The federal Liberals have voted to shut down a defence committee probe into allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces.
That decision comes as the Conservatives and NDP members of the committee argue no one has yet taken responsibility and the probe should continue, but as one prominent group of survivors says the meetings have become too partisan.
Liberal and Bloc Quebecois MPs voted together in favour of the Liberal motion that was leaked to Global News over the weekend, which shuts down the probe that has heard damning testimony into the government’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations in the military
Conservative and NDP MPs voted against the motion.
“No one has taken responsibility and no one has apologized,” said NDP MP Randall Garrison.
“Until we get to the bottom of who knew what when, we have not concluded this study.”
Global News first reported on Feb. 2 that Gen. Jonathan Vance is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour with two female subordinates. Military police announced they were opening an investigation shortly after that report and later that same month, military police also announced an investigation into Vance’s successor as chief of the defence staff, Adm. Art McDonald.
Vance denies the allegations. McDonald has stepped aside pending the investigation.
IN HER WORDS: The woman behind McDonald allegation tells her story
The military is facing an institutional crisis that has put the spotlight squarely on how its culture and power dynamics created an environment where sexual misconduct has become “endemic.”
That was the word used by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps in her landmark 2015 report into the problem, and which called for urgent change to military culture.
In addition to the twin military police probes, the allegations also sparked the House of Commons status of women committee and defence committee to open probes of their own.
While the status of women committee probe has largely focused on what should be done to fix the problem, the defence committee has focused largely on political accountability: determining who knew what when, and why nothing was done.
Much of their attention has focused on the fact that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was informed in 2018 by the then-military ombudsman of an allegation against Vance, but took no action other than instructing his chief of staff to pass the matter to bureaucrats at the Privy Council Office.
That office abandoned a probe within weeks, and Sajjan says he never pressed for any further action. He told the committee doing so would amount to “political interference”— a claim rejected by the commander of the military police.
He has also repeatedly suggested it was the then-military ombudsman who failed to open an investigation or share the details of the complaint with other authorities, despite the fact the ombudsman did not have the permission of the complainant to do so.
The current ombudsman, Gregory Lick, also refuted Sajjan’s claims that his predecessor failed to act, and said repeatedly that he would have acted the same way if in the same circumstances now.
Sajjan has also said he never informed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the allegation.
But he says his chief of staff did tell Elder Marques, a senior advisor in Trudeau’s office.
The committee had been set to try to call Marques as a witness to question whether he told anybody else within the Prime Minister’s Office about the allegation.
Trudeau has said his office knew about the allegation against Vance in 2018, but that he did not know of it personally until Global News reported on the matter.
Conservative MP Leona Alleslev said there remains a “significant” amount of work to be done about why Vance was allowed to continue in the role for three years after the 2018 allegation, and why no other avenue of investigation appears to have been explored by a government that brands itself as “feminist.”
“We still have no accountability from the minister or anyone else that it was in fact their responsibility to ensure a chief of defence staff or anyone else was allowed to continue with unresolved allegations,” she said.
“I was a woman in the military and I did not feel that I was able to serve equally in some circumstances, and that was some 30 years ago … this is our time to do something about it.”
But it is that focus on who knew what when that one group of advocates said is becoming too partisan, and detracting from the work that needs to be done to fix the problem.
It’s Just 700 is a group made up of survivors of misconduct in the military who have been advocating for years about the need to address the problem. The group said in a series of tweets on Monday that they want the committee wrapped up and a report tabled as soon as possible.
“We have been consulted for years. These committees are becoming partisan and they shouldn’t be,” the group tweeted. “Who knew what, and when, with regards to General Vance is of secondary importance to the immediate needs of survivors.”
“Changing the system, and moving forward towards action, is the only way to ensure that the CAF culture change is meaningful, and represents the progressive values of Canadians.”
“This committee seems intent on scoring political points by exploiting survivors’ stories. Every. Single. Government. has failed our community,” the group continued.
“This is the point of no return.”
“Sexual assault and harassment, and gender based discrimination, ends now,” the group added.
The federal government promised an independent review of the problem back in February but for more than two months has offered no details of what that will look like.