. Both probes ended without charges related to the allegations. However, Mr. Vance was charged with obstruction of justice in connection with the misconduct investigation.

Adm. McDonald is on leave while the government conducts a separate probe. Major-General Dany Fortin is also on leave and faces one charge of sexual assault, which he denies. And Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson is on leave while military police investigate a complaint against him.

News of the investigation into Lt.-Gen. Cadieu, who is also on leave, was first reported by the Ottawa Citizen and follows on the heels of the military reversing a decision to put Major-General Peter Dawe in charge of reviewing ways to eliminate sexual misconduct in the forces, after he had been on leave for writing a positive character reference for an officer convicted of sexual assault.

The Conservatives and the NDP said Thursday that the Prime Minister should seize the opportunity to replace Mr. Sajjan when he unveils a new cabinet.

“During a sensitive time in Canadian politics, the minister decided to sit on the information rather than being completely honest with voters and providing this information, which is equally important to members of the Canadian Armed Forces,” Conservative MP James Bezan said Thursday. “He needs to be dumped and sacked for good.”

More than six years ago, former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps recommended that an independent centre of accountability for sexual assault and harassment be set up outside the Forces. That has not been done and only this year did Mr. Sajjan appoint another former Supreme Court justice to advise the government on how it could be done.

If the Liberal government had acted on the advice when it first came to power, it wouldn’t be in the position it’s now in because an independent body would be deciding when and how to release information on investigations, NDP MP Randall Garrison said.

Mr. Sajjan “has no credibility as somebody who will take effective action on the issues. After six years, why would we expect anything different from him.” Mr. Garrison said.

Mr. Trudeau is expected to appoint a new cabinet on Oct. 25, sources told The Globe. The paper is not identifying them because they were not permitted to disclose the government’s plans.

At a news conference on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland declined to comment directly when asked if the next defence minister should be a woman. She applauded Mr. Trudeau for having gender-balanced cabinets, something he has already committed to keeping.

The military police declined to say Thursday when the investigation into Lt.-Gen. Cadieu began. He was confirmed to take over Army command when the military approved his promotion to Lieutenant-General on Aug. 8, defence department spokesperson Daniel Le Bouthillier said in a statement.

Mr. Le Bouthillier said the military police don’t pro-actively disclose investigations, because it “could jeopardize the integrity of the investigation.” However, he said it will confirm investigations on a “case-by-case basis” contingent on the requirements for the investigation, the privacy rights of individuals, and the public’s right to know.

The military needs to shed its habit of keeping information relevant to the public quiet if it hopes to rebuild trust, say military experts.

Maya Eichler, a Canada Research Chair at Mount Saint Vincent University, who studies gender in the armed forces, said the military needs to pro-actively disclose investigations, in particular when they involve senior brass.

“There’s a huge trust issue in terms of the public not having confidence in the military any more that it can handle the sexual-misconduct file,” Prof. Eichler said.

Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, echoed the need for more transparency and for pro-active disclosure, and both researchers said a change in ministers was warranted.

Mr. Sajjan has “shown a laissez-faire style of leadership that is highly problematic when you want to deal with an issue of culture change,” Ms. Duval-Lantoine said. The challenge though is that there are no guarantees that a new minister would be more pro-active.

She said Mr. Sajjan’s leadership reflects the passive approach from the government on the file and noted that during the federal election Mr. Trudeau acknowledged the processes in the military didn’t work. But she noted he is the one ultimately responsible for that.

“You’re the Prime Minister, if someone has power to change the processes, it’s you.”

With reports from Bob Fife and Bill Curry

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