EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that the woman initially identified as a corporal was a private at the time of the alleged incident and was promoted to corporal shortly thereafter.
The chief of staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau knew there was an allegation made against Gen. Jonathan Vance in 2018 and that it had been referred to bureaucrats to probe, says an ex-senior staffer.
Elder Marques, a former senior advisor to Trudeau in the Prime Minister’s Office, testified before the House of Commons defence committee on Friday that he had been asked by either Katie Telford, Trudeau’s chief of staff, or her assistant to contact Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan‘s chief of staff about the matter.
“Either late on March 1 or early on March 2 of 2018, the chief of staff to the prime minister or her assistant asked me to get back to the chief of staff to the minister of national defence on an issue relating to the CDS,” he testified, using the common acronym for the chief of the defence staff.
Marques said that after doing so, he brought the matter to bureaucrats and kept Telford informed.
“I immediately brought this issue directly to the Clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to the cabinet, who was then Michael Wernick. I advised the chief of staff to the prime minister that I was taking this step and I then kept her apprised as matters developed.”
Marques was asked several times as to how many times he spoke to Telford about the matter.
“I would’ve given her an update as things proceeded. That’s really all I can say. I don’t think the number of interactions ultimately makes a difference,” he said.
Conservative MP Leona Alleslev asked if it was fair to say he had updated Telford on “a number of” occasions, to which Marques said, “Yes, it’s plural.”
Marques also testified that he was not aware bureaucrats had abandoned the probe and closed it down, saying that everyone was taking it “very seriously” even though he says they did not know the details.
“I certainly agree that the outcome of the issue not being looked at is not what anybody would have wanted at the time, either then or in hindsight,” he told the committee.
“I think it’s important to consider what options were actually available at the time … so that in future, things can be different.”
A spokesperson for Trudeau’s office issued a statement shortly after Marques named Telford.
Press secretary Alex Wellstead said that the government takes all allegations seriously and that Trudeau has previously said his office was aware of the allegation against Vance in 2018.
“We take all allegations seriously and ensure they are followed up on by the appropriate independent authorities. That is exactly what happened in this situation,” Wellstead said, adding “it is clear” the government has not gone far enough to address the problem.
“The women and men of Canada’s military make tremendous sacrifices to protect Canadians and, regardless of rank or gender, have a right to serve in a respectful and safe work environment.”
The testimony comes after Trudeau dodged repeated questions on why he is keeping Sajjan in the role and about who is ultimately accountable for failing to fully investigate a 2018 allegation against Gen. Jonathan Vance.
In a press conference on Friday, Trudeau faced questions after Maj. Kellie Brennan, one of the women at the heart of allegations against Vance, testified that Vance had told her he was “untouchable,” that he “owned” the military police and that he had Sajjan “under control.”
“First of all, that was extraordinarily moving testimony last night from a woman who demonstrated both her strength and her commitment to bringing about change,” said Trudeau.
“We know that the Canadian Armed Forces need to change, we know that the culture of tolerance around unacceptable actions or harassment needs to end – not just for those who chose to serve but anywhere, any workplace across this country.”
Vance denies the allegations of inappropriate behaviour first reported by Global News on Feb. 2.
But Trudeau offered no clear answers to multiple specific questions on both why he is keeping Sajjan as defence minister, saying only that Sajjan followed the process in place, and on whether the military is ultimately accountable to civilians.
“We take this extraordinarily seriously,” he said, adding more details will be shared in the coming weeks.”
Trudeau and Sajjan have faced heavy criticism over the last two-and-a-half months over the government’s handling of the allegations and, specifically, an allegation against Vance that was shared with both Sajjan and the Prime Minister’s Office in 2018.
Sajjan has testified at committee that he refused to look at the details of the complaint, which was in regards to an email that appeared to have been sent from Vance’s military account to a much younger female private in 2012. The email suggested the two “throw caution to the wind and escape to a clothing optional island in the Caribbean.”
IN HER WORDS: The woman behind 2018 Vance allegation tells her story
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.”
Sajjan has repeatedly said he referred the complaint to his chief of staff at the time, who shared it with both bureaucrats at the Privy Council Office as well as Marques.
Trudeau has said he was not personally aware of the complaint at the time.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan said he doesn’t believe that.
“Justin Trudeau’s claim that he was not aware of allegations of sexual misconduct by General Vance is clearly false,” he said in a statement on Friday.
“It is outrageous to believe that everyone around Justin Trudeau was aware of these allegations but the Prime Minister didn’t know. It’s clear that the Trudeau Liberals have been engaging in a cover-up and have been misleading Canadians.”
Sajjan has also said repeatedly that he could not have looked at the details of the complaint or pushed for any kind of investigation into the matter even after bureaucrats abandoned a probe because doing so would amount to “political interference.”
The commander of military police has rejected that claim, saying clearly that it would not have been political interference for Sajjan to request any kind of a probe.
The woman who brought that complaint forward told Global News she did so through the military ombudsman specifically because she wanted to remain anonymous and because she knew the complaint would be shared with Sajjan, who she said she hoped would act.
“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.”
The Canadian military is now facing what experts call an institutional crisis amid twin military police probes into allegations against both its current and former chiefs of the defence staff.
Adm. Art McDonald stepped aside in late February after military police opened a probe into an allegation against him.
But the question of whether military police have the authority and the will to investigate the most senior generals in the Canadian Armed Forces has dogged the investigations so far.
Brennan recounted Thursday night comments she said took place when she asked military police investigating her allegations whether they had the authority to do so when the individual facing the allegations was the former chief of the defence staff — the “CDS,” as the role is colloquially known.
“I asked bluntly the (Canadian Forces National Investigation Service) if they had the mandate to investigate and did they have the powers to lay charges, and they would not answer me,” she said.
“The answer was no because as the CDS told me, he was untouchable. He owned the CFNIS.”
She was asked whether she feels the military police investigation into Vance is being taken seriously.
“I definitely feel that there will not be justice for me,” she said.
“In all honesty, that’s OK. Because if my speaking out can change everything for other women to come forward and change our policies, that’s OK with me. I was first in, in the infantry when we were allowed to join, and I knew I was taking on a hard road.”
Brennan also testified that Vance “fathered two children with me.”
Global News reached out to Vance in February about the allegations. When asked if he was the father of one specific child by name, Vance said: “I am not.” When asked whether he was the father of another specific child by name, he said, “I don’t even know who these people are.”
Global News did not previously report on the allegations for legal reasons. Witnesses testifying before parliamentary committees are protected from being sued for defamation.
Following Brennan’s testimony, Global News reached out to Vance again.
No response had been received at the time of publication.