Navy commander apologizes for golfing with former chief of defence staff under military police investigation

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Vice-Admiral Craig Baines, Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, posted a public statement online Sunday night apologizing to all military members and national defence public servants for golfing with former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance.  (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press - image credit)
Vice-Admiral Craig Baines, Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, posted a public statement online Sunday night apologizing to all military members and national defence public servants for golfing with former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press - image credit)

The commander of the Royal Canadian Navy has publicly apologized for golfing with former top soldier, retired general Jonathan Vance, who is under a military police investigation over allegations of inappropriate behaviour with female subordinates.

Vice-Admiral Craig Baines issued a written statement Sunday night addressed to all military members and national defence public servants saying he was sorry for his conduct.

Baines confirmed he golfed with Vance and military's second-in-command, Lt.-Gen Mike Rouleau, on June 2 in Ottawa.

"I fully accept responsibility and accountability for not understanding how such a public display of support sends the wrong signal as to my commitment to lead in resolving our systemic cultural and misconduct issues," Baines wrote.

"For this, I sincerely apologize."

The apology comes a day after Global News and the Globe and Mail first reported on the meet up between Rouleau, Baines and Vance at Hylands Golf and Country Club in Ottawa, which caters to Canadian Forces personnel and their families.

The public statement is the latest in a series of cases that have seen senior military leaders swept up into the Canadian Armed Forces sexual misconduct crisis. Some survivors of military sexual trauma view Baines' actions and comments as a public show of support for Vance; they have concerns about the impartially of the investigation into Vance's alleged misconduct.

Vance has preciously told Global News he denies the allegations.

Second-in-Command has authority over top military police officer

Baines said he will be taking "a few days of personal leave" and Rear-Admiral Chris Sutherland will be temporarily fulfilling his duties while he's off.

CBC News requested a comment from Rouleau on Saturday night, but he has yet to respond. He is slated to move into a new position as a strategic advisor to the acting chief of defence staff, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre next month.

As vice-chief of defence staff, Rouleau has authority over the military's provost marshal, which is in charge of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, which is investigating Vance.

Justin Tang/Canadian Press
Justin Tang/Canadian Press

Rouleau has the power to direct and issue orders to the Canadian Armed Forces top police officer — the provost marshal.

A recent review by former Supreme Court justice Morris Fish into the military's judicial system recently identified this power as a threat to the independence of military police investigations.

Fish recommended sexual assault and misconduct cases should be turned over to civilians in the interim until the military puts in place more protections for victims.

Colten Skibinsky, a retired corporal who said he was raped in 2013 at CFB Borden, tweeted Sunday night "senior CAF officers are having difficulty grasping the fact that the country is watching, closely."

"The VCDS playing golf with the accused when he has power over the Military Police, is definitely not telling Canadians and Serving members that this is an impartial investigation," he tweeted.

Sign of support, says former military officer

Leah West, a former armoured officer, Justice Department lawyer and now counter-terrorism expert at Carleton University, tweeted on Sunday the senior leaders who went golfing with Vance should have understood what message it sends to the rank and file during an institutional crisis.

"To be clear, the message carefully chosen here is that the VAdm is publicly supporting Vance."

West previously testified at a parliamentary committee that there is a sexist double-standard in how the military treats allegations against senior male leaders compared to female members.

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was questioned Sunday about what this development meant for the victims involved and whether they can have confidence that they will get due process concerning their cases.

"I know that the minister of defence is following up with the acting chief of staff on this issue," Trudeau told reporters at the G7 summit in Cornwall, U.K.

The defence minister's office said Harjit Sajjan was not aware the three individuals went golfing until media inquiries came in. His office called the meet up "troubling and unacceptable" and said it's assessing what the next steps will be.

Vance denies allegations

The woman at the centre of Vance's sexual misconduct case, Maj. Kellie Brennan, delivered bombshell testimony to a parliamentary committee in April. In it, she said Vance considered himself "untouchable" and that he fathered but does not support two of her children.

In the second case, Vance allegedly sent a racy email almost nine years ago to another woman, who was a junior non-commissioned officer at the time.

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