Former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance contacted one of the women at the heart of allegations against him multiple times before Global News reported them on Feb. 2, and advised her of the need to be “clear on our story, and that you stick to it.”
He also contacted her multiple times after publication.
Global News obtained recordings of three phone conversations between Vance and Maj. Kellie Brennan that took place on Feb. 1. According to these records, Vance told her he had been contacted by Global News about allegations that he said “could be life-changing for both of us in a bad way.”
He told her: “Change your number. Get a new phone.”
“If there is an allegation that we engaged in sexual relations while I was the CDS and you were in the military, that would be devastating. And so it’s a good thing we didn’t,” Vance said to Brennan.
“I just wanted to make certain that you’re clear on our story and that you stick to it.”
Vance said repeatedly through the calls that what he was describing was the truth.
“I will, you know, tell them the story that we’ve gone over today, which is, you know, the truth and — as I described it to you — and then, you know, see where they want to take it,” he told Brennan. “They may investigate, they may not.”
Global News reported on Feb. 2 that Vance is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour from two female subordinates. He denies any inappropriate behaviour.
Military police announced an investigation into the allegations on Feb. 4 and on July 15, charged Vance with one count of obstruction of justice before handing the case over to a civilian court due to “limitations” in the military justice system.
According to the court documents, military police allege that between Feb. 1 and Feb. 3, Vance “did willfully attempt to obstruct the course of justice in a judicial proceeding by repeatedly contacting Mrs K.B. by phone and attempting to persuade her to make false statements about their past relationship to the Canadians Forces National Investigation Service, contrary to section 139(1) of the Criminal Code.”
The court documents do not indicate specifics of the allegation, or whether the phone call records obtained by Global New are among any of the evidence they weighed in the decision.
Vance repeatedly made other comments during the Feb. 1 phone calls with Brennan about the need to prepare for “scrutiny” and be “clear on our story.”
“What I do need to do, though, is make certain that you and I are square and that you’re prepared to be able to withstand any scrutiny,” he continued, before raising the prospect of an investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.
“I doubt very much they’d bring charges, but I just wanted to take this — before the storm starts, I just wanted to make certain that you’re clear on our story and that you stick to it.”
Roughly two minutes later, he says again to Brennan: “I just want to make certain that you and I are square on the story.”
He also references their time spent working at Land Force Central Area (LFCA), which is the army headquarters in Ontario for the country’s central region.
“Yes, we had a intimate relationship in Gagetown. We were dating for a little bit. No, we did not in LFCA. We certainly did not here. But we had a friend — like, we were friends. And we spoke intermittently. But we spoke often to get advice and so on. And that’s really our story. I just want to make certain that you’re good with that.”
“The really, really, really important thing here is that we did not have sex in Toronto or here in Ottawa,” Vance continued. “It wasn’t sexual. That’s the important thing … that’s the thing that we cannot break on.”
“Yes, intimate in Gagetown, but not in Toronto and not in Ottawa here while I was CDS,” he added.
“That’s a line you can’t cross.”
Brennan identified herself as one of the women at the heart of the allegations against Vance in an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson on Feb. 21.
In the interview, Brennan said that Vance called her “many times” following the initial report about the allegations.
“What did he say to you, Kellie?” Stephenson asked.
“Told me to lie,” Brennan said.
“What did he tell you to lie about?” Stephenson asked.
“Having sex. He first started telling me not to say anything about anything,” Brennan said.
“He gave me barriers when I could say what: that yes, I could say that we had a relationship in Gagetown; no, I couldn’t say that we had a relationship after that; that we were just friends.”
Brennan did not interject or contradict Vance’s comments during the calls on Feb. 1.
She told Global News in the Feb. 21 interview that the power imbalance between Vance and her meant she could not tell him “no” because she was under his command.
“On a personal level, ‘consensual’ meaning was I participating in it? Yes. Could I say no to him? No,” Brennan said when asked in that interview whether the relationship was consensual. “The reason why I say that is because if he rang me on the phone or if he texted me, I was obliged to get back to him.”
Brennan gave similar testimony during an appearance at the House of Commons status of women committee in April during its study of military sexual misconduct.
She testified that she had asked military police probing her allegations whether they had the authority to do so when the former chief of the defence staff — the “CDS,” as the role is colloquially known — was the one facing allegations.
“The answer was no because as the CDS told me, he was untouchable. He owned the CFNIS.”
Brennan was asked by one member of the committee whether Vance ever threatened her about speaking out.
“A threat? Meaning bodily harm, no,” she said, before being asked whether he ever said anything she perceived as a threat, such as reprisals or consequences.
“Definitely, he gave me very many consequences if I was not following his orders.”
Brennan said Vance told her she would be questioned “over and over again” by his spouse — a lawyer — “if I didn’t say the right thing — that somehow she was going to come and see me, and question me.”
“I was not to mention certain things about our relationship, our personal lives. The consequences were always the same — that I had to stay silent,” she told the committee.
Brennan also said in that testimony that Vance had fathered two of her children.
Vance denied fathering children with Brennan when asked by Global News on Feb. 1.
Vance is set to appear in court on Sept. 17 in Ottawa.
Since the allegations against Vance and other senior military leaders emerged earlier this year, the military justice system has been in the crosshairs of what experts have described as an institutional “crisis” for the military and a reckoning over sexual misconduct in its ranks.
At issue is the chain-of-command structure and whether it is possible for a top leader like Vance to be tried by people who are his subordinates.
The system is at its core designed around discipline and enforcement of the orders of superiors. Military judges have abandoned cases against leaders deemed too senior to be tried fairly before, and defence experts and parliamentarians have repeatedly raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest in the military’s handling of the Vance case.
In June, the second-in-command of the military came under fire after it was revealed by Global News and The Globe and Mail that he and the commander of the navy had gone golfing with Vance earlier that month, despite Vance still being under military police investigation at the time.
Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau resigned from his position in the wake of blistering condemnation across all sides of the political spectrum, while Vice-Adm. Craig Baines remains in his role.
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrysia Freeland said at the time that the two men owed Canadians an explanation, with Freeland pointing specifically to concerns the decision raised about the potential for fairness in the military justice system.
Rouleau, as vice-chief of the defence staff, held oversight authority for the military police.
He said in a statement announcing his resignation that the topic of any investigations underway never came up during the round of golf with Vance and Baines.
“In this particular case, I was reaching out to a retired member of the CAF to ensure his wellness. This was a private activity, and 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 in the statement.
“I have no power over any military police probe whatsoever.”