EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that the woman initially identified as a corporal was a private at the time of the alleged incident and was promoted to corporal shortly thereafter.
Former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour with two female subordinates, including one regarding an alleged relationship with a woman he significantly outranked.
A source with direct knowledge of the relationship came forward to Global News alleging a relationship with sexually explicit exchanges and repeated private meetings. Global News has viewed evidence that appears to support this, dating from 2019 to as recently as January 2021.
The evidence reviewed also suggests the two met on at least three occasions outside of work.
Global News reached out to the female subordinate alleged to have had a relationship with Vance while he was chief of defence staff. She said the allegations are true but asked to remain anonymous.
Global News has agreed to honour this request.
Vance responded to questions about the alleged relationship in two separate phone calls with Global News. In his first response, Vance suggested he only knew the woman in a professional context, and denied having any direct communication with her.
He suggested any sexually explicit exchanges could be fabricated.
He subsequently acknowledged that they had dated in Gagetown, N.B., where they were both posted in 2001, while they were in separate chains of command. He said the relationship with her evolved over the years, describing them as “colleagues and friends.”
“I’m a champion for her. There to provide advice,” he said.
Roughly two hours later, Vance called Global News a second time. He acknowledged he had been “holding back” in his initial response, saying he had done so because he didn’t want to “betray confidences.”
He then said that while he has met with the woman, the relationship was not sexual and that he was a “supporter” for her as she sought his advice regarding joining the lawsuit for victims of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in the Canadian Forces.
READ MORE: Canadian Forces targeting ‘military culture’ in new plan to root out sexual misconduct
Sources also allege to Global News that Vance made a sexual comment toward a second, much younger junior soldier prior to becoming chief of defence, which a source described as unwanted.
That comment, contained in documents obtained by Global News, appeared to have been sent from Vance’s military email account to a female private in 2012, when Vance was a major general and leading the Strategic Joint Staff.
The female private had reached out to Vance for career advice. A response sent from Vance’s email account raises the prospect of going to a clothing optional vacation destination with her. Vance says that he has no recollection of the exchange and suggested that if it did occur, he would have intended it as a joke rather than a solicitation.
He also said he would be willing to “apologize” if he did make the comment.
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A source with direct knowledge said that the woman shared the incident with the Canadian Forces Ombudsman but said that she did not file an official complaint. The office would not confirm whether any investigation was opened.
In an interview with Global News, former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne said he could not confirm any details of the alleged incident.
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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the office takes allegations of sexual misconduct seriously.
“When allegations of sexual misconduct are brought to my attention, I have always taken them seriously. As I have often publicly stated, I have no tolerance for any form of sexual misconduct,” Sajjan said in a statement shared with Global News.
“I want to assure Canadians that I have always insisted that any and all allegations that are brought to my attention should be reported to the appropriate authorities to begin relevant investigations that might be warranted.”
The allegations come a little over two weeks after Vance formally handed over command after announcing his decision to resign last summer, which Global News confirmed came after the Prime Minister’s Office did not recommend him as a candidate for the top post of Military Advisor to NATO.
Vance’s tenure as chief of defence staff was marked by a cultural and legal reckoning over rampant sexual misconduct in the military’s ranks.
He became chief of defence staff in July 2015, just three months after former Supreme Court of Canada justice Marie Deschamps issued a damning report outlining the extent of the “hostile” and “sexualized” culture in the military, with a particular focus on the chain of command not taking misconduct seriously.
It was Vance himself who, in response to the report, launched Operation Honour, the Canadian Armed Forces’ mission to prevent and address sexual misconduct within its ranks.
“Any form of harmful sexual behaviour has been and always will be absolutely contrary to good order and discipline,” Vance said in his inaugural address as chief of defence staff on July 17, 2015.
“It is a threat to morale. It is a threat to operational readiness and a threat to this institution,” he said.
Multiple sources including one with direct knowledge of the alleged relationship spoke to Global News expressing concerns that despite Vance’s public emphasis on the need to tackle harmful sexual behaviour in the military, he was not living up to that standard in private.
