The Trudeau government once again finds itself mired in controversy. At issue is the Liberal government’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations levelled at Canada’s former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance since at least 2018.
Vance was first appointed to the top military position in 2015.
A number of committees have been dedicated to investigating the specific allegations and the larger issue of sexual harassment in the Armed Forces at large.
On Jan. 14, Vance retired as Chief of the Defence Staff after serving in the position for nearly five years.
Soon after Vance’s retirement, Global News published an exclusive report detailing allegations made by at least two women under his command.
One of the women claimed she had a relationship with Vance for years contrary to the Canadian Armed Forces’ code of conduct, which prohibits unreported personal relationships between superiors and those under their command. Meanwhile, another younger woman came forward in the same report to claim that Vance had made sexual comments in an email exchange.
Vance has since claimed that he did not recall the email interaction but was open to apologizing for it. With regard to the other allegation, Vance has claimed that the relationship with the subordinate was not sexual at the time she was within his chain of command and he has denied all allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
Several months after the Global News report, Maj. Kellie Brennan eventually went public with her claims that she had a relationship with Vance. According to her testimony before the House of Commons status of women committee, Vance allegedly fathered two of her children during their years-long affair.
Reports reveal that Brennan and Vance had been in a relationship since at least 2001 when both of them worked in Gagetown, New Brunswick. By 2006, Brennan was directly under Vance’s authority while both of them worked for the Armed Forces in Toronto.
Brennan also claimed that Vance told her that he was “untouchable” by the military police and that he had even instructed her to lie about the allegations.
In 2018, former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne requested a private meeting with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to raise the allegations.
Despite Walbourne’s concerns, Sajjan refused to look at the evidence or hear about the matter any further and the issue was passed along to the Privy Council Office.
“My intent was to have that conversation with the minister, but we never got far enough to have the conversation because he stopped the meeting,” said Walbourne about the exchange.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has since claimed that he had no knowledge about the 2018 allegation prior to it being reported in the news.
“I first learned of allegations against Gen. Vance in Global News reporting. We have launched an independent investigation,” said Trudeau at the time.
According to committee records, after Sajjan had passed the matter along, Janine Sherman from the Privy Council Office contacted Walbourne to discuss the matter further. However, upon meeting, the issue was dropped after the victim didn’t feel they had enough assurances of protection from retaliation.
Now, it has been revealed by former Trudeau adviser Elder Marques that the prime minister’s top aide Katie Telford was also aware about the allegations made against Vance nearly three years ago.
“I think very quickly everyone had the same information, which was very limited, and we quickly moved to asking the Privy Council to now take carriage of that matter and do what it could with that information to have an investigation ultimately take place,” said Marques.
In April, the Liberals pushed to end the defence committee’s investigation into military misconduct and the allegations against Vance. An inquiry into the matter is still ongoing at the status of women committee, where the Conservatives hope to invite Telford to testify.