Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing criticism for approving a bonus for Jonathan Vance after his office was made aware of sexual misconduct allegations against the Canadian Armed Forces’ former chief of defence staff.
An order-in-council document posted on the federal government’s website shows the approval for performance pay for the now-retired general was made in 2019. It indicates that Mr. Vance’s performance pay was increased to between $260,600 and $306,500, effective April 1, 2018.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan said Mr. Trudeau needs to come clean with Canadians and answer as to why he made this decision, noting that Mr. Vance’s salary range increased by about $50,000.
“Justin Trudeau and his office failed to live up to their own zero tolerance standard on sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces,” Mr. Bezan said.
Alex Wellstead, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office, said order-in-council performance pay is based on the advice and recommendation of the public service. The PMO cannot discuss individual circumstances, Mr. Wellstead added, citing privacy concerns.
A source with knowledge of the matter said Mr. Vance’s bonus was for 2017-18 and the process for it played out over a lengthy period owing to written concerns from the Privy Council Office about his unusually long tenure as chief of defence staff. The source also said the performance pay period was a missed opportunity for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to flag any concerns about the chief of defence staff, and perhaps for the PMO and the PCO to dig deeper.
The Globe and Mail is keeping the source confidential because they are not authorized to discuss internal matters.
NDP defence critic Randall Garrison said it is disturbing the PMO not only let Mr. Vance stay on as chief of the defence staff beyond the normal term but that he also was given performance pay after the office was made aware of misconduct allegations.
“What message does this send to the women and men who serve our country?” he said. “How can they feel valued and respected when allegations of misconduct are so blatantly ignored? The government can continue to repeat that they have zero tolerance for misconduct and harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces but their actions clearly don’t match their words – their credibility is gone.”
The source also said Mr. Sajjan was consulted on the performance pay process through his deputy minister Jody Thomas.
Mr. Sajjan told the House of Commons defence committee recently that he was “not involved with salaries for public officials.” When asked about being consulted on the process by Ms. Thomas, Mr. Sajjan’s spokesperson, Todd Lane, reiterated the minister does not determine performance pay.
The Trudeau government has faced questions in recent weeks from opposition parties over its handling of allegations involving Mr. Vance.
The Globe first reported that Mr. Sajjan’s chief of staff alerted the PMO three years ago that concerns about Mr. Vance had been raised directly with the minister by then-military ombudsman Gary Walbourne.
Mr. Trudeau confirmed this information during Question Period: His office was aware in 2018 that Mr. Walbourne told Mr. Sajjan about a complaint involving Mr. Vance and said the minister “directed him to independent officials to investigate.” The PMO has not commented on whether Mr. Trudeau was briefed directly on the matter.
At a House of Commons committee this month, Mr. Walbourne testified that he met with Mr. Sajjan on March 1, 2018, and informed him of an informal complaint against Mr. Vance. He said when he tried to show Mr. Sajjan the evidence, the minister refused to look at it.
Following the testimony, Mr. Sajjan has faced questions from opposition parties about how he handled the concerns brought to his attention by Mr. Walbourne. The minister had previously told the committee that he was shocked and surprised to learn of recent reports involving Mr. Vance.
Global News first reported Mr. Vance is facing accusations of inappropriate behaviour with two female subordinates while he was chief of the defence staff, the head of the Canadian force. Mr. Vance denied wrongdoing.
Mr. Sajjan said in a second appearance before the committee that he took the allegation about Mr. Vance seriously and raised it with the appropriate “independent authority” outside of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces. He said he informed his chief of staff, who informed the PMO and the PCO.
Mr. Sajjan also said it was the job of the ombudsman to conduct investigations.
“When an ombudsman receives a complaint, the process has started,” Mr. Sajjan said. “I didn’t want to be put into a position where I potentially interfered.”
Mr. Walbourne said the complainant was clear in her instructions and she did not want him to investigate her informal complaint.
Mr. Bezan, the Conservative critic, said Mr. Walbourne was seeking guidance from the minister and the Prime Minister, and Mr. Sajjan has tried to blame the former military watchdog.
“The spin coming from the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence is disgusting,” he said. “While they sat and did nothing three years ago, how many more women were victimized in the Canadian Armed Forces by commanding officers because this type of behaviour was not brought forward and justice served?”
The Canadian Forces have been rocked recently by two military police investigations into allegations involving both Mr. Vance and Admiral Art McDonald, who initially replaced the former defence chief.
Last week, a senior female officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Eleanor Taylor, announced she was resigning from the force and said she was sickened by the investigations and how long they took.
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