Sources cited fears of career repercussions given they remain in the military, so Global News has agreed to protect the identities of those who came forward.
READ MORE: Gen. Jonathan Vance stepping down from role as Canada’s top soldier
Core elements of the allegations laid out in this report were corroborated using a combination of military service records, interviews with sources both within and outside of the military chain of command, and through visual confirmation of dozens of communication logs of exchanges that appear to come from Vance.
As chief of defence staff, Vance outranked every other member of the Canadian military and sat at the ultimate spot in the military chain of command.
Yet multiple sources suggest the alleged relationship was known among fellow members of the military leadership, several of whom raised concerns repeatedly to Global News that it violated the National Defence Act and the military’s directive on personal relationships.
READ MORE: Plaintiffs in sexual misconduct and harassment military settlement hope for ‘cultural change’
Section 129 of the National Defence Act defines the charge of prejudicing good order or discipline as “an act or omission” constituting an offence under any part of the act, or which contravenes “any regulations, orders or instructions published for the general information and guidance of the Canadian Forces or any part thereof.”
The directive on personal relationships and fraternization defines “personal relationship” as “an emotional, romantic, sexual or family relationship, including marriage or a common-law partnership or civil union, between two CAF members.”
It also states that, “A CAF member in a personal relationship with another CAF member, DND employee or member of an allied force, contractor or an employee of a contractor shall not be involved, regardless of rank or authority, in the other person’s: performance assessment or reporting.”
According to a source with direct knowledge of the relationship, those rules were not respected.
Vance’s rise through the ranks
The alleged years-long consensual relationship as described to Global News began in 2001, after the pair met at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick where they were both stationed.
Vance was at the time the commanding officer of the second battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment. As a lieutenant-colonel, he outranked the woman, who was still a junior officer.
However, she was not under Vance’s command, and the pair dated openly.
Five years later, in 2006, Vance was serving in Toronto as chief of staff to Brig.-Gen. Guy Thibault, then commander of Land Force Central Area, headquartered at the Denison Armoury in the city’s Downsview neighbourhood.
While in that position, Vance outranked the woman in question, who later moved to take up a posting in Toronto that placed her within his chain of command.
Vance says there was no sexual relationship at this time.
In 2008, Vance was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, and his career rise continued.
He was deployed to Afghanistan to take over as commander-designate of Joint Task Force Afghanistan, taking on several command roles in the mission before becoming commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan and Task Force Kandahar in 2009 and 2010.
Those promotions of Vance to top command came after Daniel Ménard, formerly a brigadier general, was removed from the role and later court martialed for having an “intimate personal relationship” with a corporal under his command while on deployment in violation of the National Defence Act, and attempting to block the investigation into that charge.
Vance continued to rise following that command position.
He became deputy commander of the Allied Joint Force Command Naples in 2013, then commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command in July 2014.
Exactly one year later, he would become chief of defence staff.
Three months prior to Vance receiving that top post though, Deschamps released her landmark report in April 2015 outlining endemic sexual misconduct throughout virtually all levels of the Canadian Forces.
She took aim in particular at the chain of command.
Deschamps went on to stress that “it is precisely to address circumstances like these that the Criminal Code provides that there is no consent where the accused abuses his or her position of power or authority over the complainant to engage in sexual activity.”
Her report cited power imbalances and the issue of differences in military rank as “central” to discussions about consent when it comes to sexual behaviour in the military.
“This concern is particularly relevant to the context of the CAF where the chain of command, and the organizational structure that support it, is the basis of most interactions,” Deschamps wrote, emphasizing “the all-encompassing power structure of the CAF – where a senior-ranking officer may have control over not only a complainant’s employment, but also her career advancement, transfer, or deployment.”
Vance is the longest serving chief of defence staff and announced his plans to retire in July 2020.
He formally handed over command on Jan. 14, 2021.
Adm. Art McDonald, former head of the navy, is now chief of defence staff.