Adm. Art McDonald will not be returning to his post as chief of the defence staff for the time being, following the completion of a probe into a sexual misconduct allegation against him.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan confirmed in a statement on Thursday that McDonald has been placed on leave and that acting chief of the defence staff Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre remains in the position.
“Admiral McDonald will be on administrative leave effective today and until further notice,” Sajjan said.
“Appointments like that of Chief of Defence Staff must meet the highest possible standards and our goal must be to create a better workplace for the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces. A workplace that ensures that complainants and survivors are treated with the utmost respect and that allegations are taken seriously in every instance.”
It comes after Sajjan said on Wednesday afternoon that he had been made aware that McDonald was seeking to return to his position, and that Sajjan expected him not to do so yet.
Military police announced on Friday evening that they would not be charging McDonald following a sexual misconduct investigation that Global News has learned included a probe of alleged sexual assault.
The Department of Defence said its interviews with witnesses did not yield evidence for either criminal or administrative charges against McDonald.
According to The Canadian Press, McDonald’s lawyers said on Wednesday that the lack of any charges “exonerated” their client.
“Given that it was his decision to step aside, it is now his decision — indeed obligation — to return to his duties,” reads the statement issued by lawyers Michael Edelson and Rory Fowler.
“Admiral McDonald, who has long been recognized as a proven leader of culture change in the Canadian Armed Forces, will now return to his duties as chief of defence staff.”
Military and political sources said a lack of criminal charges against McDonald have not removed concerns about whether he has the moral authority to lead the military.
IN HER WORDS: The woman behind McDonald allegation tells her story
The woman behind the allegation told Global News the decision leaves her feeling like she’s been “punched in the stomach.”
“I am not surprised as this was exactly why I was reluctant to come forward and why most survivors don’t come forward. It’s not worth it. I feel a little like I’ve gone through hell for nothing,” said Navy Lt. Heather Macdonald, a navy combat systems engineer who has served for 16 years.
“Feel a bit like I’ve been punched in the stomach.”
Macdonald has previously said details of her allegation had been leaked to media without her consent, and she told Global News in March she did not want to share those details publicly out of respect for the due process owed to both her and McDonald as the probe played out.
She granted Global News permission to share the details of her allegation publicly, which she says pertained to unwanted touching on board HMCS Montreal in July 2010, when the ship was docked in Nuuk, Greenland.
During a party with allied military on board the ship, Macdonald alleges McDonald shoved the face of the ship captain into her breasts after a button on her shirt popped open.
McDonald was task force commander at the time of a group made up of warships from the U.S., Denmark and Canada. The captain was Macdonald’s commanding officer.
The position of chief of the defence staff is one that serves at the pleasure of the prime minister, meaning it is up to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whether to allow McDonald to return.