The House of Commons defence committee is expanding its probe into allegations of misconduct in the military as Conservatives argue new reports on how the government responded to allegations against Gen. Jonathan Vance and Adm. Art McDonald raise concerns about an “abuse of power.”
The committee also voted to order the disclosure of a broad swath of documents related to internal government correspondence on the subject of allegations against Vance.
An exclusive report by Global News on Sunday exposed alleged threats being made against a senior naval officer who sources say reported the allegation of sexual misconduct against McDonald that led to him stepping back as chief of the defence staff late last month.
The other report from Global News revealed that just one day after the ex-military ombudsman brought a 2018 allegation against Vance to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, someone whose name was redacted in documents obtained by Global News was telling the Privy Council Office to “put some things in writing.”
“This is more evidence that Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government have gone to great lengths to cover-up allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces,” said a joint statement issued by Conservative defence critic James Bezan along with fellow Tories Pierre Paul-Hus and Leona Alleslev.
“We ask a lot of the brave Canadian women who serve in our Armed Forces. In return, we have a duty to protect those who have sworn an oath to protect all of us. That’s why Conservatives will continue to search for answers and further expose this cover-up.
“Threatening a member of the Canadian Armed Forces to secure their silence is a clear and concerning abuse of power. The lengths that the Liberal government will go to in order to hide the truth from Canadians is appalling.
“That is why Conservatives are calling for an emergency meeting of the Defence Committee, so that we can understand the extent of this orchestrated cover-up.”
Lindsay Mathyssen, the NDP gender equality critic, also raised concerns that “everyone involved seemed to have been passing the buck and hoping that the problem would go away.”
“Over and over again, we’re seeing this government try to bury stories of harassment and abusive behaviour,” she said on Monday.
“By letting his team bury the allegations to protect his government, the Prime Minister reinforced the culture of silence. How can women in the armed forces be confident to come forward after that?”
The defence committee met on Monday at noon to discuss a motion put forward by the Conservatives last week to expand the committee’s study of the matter.
The committee agreed to an NDP motion to call Sajjan back to committee.
A spokesperson for Sajjan said he has always appeared at committee when asked, and Sajjan said during question period on Monday that he looks forward to doing so.
“I look forward to setting the record straight when my opportunity comes to speak with the committee,” Sajjan said.
A Conservative motion amended by the Liberals will also call Lt.-Cmdr. Raymond Trotter, who sources tell Global News is the senior naval officer facing threats, as well as Zita Astravas, the former chief of staff to Sajjan, along with several other senior officials.
The will also call retired Lt.-Col. Bernard Boland.
Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld said at the committee that the report that Trotter is facing threats is “unacceptable” and that the committee should do what it can to ensure he can testify.
Her amendments to that main motion will call Ray Novak, who was chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper, as well as the former chief of staff to former Conservative defence minister Jason Kenney.
She also asked to have Michael Wernick, former clerk of the Privy Council, removed from the proposed witness list, suggesting he might be unwell.
Documents obtained by Global News under access to information laws show the individual who told the Privy Council Office to “put some things in writing” also said they had spoken twice with someone described only as “Michael” about next steps in a possible investigation.
The motions to expand the study came in the wake of explosive testimony by Gary Walbourne, the former military ombudsman. Walbourne said in his testimony to the committee that he brought an allegation of misconduct against then-chief of the defence staff Vance to Sajjan directly in March 2018.
But he said that when he tried to show Sajjan evidence, the minister refused to look.
“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,’” Walbourne said.
“The minister didn’t want to see the evidence.”
The Privy Council Office has said the information it received was not enough to prompt further review.
Conservative MPs want to call Sajjan back to committee to answer questions after he refused to provide any details during his testimony a little more than two weeks ago, and after he responded to Walbourne’s testimony by saying he disagreed with it.
Sajjan provided no evidence to dispute any of the allegations made by Walbourne.
During Walbourne’s testimony, Liberal MPs repeatedly attacked his handling of the allegation and suggested repeatedly that Walbourne could have opened an investigation himself.
However, documents obtained by Global News back up Walbourne’s testimony that he repeatedly told Privy Council Office officials he could not share any information without the permission of the complainant, which he has said he did not receive.
Officials in the office also noted in briefing notes from March 2018 following the allegation that Walbourne did not have the authority to investigate sexual misconduct complaints.
Conservative members of the committee cited some of those documents in a third motion that was passed by the committee on Monday afternoon.
That motion orders the disclosure of “all electronic and paper correspondence including but not limited
to emails, text messages, memos, and briefing notes concerning the allegations against General Vance in March 2018, the period of April 1-May 31 2019 inclusive and January to August 2015 inclusive.”
The committee asked for those records specifically between Walbourne and the Privy Council Office, Astravas and Walbourne, Sajjan or his deputy minister and the Privy Council Office, Astravas and the Privy Council Office, former senior advisor to Trudeau Elder Marques and the Privy Council Office, Astravas and Marques, and Marques and Walbourne.
From the former Conservative government, the committee is also asking for those documents between Novak and the Privy Council Office, former defence minister Jason Kenney or his deputy minister and the Privy Council Office, Kenney’s former chief of staff Gerrit Nieuwoudt and the Privy Council Office, and between Nieuwoudt and Novak.
The timelines of those requests puts them squarely within the time when Vance was being appointed as chief of defence staff by the former Conservative government as well as the period when Walbourne says he brought an allegation against Vance to Sajjan, and some time afterwards.
The matter has led to growing calls on social media for Sajjan to be removed from his position, with critics arguing he “chose to turn a blind eye” to complaints of misconduct against top military leaders.