Liberal MPs have talked out the clock on a Conservative-led push to haul Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Chief of Staff, Katie Telford, before committee.
And while the committee has agreed to suspend the meeting, its Liberal chair would not set a firm date for the debate to resume. That means the debate will resume during the next scheduled meeting, which is on Monday, according to NDP MP Randall Garrison.
The motion, which was debated on Friday, called on the committee to put Telford in the hot seat for no less than two televised hours.
“The Liberals are proving once again they are more interested in protecting Katie Telford than the women and men in uniform,” read a joint statement from multiple Conservative MPs.
“Canada’s Conservatives will continue to demand that Justin Trudeau ends his cover-up of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Should the vote have passed and Telford had agreed to appear, she could expect to be grilled over what she knew regarding the allegations of misconduct levelled against former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, as well as the allegations against his successor, Adm. Art McDonald.
However, during Friday’s meeting, Liberal MPs spoke at length about topics that opposition MPs argued weren’t relevant to the decision on whether or not to invite Telford to appear.
“This isn’t relevant to our motion at hand, of calling Katie Telford. The Liberals are more interested in protecting Ms. Telford than protecting our armed forces,” said Conservative MP James Bezan.
The Liberal committee chair, however, argued that the speeches Liberal MPs made “really” spoke to “the core of the matter,” as many Liberal MPs argued that the committee should move past inviting more witnesses and instead focus on addressing the issue of military misconduct.
The Liberal speeches chewed up the clock until there was no time left to vote on the motion. Ultimately, MPs opted to suspend the debate. That means the push to haul Telford before committee isn’t over – it’s just been moved to another day.
However, as members pushed to resume the debate during their next scheduled meeting on Monday, the committee’s Liberal chair refused to confirm when they can resume the discussion about inviting Telford before the committee.
“It cannot have conditions attached,” said Karen McCrimmon, on the motion to suspend.
“If you give me the direction to suspend, I will do so.”
Because McCrimmon refused to provide a clear date to resume debate, procedure dictates that debate will resume during the next meeting. In this case, that’s on Monday.
Had the motion gone to a vote during Friday’s meeting, it would have almost certainly passed. The NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Conservative members of the committee had all signaled their support of the motion.
The request came after testimony last week from Telford’s former colleague, Elder Marques.
Marques, who was a senior advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office in 2018, told the committee Telford was aware of a 2018 allegation against Gen. Jonathan Vance and that he kept her updated as bureaucrats at the Privy Council Office opened a probe — which they abandoned shortly thereafter — into the matter.
The revelation prompted questions about why the prime minister’s closest confidantes opted not to share any knowledge of the complaint with him.
Trudeau has spoken out in defense of Telford, stating on Tuesday that she is the reason the current government calls itself a ‘feminist” one.
“It’s because of Katie that I have sat down with multiple women leaders within the Armed Forces and elsewhere to have conversations about this over the years to look at what more can and should be done,” he said.
Speaking Friday, however, Trudeau acknowledged that when it comes to the issue of sexual misconduct and harassment within the Canadian Armed Forces, years of measures have been “inadequate.”
His comments come the day after Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan officially announced the details of an external review into the issue of harassment and sexual misconduct in the military, nearly three months after allegations against senior leaders sparked a reckoning for the Canadian Forces.
“Over the past years there have been many things done to counter the culture in the military, to provide better support to providers, to anyone who comes forward with experiences or allegations of sexual misconduct or assault or harassment,” Trudeau said.
“We have brought in a number of measures. They have all been inadequate.”
Trudeau said the government needs to “transform” the culture in the military — something he says is the goal of the new review.
“We need to make sure that anyone who has experience harassment, intimidation, assault or any unacceptable actions in the force has the confidence that they will be heard and supported as they come forward,” he said.
“That has simply not been the case in the past many, many years and that why we are taking action today.”
Sajjan said the review is set to draft a “bold” vision for structural change to the Canadian Forces: how they handle sexual misconduct, but also how they train and promote leaders, and how military police handle investigations on misconduct.
The reviewer, Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, will also provide recommendations for an independent reporting system, so military members can share their allegations of sexual misconduct without having to go through the military chain of command. This was a key request from survivors, who say they’ve long faced reprisals for coming forward.
While that probe gets underway, the force will also create a new internal organization led by Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan as the new chief of professional conduct and culture. The move was described as a way to make sure the military can quickly act on interim recommendations that Arbour might make, according to a Thursday press release.
Trudeau said Carignan “will be there right now” to help any survivors who wish to speak out.
“We should not have to wait a year before we can take action, or provide support,” he said.
“We need to make sure that anyone who has experienced harassment, intimidation, assault or any unacceptable actions in the force has the confidence that they will be heard and supported as they come forward. That has simply not been the case in the past many, many years and that why we are taking action today.”
The announcements came nearly three months after Global News first reported allegations of inappropriate behaviour levelled against former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance. In the weeks since, military police have opened investigations into Vance as well as Adm. Art McDonald, Vance’s successor as chief of defence staff. Multiple women have also spoken out publicly, sharing allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces.
Vance denies all allegations of inappropriate conduct. McDonald declined to comment, citing legal advice and the investigation that remains underway.
The series of allegations have the military “reeling,” sparking what many experts have called an institutional “crisis” within the force as it reckons with the need to change a culture that former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps called “hostile” and “endemic” in 2015.
Deschamps led the landmark report into sexual misconduct in the military that sparked the creation of Operation Honour, the military’s formal initiative to root out sexual misconduct. But in the years since, “very little has changed,” as Deschamps told the House of Commons defence committee just over two months ago.
“There’s been many an exercise in government where an external reviewer is brought in to take a look at something that resulted in something other than a full and swift enactment of whatever change that they say is needed to really bring about a better outcome,” said David Perry, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
He wasn’t alone in his skepticism.
“I think there’s been tremendous loss of faith and trust in the organization, how that can be remedied is something that I don’t have an answer to,” said Linna Tam-Seto, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University, speaking to Global News on Thursday.
But Tam-Seto said she’s “cautiously optimistic” for the review.
“I think that we all need to continue to push forward, put pressure on the DND and CAF and on the government to make the change, to speak up for those who have tried to speak up but have been unsuccessful at being heard,” she said.
Sajjan, meanwhile, has insisted that this time, things will be different.
“Even though we have certain processes in place, those processes have not worked. And what this is about, this is not just about doing another review,” he said.
“This is about taking a much … bolder step than we have taken in the past.”
Arbour said while there are some similarities between her mandate and the one Deschamps was given in 2015, Arbour’s mandate goes further — looking at all of the factors behind misconduct.
“I really believe sometimes it needs more than one,” she told Global News in an interview.
“The first effort, sometimes opens the door. And maybe — six years later — this might be the opportunity to actually put it right.”
–With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly