Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was censured on Thursday after a majority of votes in the House of Commons condemned him over his handling of three files in his portfolio, including military sexual misconduct.
The motion, put forward by Conservative defence critic James Bezan, was passed by a vote of 169-151. The Bloc, NDP and Tories mostly voted in favour of the motion to censure, with Liberals voting against it.
Bezan had put forward a motion to censure Sajjan for his handling of allegations of sexual misconduct within the Canadian Forces as well as his handling of the court case against Vice-Adm. Mark Norman, the former chief of the defence staff, and Sajjan’s handling of the mission against ISIS. The motion also accuses Sajjan of “misleading Canadians about his service record” but does not provide specific examples.
They are some of the most prominent files the minister has handled over the course of his six years in the role, and represents a powerful display of condemnation of the minister’s performance.
“This is an unprecedented move,” said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole in a press conference on Thursday before the vote.
He described the motion as a chance for MPs to tell both Sajjan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that “we condemn the corrupt and failed leadership.”
Yet Sajjan’s censure carries no formal consequences in the Canadian Parliament.
Members lose no privileges as a result of a censure, face no fines or penalties, and are neither barred from activities like being able to speak in the House of Commons nor forced to respond to the motion.
The motion’s approval comes as Sajjan also faces renewed calls for him to resign over his handling of military sexual misconduct.
O’Toole said on Monday that senior military leaders do not respect Sajjan. He argued that a recent incident, in which two top military leaders felt it was appropriate to go golfing with a retired senior leader who is under active military police investigation for allegations of inappropriate behaviour, shows Sajjan is not being taken seriously.
“We can’t afford more of the same,” said O’Toole, adding that “the Canadian Armed Forces is literally falling apart before our eyes.”
Sajjan has faced repeated calls for his resignation over the last four-and-a-half months, primarily from military sexual misconduct survivors and victims, and defence industry experts who have argued the minister has failed to take sexual misconduct seriously within the Canadian Forces for years.
Those calls followed exclusive reporting by Global News on Feb. 2 that the former chief of the defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour, which he denies.
The Canadian military is facing what experts call an institutional “crisis” over multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against senior leaders and a culture that experts have repeatedly said fosters “toxic” attitudes towards women and LGBTQ2 members.
Sajjan announced an independent review led by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour in late April, which is tasked with making recommendations on how to create an independent reporting system for sexual misconduct complaints within the military.
The contract for that review went into effect on May 21, Global News has confirmed.