Trudeau's chief of staff to appear before defence committee

·2 min read
Left: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Right: Trudeau's Chief of Staff, Katie Telford, who offered to appear before the National Defence committee Friday.  (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Left: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Right: Trudeau's Chief of Staff, Katie Telford, who offered to appear before the National Defence committee Friday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's chief of staff Katie Telford will appear before a parliamentary committee Friday afternoon, CBC News has learned.

Telford offered to appear before the standing committee on National Defence after a week when she was the target of Conservative attacks over her role in the military misconduct scandal rocking the Canadian Forces.

Last week, the Conservatives asked the defence committee to vote on a motion that would compel Telford to appear and testify but the committee was filibustered by Liberal MPs.

The Liberals balked at the notion of calling another witness when the committee had decided already to move on to the report-writing stage. Another committee meeting was cancelled earlier this week.

Telford's appearance is just the latest development in a drama that began three months ago, when allegations of inappropriate behaviour involving the country's former top military commander — now-retired general Jonathan Vance — were published in the media.

Telford's testimony is considered significant by both the Conservatives and New Democrats, who want to know how an informal allegation of misconduct involving Vance — which was raised by former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan in 2018 — was handled.

Sajjan handed off the allegation to both the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister's Office, but a review by federal officials went nowhere because the complainant refused to step forward and had asked to not be involved.

Former PMO top adviser Elder Marques previously told the committee he was notified either by Telford or one of her staff members of an allegation of "personal misconduct" against Vance. He also said he didn't believe the prime minister was briefed about the matter.

Motion calling on Trudeau to fire Telford defeated

The Conservatives have been pressing the Liberal government to fire Telford for what they say is her failure to report the full details of the allegations against Vance to Trudeau.

"If the prime minister is telling the truth, and he wants Canadians to believe that he had no knowledge of the evidence of sexual misconduct against Gen. Vance, he will fire his chief of staff," O'Toole said earlier this week.

A Conservative motion demanding the prime minister fire his chief of staff was defeated easily in the House of Commons Thursday when the Bloc Québécois sided with most government MPs in voting down the non-binding motion. The final vote tally was 209 to 122.

One Liberal MP — Bob Bratina of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek — sided with the Conservatives on the vote. He said later that he'd accidentally hit the wrong button when casting his vote.

"I am pretty sure that I am not able to ask the House at this point to change it, but I do want to publicly state that I have the highest respect for the chief of staff of the prime minister," Bratina said. "My intention was not to vote with the Conservatives, and I apologize for that."