Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday said that no one in his office knew that a 2018 allegation made against Gen. Jonathan Vance “was a Me Too complaint” — but documents previously reported on by Global News are raising questions about that.
Trudeau made the comments Tuesday when questioned on testimony made on Friday before a parliamentary committee that his chief of staff, Katie Telford, knew about the allegation.
“Nobody knew that it was a Me Too complaint. We did not have information on what was the nature of the complaint, of that allegation,” Trudeau said.
But his comments come after documents obtained by Global News under access to information laws showed that on the same day his office asked bureaucrats to open a probe, bureaucrats had been informed the allegation was about “sexual harassment” and were referring to it as such in emails.
And at least some of those emails seem to have been with staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, according to testimony made before the House of Commons defence committee.
The questions to Trudeau followed testimony from his former senior advisor Elder Marques on Friday before the House of Commons defence committee. Marques testified that he was asked to look into a 2018 allegation against Vance by either Telford or her assistant — and that he kept Telford informed after referring the matter to bureaucrats to probe.
Marques had testified that while he did not know the exact details of the complaint, he was operating under the assumption it could be serious in nature and was keeping Telford informed on progress.
“I believe I was told that the issue was an issue of personal misconduct. I have to say, and in the context of hearing that, I think my presumption was certainly that it could be of a sexual nature,” said Marques.
“But I don’t think I was actually given that information specifically.”
The Me Too movement saw a groundswell of women around the world coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct by senior political and industry leaders.
Global News reported last month that bureaucrats at the Privy Council Office were told to “put some things in writing” one day after the military ombudsman brought an allegation against Vance to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who has testified that he refused to look at it and had his staff pass it on.
One of the documents released through access to information records and included in that story was a memo prepared by the Privy Council Office on March 16, 2018, ahead of a meeting with Gary Walbourne, who was the military ombudsman at the time.
It goes on to emphasize that “complaints of sexual misconduct” are not within the ombudsman’s mandate to investigate.
During a March 26, 2018, defence committee meeting, Conservative defence critic James Bezan asked Janine Sherman, who is the bureaucrat in charge of personnel matters, who had drafted that memo.
Sherman said her staff had done so and during that exchange, also referenced several emails dated March 2, 2018, which were sent between herself and an individual whose name was redacted.
She was asked whose name was redacted on those emails and why.
“Those redactions are done on the basis of the statutory requirements in the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act, so public servants’ names are not redacted. For non-public servants, that does constitute personal information and that is the reason it is redacted,” she testified.
“In the interests of being helpful, I could indicate in a generic way that those interactions were between myself and people in the Prime Minister’s Office.”
Some of those emails show Sherman and one of the redacted individuals who she said were people in Trudeau’s office discussing how to ask Walbourne for more detailed information about the allegations.
In them, she references the “allegations of sexual harassment” that were brought to Walbourne’s attention and which he raised with Sajjan the previous day.
Marques had testified on Friday that he was informed by either Telford or her assistant that the allegation against Vance related to “personal misconduct” and went to Michael Wernick, who was clerk of the Privy Council at the time, to ask for a probe.
Wernick has testified that he was first informed of the matter by Marques on March 2, 2018.
Wernick said he directed Marques to Sherman later that afternoon, and that Marques, Sherman and Sajjan’s chief of staff Zita Astravas met that same day to discuss the matter.
Marques has also testified that he kept Telford informed about the Privy Council Office probe as bureaucrats there tried to get more information from Walbourne, and that he discussed the matter with her multiple times.
Trudeau’s comments sparked questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
“The prime minister’s staff were copied on emails from the Privy Council office that specifically stated sexual harassment,” said Conservative MP Leona Alleslev. “Does the prime minister really expect Canadians to believe he knew nothing about the allegations against General Vance?”
Trudeau said that he has “consistently stood up to defend people who are facing situations of misconduct or sexual harassment, and I have always done that every step of the way. And my office has always taken that just as seriously.”
Global News sent several specific questions to the Prime Minister’s Office asking about the situation.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office did not address the questions but sent back a series of quotes from previous committee testimonies of Marques, Sherman and Sajjan saying they did not know the specifics of the allegation made in 2018.