Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau was set to hand over command as vice chief of the defence staff to Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen shortly, who will be replacing him and who will be the first woman to hold the role.
But over the last two days, Rouleau — who holds oversight authority over the military police — has been roundly criticized for going golfing with Vance amid the ongoing probe into allegations of inappropriate behaviour against the former chief of the defence staff, which Vance denies.
Global News and The Globe and Mail first reported on the golfing on Saturday night.
“As a result of this incident, I am stepping aside immediately as VCDS and will transition to the CAF Transition Group,” Rouleau said in a statement.
“I am acutely aware of the tumultuous times we are navigating together. Like all of you, I have been working hard to deliver on our commitments and to inform our way forward. I am a huge advocate for change.”
Vice-Adm. C.A. Baines, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, was also part of that golf outing at the Hylands golf course in east Ottawa on June 2. Baines issued a statement on Sunday night in which he apologized but also described his actions as a “public display of support.”
When pressed on whether his statement of a “public display of support” was intended as him taking a public stance on the ongoing military investigation into Vance, Baines later clarified.
“To be clear, it was not a show of support for Jonathan Vance as it pertains to the ongoing investigation. My focus should have been on the victims of sexual misconduct and on the impacts on their lives. For this, I am sorry,” he said on Monday afternoon.
Rouleau said Baines likely wouldn’t have gone golfing if he had not done so.
“I wish to tell you that I accept fully how my decision to do so has intensified recent events and contributed to further erosion of trust. Vice-Admiral Baines’ participation was surely predicated on my attending therefore I would ask that only I be held accountable,” Rouleau said.
He described the golf outing as “a private activity” and that he had been “reaching out to a retired member of the CAF to ensure his wellness.”
“I can assure every member of the CAF that none of us discussed any matters pertaining to any ongoing MP investigations, or the CAF/DND at large,” Rouleau said. “However, I understand how such an activity could lead some to perceive a potential conflict of interest and controversy, given the current context, but nothing can be further from the truth. For this I am sorry.”
Rouleau added he has never issued any instructions or guidelines to military police regarding any military police investigations while in his role as vice chief of the defence staff.
Maj.-Gen. Blaise Frawley will serve as the acting vice chief of the defence staff until Allen takes over.
Rouleau had been set to transition into a new role within the military as strategic advisor.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Forces confirmed that will not be happening.
“Essentially this is a first step towards LGen Rouleau’s transition out of the Canadian Armed Forces,” said Jessica Lamirande.
“He will be going to the CAF Transition Group where he will initiate his transition from the CAF. The length of time it will take remains to be determined, and it is unique to each individual transitioning based on their respective situations.”
Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said at the heart of the issue is the basic principle that investigations should be free from any potential conflicts of interest, either real or perceived.
With Rouleau having oversight authority for the military police, his decision to go golfing with Vance created doubt about whether the investigation could be carried out fairly, she explained.
“No matter what the outcome, it would cast doubt,” she said.
Duval-Lantoine added the resignation of Rouleau represents accountability, and that it sends a clear message to other senior leaders in the Canadian Forces that they will be held to a higher standard.
“It asks them to finally be cautious of what they’re doing: that no matter what their intent is, their actions are being scrutinized by their subordinates and by the rest of the country,” said Duval-Lantoine.
“They need to really pay attention and really weigh the consequences of their actions before doing something,” she said.
Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, acting chief of the defence staff, said Rouleau had “accepted full responsibility” in the matter and said he will now turn his attention to determining next steps.
“The recent golf game involving General (Retired) Vance, Lieutenant-General Rouleau, and Vice-Admiral Baines is troubling,” said Eyre, adding Baines has “accepted responsibility for his part in the event.
“I am seeking relevant advice to determine the way ahead,” Eyre finished.
The resignation comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in on the matter on Sunday, saying both Rouleau and Baines had to “answer for themselves.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland also addressed concerns about procedural fairness for military members coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct.
“I learned about this over the weekend as did the rest of our government. I was very disappointed, very surprised,” said Freeland when asked about her reaction to the reports published on Saturday night.
“I think this showed very poor judgement and I absolutely understand and sympathize with the sentiment that men and women but maybe especially women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces have having seen this, and the concerns that it causes them to have about the possibility of real fairness for them.”
“They need to know that if harassment or abuse happens, there is a clear, objective, impartial way that their complaints will be addressed,” Freeland continued.
She added the decision had sent “entirely the wrong message to the entire country.”