Allowing navy commander to keep job after Vance golf game is disturbing: Freeland

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OTTAWA — Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says she is "disturbed" by the military's decision to let the commander of the Royal Canadian Navy keep his job after golfing with the former chief of the defence staff under military police investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct.

Vice-Admiral Craig Baines caused outrage earlier this month when it was revealed he and then-defence vice-chief Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau golfed with retired general Jonathan Vance.

Both Baines and Rouleau apologized, with Rouleau also resigning from his position.

Acting chief of the defence staff Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre said he would consider the next steps for the naval commander and decided to give Baines a chance to redeem himself.

Freeland says she was "surprised" and "disturbed" by the decision, which follows months of military officials and the Liberal government being under scrutiny for systemic misconduct among the ranks of the Armed Forces.

She says her immediate thought was: How would I feel if I were a Canadian woman in the Armed Forces?

"What would that decision tell me about how seriously my bosses were taking the essential work of transforming the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces? And I don't think if I were wearing a uniform today, I would be reassured by that decision," she said.

Eyre said in a statement Tuesday that while he knew not everyone would agree with the decision, he has to believe that people can learn and grow from their mistakes.

"Knowing his moral authority has diminished, (Baines) is determined to regain the trust and confidence of all through humility and showing us how to learn, reconcile error, and become a better leader," Eyre said.

Freeland's comments are "extremely hypocritical," Conservative defence critic MP James Bezan said in a statement Wednesday, adding that she has stood by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

"If Minister Freeland truly cares about our women and men in uniform, she will join the countless Canadians calling for Minister Sajjan’s immediate resignation," he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended Sajjan on Wednesday, saying that through his service as a police officer and as a member of the Armed Forces, he has stood against the "Old Boys network" every step of the way and has had regular challenges with them throughout his career.

"As minister, (he) continues to be dedicated to fighting discrimination, intolerance and a culture of toxicity that continues to tolerate misogyny in the military," Trudeau said.

The prime minister also said that Canadians are watching closely every decision that is made by the military, and those decisions should centre survivors and the women and men who serve.

"The senior leadership of the Armed Forces, it's not an exaggeration to say, has lost a significant amount of the trust, not just of Canadians, but of people who have served in the Armed Forces," he said.

"I also know that not just the deputy prime minister, but many women and people I've talked to, are disappointed that this further demonstrates the work that the military and the military's leadership needs to do to regain the trust of Canadians."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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