In new blow to Canada military, ex-top soldier charged with obstructing justice

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FILE PHOTO: Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance, between Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan and Deputy Minister of National Defence Jody Thomas, attends a news conference in Ottawa

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's former top soldier was charged on Thursday with obstructing justice, in the latest blow to a military that is under pressure over allegations of sexual misconduct by senior officers.

The defense ministry said General Jonathan Vance, 57, had been charged in connection with his behavior during a probe into accusations against him that surfaced in February, a month after he retired as chief of defense staff.

Vance is under investigation over complaints about inappropriate behavior with two female subordinates. He acknowledges one relationship but denies impropriety.

The case will be heard in a civil court, given shortcomings in the military justice system, the ministry said, but gave no details. Vance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Critics complain the armed forces are not doing nearly enough to address systemic problems with sexual harassment.

Vance's successor, Admiral Art McDonald, lasted barely six weeks in the job before stepping down in February over what were later disclosed to be sexual misconduct allegations.

The revelations have angered Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, an avowed feminist, who last month referred to "the old boys' club that is causing such problems right now in the military."

Last month, the deputy chief of the defense staff resigned after golfing with Vance to see how he was holding up.

Trudeau declined to comment on the charge against Vance when pressed by reporters in Montreal on Thursday. The office of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also declined to comment.

Last month, Ottawa put a newly promoted female general in charge of a team addressing systemic misconduct inside the armed forces. It also asked former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour to examine military harassment and sexual misconduct.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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