Former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance has been charged with one count of obstruction of justice following a probe by military police into allegations of inappropriate behaviour that were first reported by Global News in February.
Vance has been at the centre of a military reckoning over sexual misconduct allegations levelled against multiple senior leaders in the Canadian Forces since Global News first reported on the allegations against him on Feb. 2, 2021.
Vance has denied any inappropriate behaviour.
The military announced an investigation just days after that initial report and have now charged Vance with obstruction of justice, according to documents filed in court on Thursday afternoon.
The court documents show Canadian Forces National Investigation Service laid the charge and then handed it over to the civilian court.
Vance is due to appear in court on Sept. 17, 2021.
According to the court documents, military police allege that between Feb. 1 and Feb. 3, Vance “did willfully attempt to obstruct the course of justice in a judicial proceeding by repeatedly contacting Mrs K.B. by phone and attempting to persuade her to make false statements about their past relationship to the Canadians Forces National Investigation Service, contrary to section 139(1) of the Criminal Code.”
In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson on Feb. 21, Maj. Kellie Brennan identified herself as one of the women behind the allegations against Vance. She said in the interview that Vance called her “many times” following the initial report about the allegations.
“What did he say to you, Kellie?” Stephenson asked.
“Told me to lie,” Brennan said.
“What did he tell you to lie about?” Stephenson asked.
“Having sex. He first started telling me not to say anything about anything,” Brennan said.
“He gave me barriers when I could say what: that yes, I could say that we had a relationship in Gagetown; no, I couldn’t say that we had a relationship after that; that we were just friends.”
Vance told Global News while he had spoken to Brennan, he had not pressured her to say anything or asked her to say things that weren’t true.
Brennan gave similar testimony during an appearance at the House of Commons status of women committee in April during its study of military sexual misconduct.
She recounted 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.
“The answer was no because as the CDS told me, he was untouchable. He owned the CFNIS.”
Brennan was asked by one member of the committee whether Vance ever threatened her about speaking out.
“A threat? Meaning bodily harm, no,” she said, before being asked whether he ever said anything she perceived as a threat, such as reprisals or consequences.
“Definitely, he gave me very many consequences if I was not following his orders.”
Brennan said that he told her she would be questioned “over and over again” by his spouse — a lawyer — “if I didn’t say the right thing — that somehow she was going to come and see me, and question me.”
“I was not to mention certain things about our relationship, our personal lives. The consequences were always the same – that I had to stay silent,” she told the committee.
The Department of National Defence issued a press release about the charge and the decision to hand it over to the civilian court system.
“On 4 Feb, 2021, the CFNIS assumed investigative responsibility into allegations of misconduct. It was during the course of this investigation that the obstruction of justice is alleged to have occurred,” the department said in the statement.
“Considering the specifics of the case and in the interest of justice with due regard to the limitations of the Military Justice System identified in the findings contained in the Third Independent Review Authority report, the CFNIS decided to pursue the relevant criminal charge in the civilian justice system.”
“As this matter is now proceeding through the civilian justice system no further details can be released at this time,” the department added.
The report cited by the department refers to the findings issued by former Supreme Court justice Morris Fish in his June report into the military justice system. In it, Fish warned that sexual misconduct remains as “rampant” and “destructive” in 2021 as it was in 2015 when former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps published her landmark report documenting the “endemic” extent of the problem.
Fish cited the reporting by Global News as among the three distinct periods over the last three decades where investigative journalism has forced the issue into the spotlight.
In doing so, he said there has been “fresh pressure on the CAF and on the government to respond with urgency to the problem of sexual misconduct in the CAF.”
“They have revived concern whether the CAF itself, and its military justice system in particular, are capable of dealing appropriately with conduct of this sort,” Fish said in his report.
Fish said that until C-77 — federal legislation creating a Declaration of Victims Rights for the military justice system — comes into force, it should be civilian authorities that investigate and prosecute alleged sexual assaults and that military police should be trained on the legislation as soon as possible in order to prevent doing harm to victims in sexual misconduct investigations.
The federal government in April also appointed former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour to lead an independent, external review into how best to create an independent reporting system for sexual misconduct in the military.
As it stands now, allegations of sexual misconduct are submitted through the military chain of command – a key barrier identified by Deschamps in her 2015 report.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the charge at a press conference on Thursday afternoon but said he would not be reacting given the matter is before the court.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan issued a statement calling on Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to resign, pointing to the fact Sajjan and senior political staff have testified at committee to knowing there was a separate allegation against Vance in 2018, and taking no apparent action to act after bureaucrats opened and then promptly shut an investigation into the matter.
Liberal MPs on the House of Commons defence committee spent weeks filibustering meetings of the committee in late May and June as the clock ticked down to the deadline to produce a report. After the filibusters, Liberal MPs on the committee released their own set of recommendations for actions based on testimony given before the committee.
“For over six months, Justin Trudeau and Minister Sajjan have continually covered up information on sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. They went to great lengths to block investigations and hide the truth,” said Bezan.
“Accountability goes straight to the top. Today’s development is just one more reason why Minister Sajjan needs to resign,” added Bezan.
Sajjan was formally censured by the House of Commons for his handling of the military sexual misconduct crisis on June 17. The move carries no formal consequences but symbolically is a powerful display of condemnation by the majority of the Bloc Quebecois, NDP and Conservative caucuses.
Trudeau has repeatedly defended Sajjan over recent months and refused calls for him to be removed.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the government has failed to act for six years on the key recommendations of the Deschamps report, accusing them of “feet dragging.”
“It is not enough to call yourself a feminist if you continue to fail women who have waited years for action,” Singh said in a statement.
“We’ve known for years that this is a problem and Mr. Vance’s case is just the tip of the iceberg. The entire institution of the military needs to be reformed … Canadians deserve so much better.”