The military police investigation into whether retired Gen. Jonathan Vance broke code of service rules with an allegedly inappropriate relationship has officially ended with no charges, despite him currently facing a separate criminal charge of obstruction of justice in connection with the probe.
When pressed for an explanation as to why the probe into any possible military service violations ended on Aug. 6 with no charges, a military police spokesperson pointed to a recent report from former Supreme Court justice Morris Fish, which warned it was “legally impossible” under the current rules to try someone of Vance’s rank in the military system.
A senior defence source confirmed to Global News the decision to end the investigation without any military code of service charges was specifically tied to Vance’s rank as a four-star general.
Fish’s probe of the military justice system urged major reforms in the wake of Global News’ reporting into allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the military, and pointed to the need to set up a mechanism for trying senior officers — who have few to no equals in the hierarchy of the military.
“Should charges be laid against officers of these ranks, the military justice system may not be able to deliver justice,” he said, pointing specifically to chiefs of the defence staff as well as lieutenant-generals or vice-admirals.
“Panel members hold rank. This creates a risk that they may consider the accused’s rank, the rank of complainants or witnesses, or the wishes of the military hierarchy in reaching their decisions,” Fish noted.
“To minimize the risk of rank-based influence, all officers of the CAF should as a general rule be judged by officers of or above their rank. How can this be done when the accused is among the highest general officers in Canada? In my view, the solution is to allow the empanelment of retired officers.”
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Following reporting by Global News on Feb. 2 into allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Vance, military police opened an investigation. On July 15, military police charged him with one count of obstruction of justice, which is being handled by civilian authorities.
Vance is due in court on that charge on Sept. 17.
The Canadian military has been gripped by what experts call an institutional “crisis” over the last eight months following reporting by Global News into allegations of high-level sexual misconduct.
Sexual misconduct has been a problem in the military for decades but was most extensively documented by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps in her landmark 2015 report outlining what she described as a culture that is “hostile” to women and LGBTQ2 members.
One of her key recommendations to address the problem was the creation of an independent reporting system for sexual misconduct — a system operating outside of the military chain of command, which is what handles allegations right now.
But the Liberal government did not heed that recommendation and it wasn’t until six years later that officials appointed former Supreme Court justice Arbour to lead a review into best practices for creating an independent system following Global News reporting into the continued problem.
Since then, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has repeatedly dodged questions on when he would hope to implement an independent system and whether he supports calls for an independent watchdog that can report independently to Parliament on the government and military’s handling of the problem.
Trudeau on Wednesday would not say whether he will commit to creating an independent watchdog that reports to Parliament as part of the effort to prevent sexual misconduct from continuing to fester through the ranks of the Canadian Forces.
“It has gone on far too long and all the different efforts over the years have improved, but not enough,” said Trudeau when asked about an independent watchdog and what steps he’d take if re-elected as prime minister.
Right now, the military ombudsman reports directly to the minister of national defence.
The former occupant of that office, Gary Walbourne, has said the minister refused to look at evidence of alleged sexual misconduct by then-chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance in 2018.
The current ombudsman, Gregory Lick, blasted the government and minister specifically in June in a paper outlining “vested political interests” that he said were complicating the work of the office, often just prior to elections or during times of crises.
“When leaders turn a blind eye to our recommendations and concerns in order to advance political interests and their own self-preservation or career advancement, it is the members of the defence community that suffer the consequences,” Lick said in June.
“It is clear that inaction is rewarded far more than action.”
As of Wednesday, the number of claims in the military sexual misconduct class-action lawsuit had jumped to 9,198 as the deadline to join the settlement ticks down ahead of Nov. 24.
That number is an increase of roughly 2,000 in just two months.
Global News reported on July 14 that the number of claims stood at 7,346, which was a 170 per cent increase compared to the 2,729 claims submitted in late December 2020.
The process opened to claims on May 25, 2020.