One of Canada’s most prominent defence and security think tanks expressed “deep concerns” Wednesday in the wake of recent allegations of inappropriate behaviour in the military.
And the group is urging the military to move forward with a promised independent probe.
The statement from the Conference of Defence Associations and the CDA Institute, made up of some of the former most-senior members of the defence and national security establishment, expressed “deep concern” and said it must be made clear that individuals who want to come forward to share their own experiences can do so without any fear of retaliation.
“Nothing is more important to the Canadian Armed Forces than the confidence of Canadians and the trust of the rank and file in their leadership,” said the organization in a statement issued Wednesday.
“It is therefore with deep concern that we have read serious allegations of sexual misconduct by named and unnamed members of the CAF in positions of authority,” the statement continued, urging that “these allegations must be investigated thoroughly and independently, and those found to have breached the law or the code of conduct must be held to account promptly.”
“We also believe that victims of sexual misconduct must feel safe, secure, and supported in reporting incidents,” the think tank added. “This means eliminating any potential risk of reprisal.
“We stand in solidarity with the victims of sexual assault and misconduct.”
While the statement did not name any individuals, it comes following reporting by Global News that former chief of defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour with two female subordinates, including while he was in the top post.
It also comes after two former senior military leaders had spoken out earlier in the week on Twitter, and urged their colleagues to do the same.
Retired Lt-Gen. Mike Day, former commander of Joint Task Force 2 and former commander of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, called on his fellow former military leaders to speak out.
“Silence is compliance,” Day tweeted.
“It is not that we come from a place of perfection but rather our previous failings make it all the more compelling to speak out on this. Much to atone for and support going (forward).”
Retired Vice-Adm. Paul Maddison, former commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, praised the courage of one of the women behind the allegations, Maj. Kellie Brennan, who shared her story publicly for the first time in an exclusive interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson.
In that interview, Brennan said she had a longstanding sexual relationship with Vance while he was her superior and while he was in the top post, and said the military needs to confront the extent to which sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour still permeate its ranks.
Brennan said there remain barriers to coming forward.
“I wasn’t allowed to tell the truth until I was given permission to tell the truth,” she said.
“I didn’t even know how to get that permission. I tried. I asked my chain of command for permission to speak, and I listened to a whole range of reasons why I should and shouldn’t,” she said, before describing a conversation with one of the top media relations officials at the Department of National Defence.
“I can just remember her voice on the phone … she said: ‘Kellie, you can speak.’”
“This uncontrollable gasp came out of me. And I said, ‘Oh,’” Brennan said, exhaling. “Because I was no longer under his command.”
Vance denies all allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
Military police announced an investigation into the allegations following reporting by Global News.
The House of Commons defence committee is also conducting a study into whether the government knew of any allegations against Vance prior to the reporting.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in question period on Wednesday that he learned of the allegations from Global News’ reporting on Feb. 2, 2021.
Vance was appointed by the former Conservative government and the military has said there was an investigation in 2015 into allegations of inappropriate conduct at that time, but no charges were laid.
Those allegations are separate from the allegations laid out in the report earlier this month.
Chief of Defence Staff Adm. Art McDonald has also promised an independent review.
However, the terms of that remain unclear.
Sources tell Global News that promised probe is being expanded to “unprecedented” levels to investigate the allegations, as well as to root out those who were complicit.
According to the sources, the terms of the probe will also deal with rising concerns that the issue of sexual misconduct by the senior ranks could be a systemic issue in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).
It will also reflect concerns that such an investigation can now only be handled by a large, independent human resources firm or prominent Canadian, such as a former Supreme Court judge.