Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on Thursday lamented the “frustrating” processes in place to deal with sexual misconduct cases in the Canadian military that he said prevented him and others from taking action on allegations against Gen. Jonathan Vance.
Trudeau faced fresh criticism over his handling of the allegations against the former chief of defence staff from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole during the TVA French language leaders debate in Montreal.
In his response, Trudeau said it’s “frustrating” to rely on the processes currently in place that dictate how women report sexual misconduct allegations — and how they’re handled within the military and the government.
Asked by reporters after the debate to further clarify his remarks, Trudeau said in English he meant the current systems in place “aren’t yet good enough or strong enough to deal with (allegations) properly.”
“The answer is always imperfect to say, ‘there’s a process we have to follow,'” he said. “‘Yes, we will give credibility and processes of resources to anyone who comes forward, but we have to rely on third party verifiers and experts to make determinations to make sure we’re getting it right.’ That’s not a satisfactory answer.
“So saying, ‘well, there are processes’ is not a satisfactory answer to me or to anyone, but it’s the best answer that we have.”
Trudeau noted that his government has introduced new policies meant to protect victims who come forward with sexual misconduct allegations, and that more “rigorous processes” will be created if he wins a third term as prime minister.
“There is so much more to do,” he said.
But Trudeau did not mention specifically what those new processes could be, including whether he will move forward with an independent reporting system — something that has been recommended by other party leaders and experts.
During the debate, O’Toole accused Trudeau of a lack of leadership when it comes to protecting female members of the Canadian Forces from sexual harassment, repeatedly stressing that there should be zero tolerance for such behaviour.
O’Toole said Trudeau’s office “camouflaged” allegations that Vance acted inappropriately towards female subordinates while serving as chief of defence staff, and asked Trudeau if he regretted giving Vance a salary increase after the allegations were made in 2018.
Trudeau refused to answer that question, but then admitted that it was “frustrating” to have to follow the processes that are in place to keep such allegations independent from political interference.
“Mr. Trudeau, you were in charge. That’s not acceptable,” O’Toole said before the topic was changed.
Trudeau has said he did not personally know about a complaint against Vance that was disclosed to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2018, and his staff did not know the details of the allegation.
Global News reported on Feb. 2, 2021, that Vance is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour with two female subordinates, which he denies.
Military police opened an investigation into the allegations against Vance on Feb. 3, one day after Global News reported on them. Since then, allegations have been levied against multiple senior leaders of the Canadian Forces in what experts have described as an institutional crisis for the military.
Vance was charged with one count of obstruction of justice last month following an investigation into allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour. He has denied any wrongdoing in that case and has not been charged in connection with the original allegations.
–With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly and the Canadian Press