The woman at the centre of the sexual misconduct allegation against Adm. Art McDonald says that there were “several” eyewitnesses that corroborated her story, including at least one senior Navy officer that Global News was able to verify.
The revelation comes just days after Adm. McDonald, who is the Canadian Armed Forces’ Chief of the Defence Staff, sent a letter to senior military officers on Thursday claiming his exoneration from the allegation. The letter also argued for his “immediate” return to the top military post.
Speaking with Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson in an exclusive interview Sunday, navy Lt. Heather Macdonald shared her disappointment with the military chief’s decision to send out a letter maintaining his innocence, despite the claim of several witnesses who corroborated her story of the alleged assault.
Navy Lt. Macdonald said that the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) did not say her statement was unsubstantiated during her debrief with them, and that the military police investigation did not say that the top military leader had been exonerated in any way despite their decision to not charge him.
“I felt somewhat betrayed by that letter, personally,” she said.
According to navy Lt. Macdonald, military police had interviewed dozens of people from the event where she alleged the sexual misconduct took place, and that “several witnesses” corroborated her story.
Navy Lt. Macdonald said one of the witnesses was a duty officer who was sober at the time of the alleged assault and who had corroborated her version of events to military police.
Global News spoke to another senior Navy officer who was present when the alleged assault took place, who told Global News that navy Lt. Macdonald is telling the truth and that he saw what happened. The officer told Global News he provided an eyewitness statement to the military police corroborating navy Lt. Macdonald’s allegations.
The senior Navy officer is the first witness to corroborate the allegations made against the Chief of the Defence Staff to Global News.
When asked whether the Department of National Defence interviewed the sober duty officer who corroborated navy Lt. Macdonald’s story, the department responded that any information would have to be obtained through an access to information request.
In a previous interview with the Globe and Mail, Adm. McDonald said that he never talked with military police during the investigation.
Navy Lt. Macdonald also alleged that the admiral had declined a debrief with the CFNIS following the investigation, and that made her question the sources he was using to conclude in his letter that her accusations were not substantiated.
Adm. McDonald did not immediately respond to Global News’ requests to confirm that he had declined a debrief with the CFNIS.
In his letter, which was obtained by Global News on Thursday, Adm. McDonald said he was “quite disappointed that my exoneration has not seen my return to duty,” after military police in August decided not to charge the admiral over alleged sexual misconduct.
The admiral also argued that his reinstatement would be an important step to avoid “undermining” principles that were “foundational to legitimate cultural change,” citing the need for fairness for both accusers and those accused of wrongdoing.
The letter also included concern from Adm. McDonald as he has not heard anything from the Department of National Defence or the Prime Minister’s Office.
In August, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said that he expected Adm. McDonald to remain on leave while the government reviewed the situation.
Several women officers who have been victims of sexual misconduct told Global News shortly after the letter’s release that they were deeply concerned by its tone, and that it may send the wrong message to those who want to come forward in the future.
Navy Lt. Macdonald also said that the admiral’s letter was missing “obvious” things that were important to address any sort of cultural change in the military.
“He never mentioned reconciliation, and he has never reached out to me,” she said.
Military police said that the investigation into navy Lt. Macdonald’s allegations did not reveal evidence to support the laying of charges, which she says reveals part of the problem in the military justice system for her.
“I do not think that the military justice system necessarily has the tools it needs to prosecute the most senior officer in the forces, and it’s not within their lines of authority to make any changes to allow that to happen,” navy Lt. Macdonald said.
Several military and political sources said the lack of charges against Adm. McDonald has not yet removed concerns over whether he has the moral authority required to go back to leading Canada’s military.
Navy Lt. Macdonald previously granted Global News permission to share the details of her allegation publicly, which pertained to what she described as unwanted touching on board the HMCS Montreal in July 2020, when it was docked in Nuuk, Greenland.
She alleges that, during a party with allied military on board the ship, Adm. McDonald shoved the face of the ship captain into her breasts after a button on her shirt popped open.
At the time, Adm. McDonald was the task force commander leading a group of warships from Canada, Denmark and the U.S.
The captain who allegedly was shoved onto navy Lt. Macdonald was her commanding officer.
Adm. McDonald, in his letter, denied the allegation against him and criticized media reports as “often” being filled with “hurtful sensationalism, innuendo and inaccurate characterizations.”
Multiple leaders in the Canadian military, including former Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, stand accused of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour in what is being described by experts as an institutional “crisis” in the CAF.
Vance has denied all allegations of inappropriate behaviour since Global News’ first report on Feb. 2.
In the months following the allegations, the crisis has resulted in twin parliamentary committee probes that have heard lambasting testimony against the government’s handling of the sexual misconduct allegations, as well as the systemic problems that have been allowed to fester in the Canadian military.
— with files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly and Sean Boynton