The woman who shared an allegation of inappropriate behaviour by Gen. Jonathan Vance with the military ombudsman in 2018 says she did so hoping the matter would be handled discreetly.
And she says she brought it forward hoping Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan would be made aware and weigh the allegation as he considered both the future of Operation Honour – the military’s effort to root out sexual misconduct – and Vance himself.
“My intent was never to make this public or widely known. It was for the minister to deal with at an appropriate time and perhaps reconsider how Operation Honour was commanded,” she said, describing the initiative as valuable and important.
“And when the time for decisions about, you know, extension of mandate for the chief of defence staff or future roles, that this could be factored into that decision making.”
Global News has agreed to protect the identity of the woman because she fears career reprisals. She is a reservist and now serves as an officer, and agreed to speak about her decision to share her allegation with the ombudsman after being approached repeatedly by Global News.
The woman says she now wants to clarify why she reported.
Global News first reported on the allegations against Vance on Feb. 2. In the two months since, military police launched twin investigations and two parliamentary committees also announced probes — one of which was shut down by the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois last week.
Multiple current and former serving members in the Canadian military have come forward since February to share their stories publicly of sexual misconduct by senior leaders dating back decades.
The woman who shared the complaint in 2018 says Vance sent her a message from his military email account in 2012 suggesting the two take a trip to a clothing-optional vacation destination.
Global News has viewed evidence of that 2012 exchange, which she says took place after she met Vance at a professional event and he – then at the rank of major-general – invited her to reach out for career advice.
It was when she did so that she received the comment that appears to come from Vance’s email.
“I took it as a joke,” she said, noting it was an “inappropriate” one.
“But, you know, people don’t say those things unless they’re testing waters.”
Vance denies any inappropriate behaviour and has told Global News that if he did make that suggestion, he would have meant it as a joke and would be willing to apologize. Operation Honour includes under its definition of sexual misconduct “jokes of a sexual nature.”
That she could report anonymously, she said, was essential to why she chose to go to the military watchdog with the complaint, as was the fact she knew the minister would be informed.
“This was not just a standard member of the chain of command. This is the head of the military, and frankly, it’s a political appointment — this chief of defence staff,” she said.
“So it’s a political issue, not just a chain of command issue. Given that, it’s kind of an Ottawa issue that should be dealt with in an Ottawa way — with discretion.”
“I wanted it to be brought forward to an individual who reported direct to the minister, so the minister’s accountability could be reflected in that. The ombudsman could discreetly flag this issue, know that the credibility of Operation Honour was on the line, and then deal with it with discretion as well.”
The question of accountability has been a central one as the government and military reckon with multiple high-level sexual misconduct allegations that have rocked the Canadian Forces over the last two months.
Yet while military police have opened twin probes into allegations against both Vance and his successor, Adm. Art McDonald, the government has yet to announce any details on how it plans to act.
It’s now been more than two months since the government promised an independent review but has provided no indication of when or how it plans to do so.
While the federal budget included a pledge for $75 million over five years to address sexual misconduct in the military, there were no details in that about what initiatives the government plans to create.
IN HER WORDS: The woman behind McDonald allegation tells her story
Sajjan has said the government will act to create an independent reporting structure for military sexual misconduct complaints but despite multiple cabinet ministers saying details of such a plan are coming shortly, none have yet been announced.
Some defence experts have called for Sajjan to be removed from his post for not taking sufficient action to follow up on the allegation shared with him by Walbourne in 2018, which Walbourne said the minister refused to look at when offered evidence.
“My intent was to have that conversation with the minister, but we never got far enough to have the conversation because he stopped the meeting,” Walbourne told Global News.
Sajjan says he referred the matter to his chief of staff, who referred it to bureaucrats at the Privy Council Office, who promptly abandoned the probe. No further action appears to have been taken, and Vance remained as chief of defence staff until January 2021.
Sajjan has said he could not follow up because to do so would be “political interference,” which the commander of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service has said is not true.
Walbourne says the minister had other options when considering how to respond to the allegation.
“There could have been a conversation between the chief of defence staff and the minister to just go and offer the chief the opportunity to refute or rebut what had been said or had been offered as evidence,” he said.
“But to do nothing, that’s the infuriating part,” Walbourne added. “To wash your hands of it, to walk away from it, to leave it out there and not do anything: that’s what really rankles me.”
Sajjan has also repeatedly said that it was Walbourne, not him, who failed to investigate the allegation in 2018, suggesting that if Walbourne had yielded to requests by bureaucrats to share details of the allegation then there would have been a probe.
Walbourne, however, has repeatedly said he was not allowed to share details of the allegation without the consent of the person bringing it to him – and she says that was out of the question.
“I was not comfortable with my name being released. I didn’t think it was necessary to the allegations or to the issue,” she told Global News.
“I don’t think the names of any individuals is required to act on information about an incident that’s coming from a credible source, and that credible source is the ombudsman.”
She said she believed the behaviour by Vance was part of a broader pattern, and says she wanted to bring it forward in the hopes there would be a closer look at his behaviour.
“When I approached the ombudsman, I had asked him to deal with this with the utmost discretion,” she added. “I said, please add this to any pile that may exist and deal with it as necessary, but with anonymity and discretion.”
She said she had no evidence of other instances of similar behaviour but says she came forward in 2018 because by that time, Vance was the chief of the defence staff and she was an officer reservist encouraging those she served with to come forward about their own experiences.
She says she wanted to lead by example, and wants to make it clear now that the office of the military ombudsman remains a credible choice for people to come forward.
She says Walbourne fulfilled her expectations of confidentiality.
“I had and continue to have full confidence in the ombudsman’s office,” she said.