More than one month after Global News first reported allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian military, Liberal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc says the government is set to announce details of its response in the “coming days.”
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan are facing intense scrutiny over a lack of apparent action in response to high-level military misconduct allegations.
LeBlanc, a veteran Liberal MP who is close to the prime minister, addressed the military sexual misconduct scandal in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson.
“We have been obviously very concerned about these allegations, and the prime minister and the defence minister have said that we recognize the need to have a robust review of these allegations,” said LeBlanc, noting that review must be “expeditious.”
“We’re committed to doing that, and the minister of defence and the prime minister will have more to say in the coming days.”
In addition to being minister of intergovernmental affairs, LeBlanc is president of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada. The role, while largely ceremonial historically, has during the current government seen him oversee and offer recommendations to Trudeau on an external review commissioned by the Privy Council Office last year into allegations of workplace bullying at Rideau Hall.
While the Privy Council Office commissioned that probe, the office’s decision not to launch any apparent review into a 2018 allegation made against then-chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance has raised concerns, as have arguments made by Sajjan that it was not his job to push for a probe.
Ex-military ombudsman Gary Walbourne testified to the House of Commons defence committee earlier in the month that he brought an allegation against Vance to Sajjan during a March 2018 meeting.
He said Sajjan refused to listen, which Sajjan confirmed during his own testimony shortly afterwards.
Sajjan said he did so in order to avoid “political interference” in an investigation.
However, none had been launched and Walbourne has said repeatedly he went to Sajjan seeking advice on how to handle the situation given Vance’s rank, the complications involved in bringing such a matter to military police, and the complainant stressing that she wanted confidentiality.
Sajjan also confirmed that he told his chief of staff about the matter, who then told a senior adviser to Trudeau in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Trudeau admitted two weeks ago that he was aware at the time that an allegation had been made against Vance, but says he did not know any specifics.
That admission contradicted repeated statements by his office to Global News, which said on multiple occasions that neither Trudeau nor anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office was aware of allegations against Vance prior to Global News reporting on Feb. 2, 2021.
Experts have long urged the government to create an independent oversight body for handling military sexual misconduct complaints.
The pressure is growing for a mechanism that will be independent both of the military chain of command and from the minister himself given growing calls for Sajjan to be removed from his position.
LeBlanc would not say what measures the government plans to announce.
“We have said that changes will be forthcoming. We have said that and we have shown across the board as a government that these allegations and these circumstances need to be taken seriously and need to be investigated in a serious, robust, independent way,” he said.
“My colleague, the minister of defence, will have more to say in the coming days about specific processes that we think will answer this very real and understandable concern of so many people.”