But the acting chief of the defence staff says Baines must use the chance to “redeem himself” and become a better leader.
In an internal message sent to military members, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre said he has decided that Baines can stay in his role as head of the navy and that there is “no perfect answer” for how to handle the situation, which was first reported on by Global News and The Globe and Mail earlier this month.
“I will give him this possibility to redeem himself and show us how to learn, grow, and help the healing process.”
“We need to be strong enough to embrace this painful misstep as a powerful opportunity to make us better. Mistakes will be made, opinions and approaches will differ, but collectively we must all work to ensure a safe and respectful work environment for all.”
Eyre made no mention of Baines’ initial decision to describe his golf round with Vance as a “public display of support” — a description that was quickly condemned following a fierce backlash.
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 in a statement earlier in June.
Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, who holds oversight authority for the military police, was roundly criticized by all political parties and sexual misconduct victims for also golfing with Vance amid the ongoing probe into allegations of inappropriate behaviour against the former chief of the defence staff.
Vance denies those allegations.
Rouleau said in his June 14 resignation statement that Baines likely would not have gone golfing with Vance if Rouleau 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.
The three senior leaders played a round at the Hylands golf course in Ottawa on June 2.
Eyre said the decision showed “poor judgement.”
“We must recognize the harm that this has done to victims and survivors, our institution, and our efforts to change our culture. The former VCDS resigned as a result of his role in this event and now I am left to make a decision on the future of the Commander RCN,” he said in the message to members.
“There is no set process, procedure, or guidance for making this determination. There is also no perfect answer and I accept that not all will agree regardless of the decision.”
There was “no clear consensus” on what to do after what Eyre described as input from “a wide array of perspectives, from such sources as sailors and other CAF members, victims/survivors, legal and conflict of interest experts, external stakeholders, academics, and senior public servants.”
He said the only agreement from those he spoke to what “that we can turn this into a learning opportunity.”
“For all, and especially senior leaders, there are some errors in judgment from which there is no recovery, but for other missteps or mistakes there must be. I have to believe that people can learn and grow, regardless of their generation, if we are to become better as an institution and as individuals,” Eyre said.
“We have been asking ourselves how such an otherwise well-respected, well-trained, and experienced leader can make such a blunder. It comes down to the blind spots that many of us possess, of not intuitively understanding the impact of our actions, however well-intentioned we think they are, on victims.”
Rouleau and Baines sparked a rare display of cross-partisan condemnation that saw leaders from across the political spectrum vocally blast their decision to go golfing with Vance while he remains under active military police investigation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had weighed in, saying the two men needed to “answer for themselves.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the decision raised questions about procedural fairness for military members coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, a military veteran, similarly criticized the move.
“It was completely inappropriate and it shows that there is a broken culture at the senior ranks in the Department of National Defence, that they did not have the personal judgment to make a better decision,” he told reporters.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also used the case to highlight the need for an independent reporting structure for military sexual misconduct allegations, which was a key recommendation of the 2015 Deschamps report that documented the extent of the problem.
“By failing to do that, by not taking this seriously, they have set a tone where it is not being considered a serious problem,” Singh said of the Trudeau government, which ignored the recommendation for roughly six years until Global News first reported on the allegations against Vance in February.
Multiple subsequent allegations against senior military leaders have sparked several military police investigations and what experts have said is an institutional crisis for the Canadian Forces.
More to come.