For decades, critics have labelled Canada’s top military brass an “old boys club” that protects their own.
Has there been a more graphic — or literal — example of this than Gen. Jonathan Vance’s recent round of golf?
Canada’s retired chief of the defence staff, under investigation by military police for alleged sexual misconduct, hit the links with two other top military heavyweights on June 2.
Vice-Admiral Craig Baines, the commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, called the round of golf with Vance an unwise “public display of support” for the embattled general. Baines apologized for the outing at Ottawa’s Hylands Golf and Country Club.
The military’s overall second-in-command, Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, said he invited Vance to go golfing “to ensure his wellness” and insisted he did not discuss the misconduct investigation during the outing.
Rouleau is resigning his post as vice-chief of the defence staff.
Now critics are stepping up their attacks on how Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has handled the deepening crisis in the country’s military leadership.
“This really is the old boys club — a golf club,” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole told me, adding the golf outing showed Canadian military leaders do not respect their political bosses.
“There is zero respect for Minister Sajjan,” O’Toole said, referring to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who denied knowing about the golf outing.
“He should resign,” O’Toole said about Sajjan, a decorated Canadian military veteran who has served as Trudeau’s defence minister since 2015.
“I respect his service to our country,” said O’Toole, a former veteran himself. “But the Canadian Armed Forces is falling apart before our eyes.
“We’ve lost half a dozen generals. If Minister Sajjan won’t resign, the prime minister must hold him to account and fire him.”
The golf outing was particularly egregious, O’Toole said, because Rouleau has authority over the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, which is investigating Vance over allegations of inappropriate behaviour with female subordinates.
“He went golfing with the person he’s supposed to be investigating,” O’Toole said. “It’s completely unacceptable.”
But Rouleau said he has not intervened in any way into the investigation, insisting it is being handled independently of his office.
“I have no power over any military police probe whatsoever,” Rouleau said, while acknowledging the golf outing “could lead some to perceive a potential conflict of interest.”
The pressure is building on Trudeau on other fronts. This week, military ombudsman Gregory Lick ripped the government for failing to act more effectively on the deepening misconduct scandal.
“I’m not only angry but frustrated,” Lick told me. “The lack of action on issues that everybody has known about for years, if not decades, is making people suffer.”
Lick’s predecessor in the ombudsman’s office, Gary Walborune, recently revealed that he tried to present Sajjan with evidence of sexual misconduct against Vance, but the defence minister did not want to see the evidence.
“That’s a lack of accountability,” Lick told me, adding Sajjan’s failure to ensure an investigation took place at the time was “shirking your responsibility.”
It’s all too much for O’Toole and other opposition MPs in the House of Commons, who voted to formally censure Sajjan.
Will Sajjan resign? Will Trudeau fire him?
Not a chance, with a possible federal election looking more likely for this fall.
One of the oldest rules in politics is to never give your opponents a trophy to display, especially before an election.
Sajjan will stay right where he is, though I would expect Trudeau to shuffle him out of the portfolio if he’s returned to power in an election.
In the meantime, watch for Trudeau, Sajjan and the Liberals to try to bury this festering scandal as an election approaches.
Sajjan has already ordered yet another independent review of sexual misconduct in the military, with a reporting deadline almost certainly beyond election day.
The Liberals will also attempt to turn the scandal back on the Conservatives by reminding voters that it was actually Stephen Harper’s former Tory government that hired Vance in the first place.
Sajjan reminded the House of Commons that O’Toole was the veterans’ affairs minister in that government, when rumours about Vance’s behaviour were already circulating.
“I will take no lessons from the leader of the Opposition when it comes to service to this country,” Sajjan snapped at O’Toole last week.
“Why did their previous government, when he was a minister in that government, appoint the previous chief of the defence staff when he knew of the information of allegations?”
O’Toole told me he did indeed hear “rumours” about Vance and an inappropriate relationship back in 2015.
“I asked for rumours to be looked at — rumours, no names, no nothing,” O’Toole told me.
“I heard rumours of a personal relationship between ranks. That was looked at. It wasn’t a rumour of harassment.”
Watch for this type of unseemly political finger-pointing to continue, while the real work of breaking up Canada’s military old boys’ club gets further delayed.
Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews.