The woman at the centre of allegations of inappropriate behaviour against Canada’s former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance says an independent investigation is needed to fix systemic problems within the Canadian forces.
Maj. Kellie Brennan says since sharing her story publicly with Global News just one week ago, she has been flooded with support from others who say they too have experienced alleged misconduct in the military.
Brennan identified herself during an exclusive interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson last week as one of the women at the heart of allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Gen. Jonathan Vance, first reported by Global News on Feb. 2.
In the days since, Brennan says she has been “astounded” by the outpouring of support, but said reading emails and receiving phone calls from other women has been “gut-wrenching.”
“So many of them told me that they had called out, that they had made reports and it fell on deaf ears,” she said. “Nothing happened.”
Brennan said now is the time for the victims to “stand together.”
Vance denies all allegations of inappropriate behaviour and says his relationship with Brennan was never sexual while she was under his command.
The past week has been an unprecedented one for the Canadian Forces.
While military police had already announced an investigation into the allegations against former chief of defence staff Gen. Vance following Global News’ reporting, they announced late Wednesday night a second investigation into his successor in the top post, Adm. Art McDonald.
That investigation led McDonald to step aside from the role, with an acting chief of defence staff appointed in his place. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s office said Friday the minister was unaware of allegations against McDonald when the change of command took place.
Experts have said the twin military police probes into both the current and former chiefs of defence staff mark an institutional “crisis” for the force, raising questions about how best to confront the need for cultural change and pave a new way forward for the Canadian military.
“Cultural change is really hard and it does take a long time,” said Linna Tam-Seto, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University.
“It’s more than just addressing sexual misconduct. It’s essentially shifting the culture of this hyper-masculine culture that is based on power.
“The root of the problem is that it’s people taking advantage of power.”
The systemic nature of sexual misconduct in the military is well-documented.
Former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps’ landmark 2015 report has become the defining document outlining clearly the “endemic” nature of the problem, centred around a “hostile” and “toxic” culture complicated by the power imbalances in the strict chain of command structure.
The issuing of that report prompted Vance to launch Operation Honour, the military’s effort to root out sexual misconduct in its ranks, and dozens of members have been charged and punished for sexual misconduct over recent years as hundreds of complaints continue to be reported annually.
Advocates for survivors of sexual misconduct say there continues to be a dearth of resources for them, and urge more must be done to ensure survivors can share their experiences without retaliation.
Retired Lt-Gen. Guy Thibault is a former vice-chief of defence staff and is chairman of one of the leading defence think tanks in the country, which last week put out a statement urging support for survivors while emphasizing that Operation Honour and its efforts to root out misconduct must continue.
Thibault was Vance’s superior during postings in Toronto, and they have what Thibault described as a “very long working relationship.” But he said he had never heard anything like the allegations against Vance before.
“No,” said Thibault when asked if he had ever heard such concerns. “It came as a huge shock to hear the news about General Vance when it came out, and very disappointing.”
Thibault said he thinks news of the investigations has prompted “a lot of reflection inside the Canadian forces about leadership and the role models that we do expect to have from our top leaders.“
He added the last several weeks have left him and many others seeking answers, which he wants to see from an independent probe.
Brennan too, said she would like to see civilian oversight, adding that she doesn’t think the military can solve this problem internally.
“Like in any police force you have a governing body, then you also have a review level that is not part of your police force,” she continued.
“It has to be a level that that is untouchable by the military, that it’s not ourselves, it’s not amongst ourselves.”
McDonald had promised an independent probe in the wake of the allegations against Vance.
The details of that promised independent probe have not yet been established, though sources have told Global News it is shaping up to be “unprecedented” in scope.
-With files from Global News’ Hannah Jackson