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Vance ‘not truthful’ when pressed by Harper on conduct in 2015: former top staffer

Click to play video: 'Stephen Harper’s chief of staff says Gen. Vance ‘was not truthful’ about allegations during appointment process' Stephen Harper’s chief of staff says Gen. Vance ‘was not truthful’ about allegations during appointment process
Chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper Ray Novak said during his testimony before the House of Commons’ defence committee on Monday that he believes Gen. Jonathan Vance “was not truthful” about allegations of sexual misconduct against him during his appointment interview with PM Harper in March 2015 – Mar 22, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story said the national security advisor at the time in question was Daniel Jean. This was a mistake. It was Richard Fadden. This copy has been updated.

One of the top staffers in the previous Conservative government suggested on Monday that Gen. Jonathan Vance “was not truthful” when questioned in 2015 by the former prime minister about his conduct prior to being appointed as chief of the defence staff.

Ray Novak, former chief of staff to Stephen Harper from 2013 until the government was defeated in fall 2015, testified to the House of Commons defence committee on Monday that Harper met directly with Vance in March 2015 to ask him about an allegation of inappropriate conduct.

That meeting focused on an allegation against Vance regarding his time as deputy commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, but Novak said Harper also asked Vance if there was anything else he should know about.

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Novak said Vance told Harper there was nothing further that he should know.

IN HER WORDS: One of the women behind Vance allegations tells her story

However, Maj. Kellie Brennan described an alleged longstanding sexual relationship with Vance in an interview with Global News last month, alleging that this began while the two were stationed at CFB Gagetown and resumed while Vance was superior to her within the chain of command in Toronto in 2006.

Vance denies any sexual relationship while Brennan was under his command.

“I watched the interview that Maj. Brennan gave some weeks ago which is obviously deeply, deeply disturbing,” Novak said.

“I think it’s clear she made extremely serious allegations, and if they are true – and I have no reason to doubt her – that means the general was not truthful with the prime minister in their meeting of March of 2015.”

The allegations against Vance are currently being probed by military police.

No result has yet been announced.

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Former Harper’s top staffer recalls concerns over sexual misconduct allegations during appointment process of Gen. Vance – Mar 22, 2021

The defence committee is probing allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces.

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Committee members are probing the vetting process for Vance and focusing on what, if anything, the Prime Minister’s Office under Harper knew about allegations against Vance when he was being screened for appointment as chief of defence staff in 2015.

Read more: Military police probed Vance allegation in 2015 but laid no charges

Military police opened an investigation into Vance in 2015 regarding allegations of inappropriate behaviour. But sources with knowledge of the probe have told Global News there were questions about how robust the probe was, whether it interviewed any potential witnesses on the ground in Italy, and whether it looked at any electronic communications.

“An allegation against General Vance was investigated by the military police in 2015 for conduct while serving as Deputy Commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples, a position he held from 2013 until July 2014,” said a military spokesperson.

“The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) investigation did not meet the elements of the offence to lay charges under the Code of Service Discipline or the Criminal Code of Canada.”

The CFNIS did not disclose what the investigation involved, or whether electronic communications were reviewed. The force also did not disclose the findings of the investigation.

READ MORE: Military police say they are opening an investigation into Vance allegations

Novak shed extensive new light on the process used by the previous government to appoint Vance as chief of defence staff and on the process used to probe two separate allegations raised regarding Vance’s conduct during that assessment.

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Novak said the previous government used an ad hoc committee to consider potential contenders for the chief of defence staff position, which was the method used to appoint the two previous individuals in that role.

That ad hoc committee was made up of the Clerk of the Privy Council, the national security advisor to the prime minister, the deputy minister of national defence and the minister of national defence.

The national security advisor at the time was Richard Fadden, former director of CSIS.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan also said during the committee that Daniel Jean, national security advisor to Trudeau from 2016 to 2018, should be invited as a witness for a future meeting.

The committee voted to do so, but appeared unable to agree on how to handle an outstanding request to Zita Astravas to also appear. Astravas was invited but despite multiple attempts to reach her, the committee clerk said she had not responded to any of those requests.

Astravas was chief of staff to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan in 2018 when an allegation against Vance was brought to him by the military ombudsman at the time.

She is now chief of staff to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, leading Conservative MPs to argue a summons should be issued for her given she is not responding to the committee invitation.

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Liberal MPs argued that would be “heavy-handed.”

