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Sentries stand guard as the Canadian Forces Snowbirds perform a fly past during a ceremony commemorating the Battle of Britain in Gatineau on Sept. 16, 2018.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The federal government will set up an independent body to investigate accusations of sexual misconduct, racism and discrimination in the military after facing criticism over how it handled allegations against top officials, according to a source with knowledge of the plan.

The government source said Ottawa has concluded an independent body – outside the chain of command – will offer victims of misconduct in the military a safe way to report allegations. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to speak publicly about this matter.

The plan, expected to be unveiled within weeks, would mean the military ombudsman and the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, now part of the military police, would be folded into the new watchdog agency that will either report to the Defence Minister or Parliament.

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The military also announced changes to its ranks on Monday, appointing several women to leadership positions, including naming its first female vice-chief of the defence staff.

Conservatives seek to call aides to Sajjan, Trudeau to testify on Vance allegations

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is facing criticism over the way he responded when former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne told him about an allegation of inappropriate sexual behaviour against then-chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance.

Mr. Walbourne told a parliamentary committee last week that Mr. Sajjan refused to look at evidence he had regarding the allegation and that after Mr. Walbourne told the minister the complainant asked to keep the information confidential, Mr. Sajjan informed the Privy Council Office of the allegation.

During Question Period on Monday, Mr. Sajjan faced questions about how he responded to Mr. Walbourne.

“Does the Minister of Defence realize he has failed to do his job, he has lost credibility and he has lost trust?” said Conservative deputy leader Candice Bergen.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says he disagrees with testimony given to a House of Commons committee about how he handled a complaint of sexual misconduct against Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, and he's eager to testify again himself to fill in details. Sajjan took numerous questions about the issue in the Commons Monday, from multiple opposition MPs. The Canadian Press

Mr. Sajjan repeated a comment he made last week, saying he disagreed with Mr. Walbourne’s testimony and said he looks forward to setting the record straight when he has the opportunity to testify again.

Last week, Mr. Sajjan said he was shocked when the allegations were made public. However, he also said any allegations that were brought forward were immediately provided to the proper authorities.

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The Canadian Armed Forces have been rocked in recent months and weeks by two military police investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct involving the now retired Mr. Vance and Admiral Art McDonald, who initially replaced the former defence chief. Experts have been urging the government to put in place independent civilian oversight of the military, because currently military investigators report to the Chief of the Defence Staff.

One person on the witness list to the parliamentary committee, Lieutenant-Commander Raymond Trotter, who reportedly flagged the allegation against Adm. McDonald, has received threatening phone calls warning him not to co-operate with the investigation, Global News has reported.

Maya Eichler, an associate professor and Canada Research Chair at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, said Monday it would be important for an external accountability body to report directly to Parliament, adding that reporting to the Minister of Defence would not be sufficient.

The federal government and the Prime Minister’s Office should seek expert advice when setting up an external mechanism, Ms. Eichler added.

“We want to make sure that we get it right this time,” she said. “This should not be decided just at the political level. I think that we do want to act quickly; we do want to see change happening but it should be publicly debated.”

She also said external monitoring would give one of the necessary preconditions to start talking about root causes of sexual misconduct – military culture – and how to address it and ensure there is more accountability.

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The military announced shakeups late Monday including the appointment of Lieutenant-General Frances Allen as the new vice-chief of the defence staff, replacing Lieutenant-General Mike Rouleau.

Lt.-Gen. Rouleau is being appointed as a strategic adviser to the chief of defence staff. Brigadier-General Lise Bourgon is being appointed the head of the Royal Military College in Kingston.

Major-General Jocelyn Paul will be promoted to lieutenant-general and appointed deputy commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command in Naples.

NDP MP Lindsay Mathyssen says it’s hard for women in the military to believe harassment accusations will be taken seriously following reports of how sexual misconduct allegations against top brass were handled. Mathyssen says the military ombudsman should report directly to Parliament to ensure a more independent complaints and investigations process. The Canadian Press

The House of Commons national defence committee, which is studying the issue of sexual misconduct in the military, also met Monday and unanimously adopted a motion brought forward by NDP MP Randall Garrison to call Mr. Sajjan to testify for a second time.

Conservative MP James Bezan also proposed the committee expand its list of witnesses to include former clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick. Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld proposed an amendment to remove Mr. Wernick, citing his poor health.

Mr. Wernick told The Globe on Monday that he is not aware of having any health issues, and would be willing to appear before committee. However, he said he does not have access to any of his records or calendars.

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Mr. Wernick’s successor Ian Shugart said last month that he would be taking some time off to receive cancer treatment. When Conservative MPs asked Ms. Vandenbeld whether she was confusing the two men, she said, “it’s not a confusion.”

The parliamentary committee also agreed Monday to invite witnesses including Zita Astravas, Mr. Sajjan’s former chief of staff, Elder Marques, former senior adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the PCO’s Janine Sherman, to testify.

The Globe reported Friday that Ms. Astravas spoke to Mr. Marques about concerns related to the country’s defence chief according to two sources. The Globe is keeping the sources confidential because they are not allowed to discuss internal matters involving the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office.

Mr. Marques requested guidance from the PCO to ensure there was a process and that appropriate steps were taken, one source said. Ms. Astravas did not convey a specific allegation about the now-retired general, the source added.

Mr. Wernick confirmed Monday that an e-mail obtained through Access to Information on March 2, 2018, was from him to Ms. Sherman and instructed that the matter needed to be put into writing.

Ms. Sherman met later that month with Mr. Walbourne about the concerns he raised with Mr. Sajjan about Mr. Vance. On Friday, the Prime Minister said the ombudsman did not “provide sufficient information to the officials in place to be able to follow up on these allegations.”

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Mr. Walbourne told committee last week he was “floored” when the PCO asked him about the details of the allegation because he had told Mr. Sajjan he did not have the complainant’s permission to investigate and it was to be held in confidence.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect rank for Jocelyn Paul.

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