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Sajjan not aware of allegations against McDonald prior to appointment: spokesperson

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Canada’s defence minister was not aware of any allegations against Adm. Art McDonald before he was appointed chief of defence staff, according to a Ministry of Defence spokesperson.

“No, the Minister was not aware of any allegations or investigation before the appointment of Admiral McDonald,” a spokesperson for Harjit Sajjan said in a statement Friday afternoon.

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The spokesperson said Sajjan had become aware of the allegations “a number of weeks” after the command change but did not specify an exact date.

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The statement comes after McDonald stepped aside from his role as the country’s top military chief Wednesday a day after military police opened an investigation into him based on unspecified concerns.

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Though it is still not clear what the investigation into McDonald is looking at, the news comes in the midst of another investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) into allegations of inappropriate behaviour against former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, which was sparked by Global News’ reporting.

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Sources told Global News that concerns about Vance were brought to Sajjan’s office in 2018 by then-military ombudsman Gary Walbourne. The sources also said that while the defence minister’s office flagged those concerns to the Privy Council Office, that office did not take any further action.

But Sajjan repeatedly told the House of Commons defence committee last week that he was “surprised” by the allegations when they were first reported by Global News in early February.

Sajjan did not answer repeated questions and would not confirm whether he ever met with Walbourne or whether Walbourne ever raised specific concerns about Vance to him at that time. He cited the ongoing investigations by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service and protecting the integrity of the ombudsman’s office in not answering the questions.

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The Ministry of Defence has said it will not disclose the particulars of the investigation into McDonald to protect an active investigation.

Trudeau on Friday said the fact McDonald stepped aside this week shows that the government and military leaders are taking the allegations seriously, but that there still remains more work to do.

— With files from Sean Boynton, Amanda Connolly, Hannah Jackson and Mercedes Stephenson

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