The Bloc Québécois plans to block a Conservative-led push to have the prime minister fire his top aide following the revelation that Katie Telford was aware of sexual misconduct allegations against Gen. Jonathan Vance — but did not tell the prime minister.
In an opposition day motion, the Conservatives contend Telford was “complicit in hiding the truth from Canadians” when she didn’t notify Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the 2018 allegation against Vance, first reported by Global News.
“The House call upon the Prime Minister to dismiss his Chief of Staff for failing to notify him about a serious sexual harassment allegation at the highest ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces and for being complicit in hiding the truth from Canadians,” the motion read.
However, the motion itself isn’t binding and Trudeau is under no obligation to fire his chief of staff, even if multiple parties vote in favour of the motion.
And after the Bloc Québécois spoke about the motion on Tuesday, it became apparent that it is destined to fail. That’s because the Liberals and the Bloc have enough votes between the two of them to shut down the motion.
“We will be voting against this motion,” Bloc Québécois MP Rhéal Fortin said in the House of Commons debate Tuesday.
“Although this situation is deplorable and deserves appropriate sanction to be meted out, what we really need is for the minister of defence to appear before committee and we need a clear timeline of what happened. We want to hear the truth.”
The Conservative call for Telford’s firing comes three months after Global News first reported allegations of inappropriate behaviour levelled against Vance, the former chief of defence staff.
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.
Global News’ reporting has also since led to multiple committees studying the issue of sexual misconduct in the military. It was at one of those meetings that Telford’s former colleague Elder Marques shared new information that prompted the Tories to call for Telford’s firing.
Marques, who was a senior advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office in 2018, told a committee Telford was aware of a 2018 allegation against 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 allegedly opted not to share any details of the complaint with him.
Trudeau has spoken out in defence of Telford, stating last week 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.
When pressed further on Telford’s handling of the situation on Tuesday, Trudeau criticized the Conservative Party’s push to bring Telford before committee for questioning.
“It is unfortunate but not surprising to see Conservatives playing extremely aggressive partisan games with this issue,” he said.
“Our focus as a country needs to be on supporting survivors of sexual assault and harassment and recognizing that the systems that have been in place for many years in the military and elsewhere have not given people comfort to come forward, share their stories, and demand consequences. That is a failing that we have collectively had, particularly in the armed forces, and it’s something that needs to end.”
Meanwhile, the debate in the House of Commons continued Tuesday. The discussion grew heated as the Conservatives argued for Telford’s firing — and implied that she may be taking the fall for the prime minister.
“If she covered it up, she deserves to be fired. But if she didn’t cover it up and he’s not telling the truth, he needs to stand up, tell the truth, own up to what he’s done and…take responsibility for his mistruths, for his conduct and for his cover up,” said Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen.
She added that “something about this whole story that’s being told just doesn’t ring true.”
“But it’s indeed what the prime minister is saying. So we’re going to call him to act on it,” Bergen said.
The Liberals fired back, accusing the Conservatives of “toxic partisan finger pointing.”
“I think we really need to make sure that we end the very toxic partisan finger pointing and really all of us as parties get together and really focus on what we do to provide the right supports to survivors,” said Anita Vandenbeld, who serves as parliamentary secretary to the defence minister.
“This isn’t about the politicians, the men, who said what, who did what. This is about the people, and they are men and women, who need us right now, need parliament to be focused on solutions, on fixing the problem and on doing right by them.”
–With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly