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Defence minister instructed military to create contentious Vancouver aide role: documents

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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told the military to create a position eventually filled by a reserve officer from his old unit who had been ordered suspended from the Vancouver police for an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, according to newly released briefing notes.

Sajjan also wanted the military to upgrade the position less than two months after Maj. Greg McCullough was hired because the minister wanted even more support in his home riding in Vancouver, according to the notes, though that request did not become reality.

The briefing note comes amid lingering questions over how and why McCullough ended up in the unique position before his removal last month following revelations about the complaint and disciplinary action taken against him while he was a sergeant in the Vancouver police.

McCullough was hired to support Sajjan in March 2020 despite an external investigation that found him guilty in 2018 of two counts of misconduct for his relationship with Const. Nicole Chan, who later took her own life in January 2019.

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READ MORE: Sajjan assistant had inappropriate relationship, suspended while with Vancouver police

It also follows opposition calls for Sajjan to resign over his handling of sexual misconduct allegations involving senior military commanders. Global News first reported on allegations against retired Gen. Jonathan Vance in February — which he denies — and since then, concerns about an “Old Boys network” that protects the top brass have sparked a reckoning over military sexual misconduct.

Defence experts have described the matter as an institutional crisis for the military.

Vance was charged earlier in July with one count of obstruction of justice. Military police laid the charge but handed the case over to the civilian court, citing the “limitations” of the military justice system.

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Gen. Jonathan Vance charged with obstruction of justice – Jul 15, 2021

 

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Sajjan’s office has acknowledged the minister and McCullough knew each other as officers in the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own) and that they both served at the same time with the Vancouver Police Department.

But it says the military was responsible for the process that led to McCullough’s hiring, and that neither the minister nor his staff were aware of the complaint and disciplinary action taken against him while he was a sergeant in the Vancouver police.

READ MORE: Officer suspended for inappropriate relationship no longer working as Sajjan’s assistant

The Department of National Defence announced last month that McCullough was no longer working as Sajjan’s aide, though he does remain a member of the Canadian Army reserve.

Prepared for then-chief of defence staff Jonathan Vance dated May 6, 2020, the briefing note obtained by The Canadian Press through access to information does not mention McCullough by name but does show the minister personally led the charge for a new assistant in Vancouver.

While Sajjan at the time already had four military assistants in Ottawa, and the Defence Department says it has no records of such a position being created outside the capital, the note says: “The minister determined that additional full-time support is required while he is in Vancouver.”

It goes on to say an “appropriate candidate” was selected in March 2020 and was currently working with the minister, but that “based on the minister’s recent direction,” Sajjan would need even more support and thus the position should be upgraded from a part-time to full-time role.

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Such an upgrade would have represented a significant pay increase for whoever was in the role.

READ MORE: Sajjan censured by House of Commons over handling of military sexual misconduct

The briefing note recommends the position be upgraded and filled through “an open, fair and equitable” competition, though Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said the upgrade did not happen because such full-time positions are only for exceptional circumstances.

Sajjan’s spokesman Daniel Minden defended the creation of the military assistant position in Vancouver, saying in an email: “In order to avoid the high costs of travel by Ottawa-based military staff to Vancouver, a Vancouver-based military assistant position was created.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, Minister Sajjan has spent part of the past year working remotely from his riding in Vancouver, where this support was even more important.”

The pandemic is not mentioned in the briefing note.

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Le Bouthillier said the position remains unfilled.

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“Military assistants from Ottawa are travelling to Vancouver as required to carry out these tasks,” he added in an email.

“The function is still required but an updated analysis of feasibility and efficiency (after several months of COVID-19 restrictions) is being done by the Canadian Armed Forces to make a decision on how best to structure the military assistant’s office.”

Reached by telephone on Thursday, McCullough declined to comment, saying he got in trouble for previously speaking to The Canadian Press and was not authorized to speak further.

“Minister Sajjan had nothing to do with my hiring process,” he said last month. “He required a military assistant on the West Coast because of the amount of time that he spends here, and that’s it. I didn’t speak with Minister Sajjan about this process, and I serve the Canadian Armed Forces.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted Sajjan, who has served as Canada’s only defence minister since the Liberals first took office in late 2015, is the right person to lead the charge when it comes to changing the military’s culture and eradicating sexual misconduct and hate.

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