Liberals move to end defence committee study on military sexual misconduct

The House of Commons defence committee’s study of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces and the allegations against former defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance and his successor Admiral Art McDonald will conclude on Friday as requested by the Liberals.

Liberal MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence Anita Vandenbeld drafted the motion, which states that that all members bring forward their report recommendations by Friday at 4 p.m.

“As we’ve heard from many survivors this past week, including It’s Just 700, that put out a statement on Twitter last Friday, the survivors, the people most impacted by military sexual trauma have been asking that we stop pointing fingers, that we stop dragging the study on, and that we make sure that their issues are heard,” said Vandenbeld.

Opposition MPs on the committee took issue with the motion, arguing more time is needed to hear from the remaining witnesses, including senior Liberal aides.

“We are dealing, I think, with one of the most important concepts that has ever been dealt with while I’ve been on the defence committee and that is the trust members have in the senior leadership of the military,” said NDP defence critic Randall Garrison.

“We must get to the bottom of these questions in order to restore that trust.”

Garrison added that if the committee could hear from former senior staffer to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Elder Marques, about what the prime minister knew in March 2018, when his office was first made aware of an allegation against Vance, they would be in a better position to close the study.

“I will say quite frankly, if I believed that Elder Marques was appearing on Friday, that he had been invited, and he was confirmed, I wouldn’t think this motion was so premature,” he said.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan said he’s “disappointed” by the move, which was supported by Bloc Quebecois members, and that it supports the party’s view the Liberals are engaging in a political cover-up regarding sexual misconduct in the military.

“They’re more about protecting themselves as Liberals rather than protecting the brave women who served in uniform,” he said.

Vandenbeld said she had conversations with the clerk of the committee, who advised her a fulsome report would not be possible before Parliament rises if witness testimony doesn’t conclude by the end of the week.

Bezan said he’s never heard of a report taking that long.

“I’ve seen us do reports quick and easy in a matter of days, I’ve also seen substantive reports get done in less than a month, so if we want to buckle down we can get that report done.”

Members of the status of women committee are also reviewing the issue.

Military police launched an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Vance in early February following his retirement. CTV News has not independently verified these allegations. Shortly after, a similar and separate investigation began into McDonald’s conduct.

Daniel Jean, Trudeau’s former national security adviser in 2018, appeared briefly before the defence committee on Monday and will return again on Friday.

Testimony to date has centred on the Liberals’ handling of the misconduct allegation against Vance, which was first brought forward to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan on March 1, 2018 by former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne.

Walbourne said he was brushed aside by Sajjan and the allegation was never followed up on, while Sajjan maintains it would have been wrong for a politician to engage in the process and instead informed the Privy Council Office given it involved a governor-in-council appointment.

A number of witnesses have pleaded with the committee to stop the “political foot-dragging” and get on with concrete culture change within the Forces.

The co-chair of It’s Just 700, who appeared last week, said while the high-level allegations levied against senior military officials is a “national embarrassment,” it’s not surprising. On Monday the organization tweeted, “I’m absolutely shocked that opposition members are claiming they have not heard that our community wants the reports of these committees tabled ASAP. Who knew what, and when, with regards to General Vance is of secondary importance to the immediate needs of survivors.”