Canada’s acting chief of defence staff says that some elements of the country’s military culture “need, must and will change” in his first public statement since his appointment.
The statement, which was released by Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre on Twitter Saturday, comes as two of Canada’s former military chiefs face investigations over allegations — at least one of which includes claims of sexual misconduct.
“Certain behaviours and attitudes exhibited towards our personnel are beyond troubling,” wrote Eyre in an address to the members and families of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).
“None of us should ever tolerate, or condone, behaviour or attitudes that threaten the wellbeing of our people. The road ahead will not be easy, but we will emerge a stronger, better, and more effective Force.”
Eyre’s statement marks what has been an unprecedented month for the Canadian Forces.
Gen. Jonathan Vance faces both a military police investigation and House of Commons defence committee probe into allegations of sexual misconduct, sparked by Global News’ exclusive reporting last month. The Department of National Defence has also promised an external probe into the former military chief.
In late February, Vance’s successor, Adm. Art McDonald, voluntarily stepped aside from his role after military police announced a second investigation into him over unspecified allegations.
Experts have since told Global News that the two probes into the current and former defence chiefs mark an institutional “crisis” for the CAF — marking the need to confront questions over how Canada’s military could undergo cultural change.
“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, during a previous interview with Global News.
“It’s more than just addressing sexual misconduct. It’s essentially shifting the culture of this hyper-masculine culture that is based on power.”
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said that he was unaware of the allegations against McDonald prior to his appointment.
Questions have since been raised after it was revealed that a military ombudsman first brought concerns over Vance’s behaviour to Sajjan’s office back in 2018 — concerns that did not lead to anything after they were passed on to the Privy Council Office.
On Wednesday, former Ombudsman Gary Walbourne testified that he brought accusations of inappropriate behaviour by Vance to Sajjan in 2018, alongside evidence he claimed proved the allegation had merit.
“I did tell the minister what the allegation was. I reached into my pocket to show him the evidence I was holding. He pushed back from the table and said, ‘No,’” said Walbourne during his testimony.
“The minister didn’t want to see the evidence.”
The defence minister has since disagreed with several parts of Walbourne’s testimony and has refused to disclose what the former ombudsman told him during that meeting in March of 2018. He also insists that he follows all proper procedures when reports of sexual misconduct are brought to him.
Eyre’s statement also addressed several other topics, including the “demands and pressures” of military life amid the COVID-19 pandemic as well as updates on new posting and promotion roles in the CAF.
The acting defence chief urged members of the CAF to look out for each other and themselves, adding that its members “do not need to struggle alone.” Eyre had also asked leaders to “redouble” all their efforts to communicate and listen to staff.
“We need to stay the course against the pandemic. Together, we will someday soon be past this difficult time,” his statement read.
“We all want this to end and return to normalcy.”
— With files from Amanda Connolly