The military’s former head of personnel has been charged with sexual assault and committing indecent acts, making him the third current or retired senior commander from the Canadian Armed Forces to face criminal charges this year.
The charges were laid against Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson on Tuesday by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service. The Department of National Defence said in a news release his case will be dealt with in the civilian justice system.
Vice-Adm. Edmundson is on paid leave, the Forces said on Tuesday. He went on leave on March 31, the day the Military Police confirmed they were investigating allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman on board a ship where he was a superior officer in 1991.
Retired Canadian Forces member Stéphanie Viau went public on the CBC in March with allegations that Vice-Adm. Edmundson exposed his genitals to her and later sexually assaulted her.
Ms. Viau’s lawyer, Paul Champ, confirmed the details of the allegations to The Globe on Tuesday. Ms. Viau was 19 years old at the time of the alleged incidents onboard HMCS Provider.
“We look forward to justice taking its course,” Mr. Champ said on Tuesday. He said his client doesn’t want to make any further comment while the matter is before the courts.
Earlier this year, Vice-Adm. Edmundson denied the allegations to CBC. He did not reply to a request for comment from The Globe and Mail.
Defence Minister Anita Anand’s office declined comment on Tuesday, citing the court case. Chief of the Defence Staff Wayne Eyre did not provide a comment. In the spring, the defence department said it was “troubled by these allegations,” and that the Forces were above all “concerned for the well-being of the victim who has been carrying this burden for 30 years.”
The Canadian Armed Forces is reeling from a growing crisis of sexual misconduct within its ranks. The scandal has included an increasing number of sexual misconduct investigations centring on senior officers, and has raised doubts about the Forces’ ability to manage the crisis or adequately investigate cases.
The pervasive nature of the issue was underscored in October, when The Globe reported that Lieutenant-General Steven Whelan, who replaced Vice-Adm. Edmundson as Commander Military Personnel Command and Chief of Military Personnel, was under investigation for sexual misconduct. He went on leave after The Globe asked the Forces for comment about the investigation.
As part of their job descriptions, Vice-Adm. Edmundson and Lt.-Gen. Whelan were responsible for rooting out bad behaviour in the Forces and mandated to “maintain the profession of arms as an honourable and desirable career.”
Vice-Adm. Edmundson became the commander of military personnel in August, 2019. Lt.-Gen. Whelan was appointed to the post in May. Major-General Lise Bourgon has served as the acting commander for military personnel since Lt.-Gen. Whelan went on leave on Oct. 15.
The military did not provide an update on the status of Lt.-Gen. Whelan’s case on Tuesday.
In July, former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance was charged with obstruction of justice in relation to a misconduct investigation. That investigation was launched after he retired, and was closed with no charges related to the alleged misconduct.
In August, Major-General Dany Fortin was charged with sexual assault in Quebec in a case dating back to 1988. Maj.-Gen. Fortin had been leading Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout until the government removed him from the post in the spring pending an investigation. Maj.-Gen. Fortin has denied the charge.
For years, experts have said the military police should not investigate sexual assault cases within the Forces. In 2015, former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps recommended the government create an independent centre for accountability for sexual assault and harassment outside of the Forces that would receive reports of inappropriate sexual conduct. In June, another former justice, Morris Fish, said sexual assault cases should not be investigated or prosecuted under the National Defence Act until the Forces bring the Declaration of Victims Rights for the military into force. The declaration would extend to victims in the military justice system more of the basic rights that victims in the civilian system already have.
The government has also commissioned another former justice to review the issue. In interim recommendations in October, Louise Arbour said the government should follow the recommendation from Mr. Fish. Ms. Anand accepted the advice in November.
In its Tuesday statement, the Forces said the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal decided to keep the investigation into Vice-Adm. Edmundson in its control because it was near completion.
“As the matter is now proceeding through the civilian justice system, no further information can be released at this time,” the statement said.
NDP MP Lindsay Mathyssen said the charges against Vice-Adm. Edmundson “are the latest in a long line of disturbing reports against the top brass in the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Ms. Mathyssen criticized the government for failing to do anything “besides commission reports” in its six years in power.
“The Liberal government has failed service women and men by neglecting to address the pervasive, toxic culture in the military that they have known about for years. This government’s handling of sexual assault in the military is nothing short of a national embarrassment,” Ms. Mathyssen said.
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