Global News has also learned McDonald has said anyone who comes forward with allegations or experiences will not face repercussions for speaking either to the media or anyone else.
It comes after exclusive reporting by Global News into allegations that Vance engaged in inappropriate behaviour with two female subordinates, including an alleged intimate relationship with a subordinate while he was in the top post.
Another allegation relates to an email that appears to have been sent from Vance’s military account in 2012 to a second female subordinate seeking career advice. The email suggested the two consider taking a trip to a clothing optional vacation destination.
Vance denies all allegations of any inappropriate behaviour.
“Of course, yesterday’s allegations will be investigated,” said McDonald in an internal message to military staff Wednesday. “As this situation unfolds and we learn more, I promise to be open and transparent in communicating with you all as we weather this storm together.”
The 781-word statement by McDonald repeatedly expressed concerns about how such allegations impact members of the military and how the allegations emphasize the work that remains to be done on changing the culture and work environment of the military.
“To us, the strong and accomplished CAF/DND team, the allegations in recent media reports regarding my predecessor are quite troubling – indeed, distressing and hurtful for all of us to contemplate,” McDonald said.
“Like you, I worry, first and foremost, for the well-being of those who have come forward so courageously – committing to ensure that they are supported and protected.”
He said he fears that “situations like these erode the trust you have in leadership” and added that he encouraged all members of the military to feel confident that they can come forward if they have been “wronged by misconduct” and know they will be supported by the military chain of command.
He said the emergence of such allegations “tells us that we need to work much harder at reshaping the culture of our workforce, our workplace and our workspaces to ensure that we are taking care of one another.”
“This culture change, about which you’ll continue hearing a steady drumbeat, will take a concentrated effort by each and every one of us.”
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 told Global News the relationship with the subordinate while he was chief of defence staff was not sexual, describing himself as a “supporter” for her as she navigated the process of joining the class-action lawsuit for victims of sexual misconduct in the military.
He suggested any evidence of sexually explicit exchanges could be fabricated.
He said he has no recollection of sending the 2012 email. He said that if he did send it, the email was meant as a joke and not as a solicitation, and that he would be willing to “apologize.”
Conservative defence critic James Bezan asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday whether he or Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan had ever been made aware of any allegations against Vance previously.
“Every person deserves a safe work environment. Our government has no tolerance for any form of sexual misconduct. When such allegations are brought to the minister of national defence’s attention, he has always taken them seriously,” Trudeau said.
“He has also always ensured that they are reported to appropriate authorities to begin relevant investigations that might be warranted regardless of rank or position. This is something this government has always taken seriously, and we always will.”
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office added officials “are aware that the CAF/DND will be reviewing this matter.”
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also issued a statement on Wednesday on the matter.
“We absolutely need an independent review into this, however the specifics around any such review have yet to be determined. The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces is offering all necessary support to those impacted,” Sajjan said.
“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.”
A source with direct knowledge said that the 2012 email that appeared to come from Vance’s account was shared with the Canadian Forces Ombudsman, but no official complaint was ever filed.
The office would not confirm whether any investigation was opened and in an interview with Global News, former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne said he could not confirm any details of the alleged incident.
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.