Liberals, Bloc vote to end Commons defence committee hearings on military misconduct

·4 min read
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference on Friday, June 26, 2020 in Ottawa. Vance, who is now retired, faces allegations of inappropriate behaviour that first surfaced in the media in early February. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference on Friday, June 26, 2020 in Ottawa. Vance, who is now retired, faces allegations of inappropriate behaviour that first surfaced in the media in early February. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

One of two parliamentary investigations into sexual misconduct in the Canadian military is being shut down.

The governing Liberals, with the support of the Bloc Québécois, forced a motion through the House of Commons defence committee on Monday that effectively ends its hearings into misconduct this week and sends the issue on to the report-writing stage.

Both the Opposition Conservatives and the New Democrats opposed the motion.

The Liberal parliamentary secretary for defence, MP Anita Vandenbeld, said the committee needs to move on in order to get its report and recommendations to the government before the summer recess.

The defence committee began its investigation after allegations of inappropriate behaviour involving former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance first surfaced in the media in early February.

The Commons status of women committee is conducting a separate investigation into the impact of the misconduct crisis on women in uniform. It will continue with further hearings for the moment.

The defence committee, meanwhile, was charged with figuring out who in the Liberal government knew what and when about claims that Vance had inappropriate relationships with female junior officers and had sent a racy email to a woman of junior rank.

The investigation took on new life weeks after getting underway when Admiral Art McDonald, Vance's successor, stepped aside after it was revealed that he was under investigation over a separate allegation of misconduct.

Liberal committee members say the committee has heard from sexual misconduct victims who have urged the government to do a better job of supporting those who risk their careers to report harassment, abuse and assault.

'No one has taken responsibility': NDP defence critic

"They are eagerly awaiting the release of our committee's report," Liberal MP Yvan Baker said. "They would urgently like us to complete that report."

New Democrat defence critic Randall Garrison said policies to support victims, while important, were not the primary focus of the defence committee.

"The subject of this study is why nothing was done at the highest level when allegations of sexual misconduct [surfaced] against a sitting chief of the defence staff, who was allowed to serve for an additional three years without any action being taken, without any investigation, and was in fact given a pay raise, which indicates a judgment of satisfactory performance," Garrison said.

"What we're trying to do is give confidence to Canadian women that they can serve equally in the Canadian military. And that confidence comes only when they know these issues will be taken seriously at the very highest level."

WATCH | Conservative MP questions defence minister about termination of Commons committee hearings on military misconduct:

Garrison said it bothers him that, despite hours of testimony, he's "heard no one take responsibility for the fact the chief of the defence staff continued to serve for an additional three years, let alone apologize for that fact."

He pointed out that no full investigation was ordered after the misconduct allegation against Vance was brought to the attention of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

"Once again, no has taken responsibility and no one has apologized for the failure to follow up," Garrison said.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan said more witnesses should be called to give the committee a clearer understanding of what took place.

"The only way we can get results is if we get to the truth," he said.

"This is about restoring trust — trust in leadership of senior commanders in the Canadian Armed Forces and trust in the department's leadership as well. Right now, that trust is broken."

Security adviser unaware of allegations

Debate over the motion to wrap up hearings held up testimony from the country's former national security adviser, Daniel Jean.

He told the committee that he was not made aware of the allegations against Vance, which were the subject of a Privy Council Office (PCO) review in 2018.

Questions have been raised about why Jean was not notified, given that Vance held top Canadian and NATO security clearance.

Jean said there wasn't enough information about the allegation for it to be deemed a high enough concern to bring to his attention.

"I also think it's important to add that this is not necessarily unusual, particularly as I have explained before if PCO personnel were not able to obtain information, that would have allowed and warranted an investigation," he said.

His position stands in contrast to the hands-on approach his predecessors took when concerns were expressed about Vance under the previous Conservative government. Richard Fadden was fully aware of and involved in briefing then-prime minister Stephen Harper about a claim that the former defence chief had had an inappropriate relationship with a U.S. Army officer who later became his wife.