Read more: Former top soldier Gen. Jonathan Vance facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour with female subordinates, sources say

Novak said that in March 2015, the national security advisor briefed Harper prior to a meeting to discuss that committee’s recommendations, and informed him that Vance had a relationship while in Italy with a U.S. officer who was subordinate to him, but not in his chain of command.

Novak said Harper was informed that the Canadian military and Department of National Defence had reviewed the matter and that there was ” no open investigation or reprimand against the general.”

He said that briefing also noted that there was no reprimand on file with the U.S. army regarding the other officer involved, and that the U.S. officer was — by March 2015 — Vance’s fiancée.

Novak said Harper reviewed those details with Vance and “asked if there was anything else he should
know.”

“I don’t recall the general making any comment, other than to state he and his fiancée
were relieved the matter had been reviewed and was behind them.”

Click to play video: 'Military police investigated Vance allegation in 2015 but laid no charges' Military police investigated Vance allegation in 2015 but laid no charges
Military police investigated Vance allegation in 2015 but laid no charges – Feb 11, 2021

In July 2015, shortly before Vance was set to be sworn in, Novak said two other pieces of information were received: one of which came from the chief of staff to then-veterans affairs minister and now Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.

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Novak said the first piece of information was a phone call from O’Toole’s then-chief of staff that “relayed a rumour that Gen. Vance had an inappropriate relationship and/or had improperly sought to further an officer’s career during his time at CFB Gagetown.”

He said he told the national security advisor about this, and asked for the matter to be investigated.

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Novak also said that around the same time, the national security advisor briefed him about an anonymous email received by a senior officer at the Department of National Defence.

“We were briefed that the email alleged an inappropriate relationship during the general’s time
at NATO but contained no new information. However, we were informed that receipt of the
email triggered a further review of the matter by CAF’s National Investigations Service,” Novak said.

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Novak said there was broad agreement at this time between the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office and the office of then-defence minister Jason Kenney that they would delay the change of command ceremony — scheduled for later that same month — if needed.

Novak said that roughly a week later, the national security advisor briefed Harper and his office that military police had found no further information regarding the allegation around Vance’s time at NATO.

He said he was told “that their review of the matter was closed.”

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O’Toole says he lobbied for ‘full vetting’ of anyone being considered for Chief of Defence Staff – Mar 14, 2021

With regards to the rumour about Vance’s time at Gagetown, Novak said the national security advisor told Harper and his office that there was no record of any complaint or probes in the files of the defence department.

Novak said the national security advisor also raised the rumour directly with Vance.

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Novak said Vance responded that he had a public relationship with the individual alleged to have been involved at the time, that this person had not been reporting to him, and that he had never acted improperly to further her career.

“As the facts relating to the general’s time at NATO had not changed, and with no other known
issues, the change of command ceremony proceeded on July 17th, 2015,” Novak said.

Read more: Defence committee expands military misconduct probe amid ‘abuse of power’ concerns

Global News first reported on Feb. 2 that Vance is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour with two female subordinates. His successor, Adm. Art McDonald, came under investigation shortly after.

Brennan told Global News she first began an intimate relationship with Vance while the two of them worked at the Canadian Forces Base in Gagetown, New Brunswick, in 2001.

Vance has acknowledged to Global News that the two dated while at Gagetown but denies any intimate relationship with Brennan while she was under his command.

He has said the relationship ended and was not intimate in 2006 when he began working as chief of staff at Land Force Central Area, headquartered at the Denison Armoury, in Toronto. Brennan says the relationship was sexual in 2006 while she was within Vance’s chain of command in Toronto.

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“So he’s your boss but at this time, you’re having a romantic relationship, an intimate relationship, a sexual relationship?” asked Global’s Mercedes Stephenson in an interview with Brennan.

“Yes. In his office, I guess that’s an intimate relationship – having intimate encounters in his office, at my house, at his house, in cars. Have sex in these places, I guess, is an intimate relationship,” Brennan said.

Brennan alleged the relationship later resumed during part of the time that Vance was chief of the defence staff.

Vance has told Global News there was no romantic relationship during the time they were both working in Toronto, that there has been no sexual relationship with Brennan since the two dated in Gagetown in 2001, and that he never influenced any of her postings.

He says he has served as a “supporter” for Brennan, and that the two are “colleagues and friends.”

“I’m a champion for her. There to provide advice,” he said in February.

The twin military police probes into Vance and McDonald have sparked what experts call an institutional “crisis” for the military as it grapples with allegations of high-level sexual misconduct.

Those allegations come six years after the scathing report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps identified sexual misconduct as “endemic” in the military.

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