Harjit Sajjan says he has always acted promptly on sexual misconduct allegations

·3 min read

OTTAWA — Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan declined to talk about when he first became aware of allegations of sexual misconduct against the former chief of the defence staff, but the minister assured MPs Friday he has always promptly informed the appropriate authorities of such accusations.

Appearing before the House of Commons defence committee, Sajjan indicated that any discussions he might have had with the military ombudsman about Gen. Jonathan Vance are confidential.

Conservative MP James Bezan pressed Sajjan about a purported March 2018 meeting with the ombudsman and what could have been said about Vance.

"I have met with the ombudsman on many occasions. Obviously, our conversations are confidential," Sajjan said.

"One thing I can assure all members of this committee, and all Canadians, is that any allegations or any reporting that were brought to me were always taken to the appropriate authorities very quickly and taken very seriously."

The committee hearing follows a Global News report that Vance allegedly had an ongoing relationship with a woman he significantly outranked.

The report also alleged the former chief of the defence staff made a sexual comment to a second, much younger, soldier in 2012, before he was appointed commander of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Vance, who turned over command of the military last month after more than five years in the job, has not responded to requests for comment by The Canadian Press and the allegations against him have not been independently verified.

Global says Vance, whose tenure as defence chief included a significant focus on eliminating sexual misconduct from the ranks, has acknowledged he dated the first woman nearly 20 years ago, but said the relationship had evolved over the years and was not sexual.

Global also reported that Vance said he had no recollection of making a sexual comment to the other junior member, adding if he did make the remark it would have been intended as a joke and that he was prepared to apologize.

Military police have launched an investigation.

Sajjan said the active probe precluded him from commenting on the specifics of the case. But the minister added he "was as shocked as everyone else was at the allegations that were made public" in the media.

Sajjan said he has full confidence the military police investigation will proceed fairly and in accordance with the law.

"And I'm confident that this process will make sure that if the evidence shows wrongdoing, we will hold those responsible accountable," he said.

"I'm deeply troubled that members of the Canadian Armed Forces have felt that trust has been broken and that people believe that they could not come forward. No matter the rank, no matter the position, sexual misconduct and harassment is not acceptable. We want it reported. We want it investigated. We want to support those impacted."

Bezan, the Conservative defence critic, said after the meeting it was "looking more and more like a coverup with every non-answer."

"Minister Sajjan must stop hiding the truth from Canadians and answer when he became aware of these allegations and what actions he took.”

The Department of National Defence said recently that military police opened an investigation in 2015 into Vance's conduct while he was serving in Italy the previous year, but that no charges were laid.

The department said the investigation was launched before Vance's appointment as defence chief in July 2015, but did not reveal the specific allegations examined.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2021.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press