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Adm. Art McDonald voluntarily stood down after allegations were made against him, prompting an investigation that concluded without any charges.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Chief of the Defence Staff Art McDonald, who sought a return to work after an investigation into sexual-misconduct allegations against him ended with no charges, has been placed on administrative leave in an extraordinary move by the federal government.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan made the announcement Thursday, a day after lawyers for the admiral said he wanted to immediately return to his job as Canada’s top soldier.

The administrative leave was contained in an order-in-council document dated Thursday, and obtained by The Globe and Mail. Orders-in-council are legislative instruments that constitute a formal cabinet recommendation approved and signed by the Governor-General.

The document cited a statement by Adm. McDonald’s lawyers Wednesday that he planned to resume his duties.

Admiral Art McDonald plans to return to top military post, but minister says not so fast

Without elaborating, the document said, “Governor-in-council appointees have an obligation to act in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.”

The chief of the defence staff is a government appointment and can be terminated with or without cause.

In a separate statement Thursday, Mr. Sajjan said he is confident Canadians and the Armed Forces are being well served by Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre, who has been the acting chief of the defence staff since February.

That’s when Adm. McDonald voluntarily stood down after allegations were made against him, prompting an investigation that concluded without any charges.

“Appointments like that of Chief of Defence Staff must meet the highest possible standards and our goal must be to create a better workplace for the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces,” Mr. Sajjan said in his statement.

A spokesman for Mr. Sajjan declined further comment.

This week, lawyers for Adm. McDonald said in a statement: “Now that he has been exonerated, it is appropriate for Admiral McDonald to return to his duties.

“Given that it was his decision to step aside, it is now his decision – indeed obligation – to return to his duties,” said lawyers Michael Edelson and Rory Fowler in the statement.

Contacted Thursday, Mr. Fowler said that he had no comment on the day’s developments.

Canada’s Armed Forces have been in turmoil for months over allegations of misconduct involving senior officers, including Jonathan Vance, Adm. McDonald’s predecessor as chief of the defence staff. Last month, Mr. Vance was charged with obstruction of justice under the Criminal Code.

Earlier this year, Ottawa appointed former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour to head an independent review of the military’s handling of sexual assault, harassment and other misconduct.

Last week, the Forces Provost Marshal said the probe by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service into Adm. McDonald did not reveal evidence to support the laying of charges under either the Code of Service Discipline or the Criminal Code of Canada.

Retired colonel Michel Drapeau, a lawyer in Ottawa, said he expected that the federal government, notably the Prime Minister, is satisfied with the acting chief of the defence staff as the government considers its options for the leadership of the military.

“At the moment, government is saying, `We’re not ready to make a decision,’ ” Mr. Drapeau said.

He said he was surprised at the admiral’s declaration that he was returning to work. “It’s his boss, the Prime Minister who decides whether or not he wants him,” he said. “At the moment, it doesn’t seem like that decision has received the priority Admiral McDonald would like it to have.”

“He can only exercise his job if the Prime Minister gives him a green light. At the moment, he has not given him a red light. He has given him a yellow light.”

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