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Sajjan doubles down in heated testimony over his handling of 2018 Vance allegation

Click to play video: 'Whistleblower testifies at military investigation into misconduct' Whistleblower testifies at military investigation into misconduct
WATCH: Whistleblower testifies at military investigation into misconduct – Mar 12, 2021

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan doubled down over his handling of a 2018 allegation against Gen. Jonathan Vance in at-times heated testimony before the House of Commons defence committee.

During his testimony Friday, Sajjan offered a rebuttal to allegations from the former military ombudsman that he had refused to look at evidence concerning an allegation against Vance made directly to the minister in a March 1, 2018, meeting.

“He did not give me any details. I did not allow him to give me any details. I very purposely respected the investigative process to ensure it remains independent,” Sajjan said, despite MPs pointing out that there was no formal investigation underway at that time.

“You say investigation not started? I disagree.”

READ MORE: Former military ombudsman confirms he raised concerns about Vance with Sajjan in 2018

Sajjan also confirmed that he told his chief of staff at the time, Zita Astravas, about the allegation and that she shared that with both the Privy Council Office and Elder Marques, a senior advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He said he never followed up on the state of any probe into the allegation.

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“Absolutely not. That’s called interference in an investigation,” he said.

The committee meeting frequently saw both Sajjan and the opposition MPs questioning him raising their voices and talking over each other.

MPs pressed for clear answers while Sajjan said repeatedly it was not his responsibility either to hear an allegation against someone who reports to him, or to follow up to ensure those allegations were being investigated, citing concerns doing either would count as interference.

Click to play video: 'Defence committee member argues with Sajjan over his handling of Vance allegations' Defence committee member argues with Sajjan over his handling of Vance allegations
Defence committee member argues with Sajjan over his handling of Vance allegations – Mar 12, 2021

Sajjan said he never directed ex-military ombudsman Gary Walbourne on any specific action but rather advised him it was up to him to either do the investigation or to take the complaint to the judge advocate general, the provost marshal, or the Military Police Complaints Commission.

That comes after Trudeau said on Wednesday that Sajjan “directed” Walbourne to bring the complaint to the Privy Council Office, which Walbourne has said he could not do because the complaint was made informally and the complainant had asked him to ensure it would be kept confidential.

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READ MORE: Trudeau says his office knew in 2018 a Vance allegation was passed to officials

Sajjan said he had “faith” the proper process would play out once the Privy Council Office received the complaint. The Privy Council Office says it never received enough evidence to look further.

No other probes appear to have been launched, and Vance received a pay raise a little over a year later.

Sajjan said he had no involvement in that.

Click to play video: 'Sajjan says he ‘respected investigative process’ regarding Vance allegations' Sajjan says he ‘respected investigative process’ regarding Vance allegations
Sajjan says he ‘respected investigative process’ regarding Vance allegations – Mar 12, 2021

The committee’s probe comes as the military faces a reckoning over sexual misconduct allegations.

A senior naval officer who sources told Global News was threatened for reporting an allegation of misconduct against Adm. Art McDonald also appeared as part of the committee’s recently expanded probe into those allegations.

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That probe was launched following a report by Global News on Feb. 2 that former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour from two female subordinates.

READ MORE: Senior naval officer was threatened after reporting McDonald allegation: sources

Lt.-Cmdr. Raymond Trotter testified that he felt he had been “running in circles” trying to find an avenue to report an allegation first brought to him about McDonald on Feb. 3.

“I wish there had been more guidance for me,” he said, describing being passed from the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre to an operator working for the defence minister’s office, then to someone he said he believed had been “chief of staff” to the minister.

Trotter said he was directed back to the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, then to military police, which he said raised concerns given the allegation was in regards to the chief of the defence staff.

McDonald has since temporarily stepped aside while military police investigate the allegation, which hasn’t been detailed publicly.

The opposition Conservatives have accused the Liberal government of being behind the alleged threats, a charge that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s office has strongly rejected.

Click to play video: 'Sajjan refutes claim by former military ombudsman, says he looks ‘forward to setting the record straight’' Sajjan refutes claim by former military ombudsman, says he looks ‘forward to setting the record straight’
Sajjan refutes claim by former military ombudsman, says he looks ‘forward to setting the record straight’ – Mar 8, 2021

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