The allegation of sexual misconduct made against Adm. Art McDonald has not been deemed unfounded, according to military officials.
In response to questions from Global News, the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal offered what appears to be the most direct rebuttal yet of McDonald’s repeated public claims that he has been exonerated by virtue of no charge being laid against him.
“As stated in August 2021, the CFNIS investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct against Admiral McDonald resulted in no charges being laid based on insufficient evidence,” reads the statement.
“This does not mean that the allegation was unfounded, which is defined by Statistics Canada as ‘After a police investigation it is concluded that no violation of the law took place nor was attempted’.”
Military police had opened an investigation into McDonald in late February.
McDonald stepped back voluntarily from his role as chief of the defence staff at the time.
He has denied the allegations against him and, following the decision by military police that there was not enough evidence to charge him this summer, has been waging an increasingly public battle, arguing the lack of a charge meant he should get an “immediate” reinstatment to the role.
Gen. Wayne Eyre is acting in his place.
Late last week, McDonald sent out a letter via email to senior military officers in which he said he was “quite disappointed that my exoneration has not seen my return to duty.”
Global News obtained a copy of that letter, which can be read below.
McDonald repeated his claim in media interviews, prompting experts to clarify that the lack of charges following an investigation is not the same thing as an allegation being found to have no merit.
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The evidentiary threshold to support the laying of charges is high, said Megan MacKenzie, an expert on military culture who holds the Simons Chair in International Law and Human Security at Simon Fraser University.
“I think maybe in his mind, he is exonerated. I think that’s just a testament of how deeply ingrained of a cultural problem we have, where you have senior military leaders that are so out of touch,” she said.
“The letter was out of touch, the tone was out of touch.”
“And so I think it’s a misperception and I think just sort of a signal that he simply wants his power back and his position back,” she continued. “I think in this environment, that bold kind of move is just such a testimony to how out of touch he is.”
Retired Col. Michel Drapeau, a lawyer specializing in military cases, was blunt in his assessment of McDonald’s claim, telling Global News: “There was no exoneration of any sort.”
Drapeau said he has been “disturbed” by McDonald’s conduct and that he thinks the government is waiting until the new federal cabinet is named next week to make a decision on McDonald’s future.
Eyre called that letter by McDonald “shocking” in a letter of his own to senior military officers, a copy of which was shared with Global News on Friday, and stressed that it is civilians who decide the leadership of the military in a democracy.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan called the letter “inappropriate and unacceptable,” but neither he nor Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have taken action to remove McDonald permanently from the position of chief of the defence staff, and have repeatedly refused to say why he still holds the title, albeit on leave.
The position of chief of the defence staff serves at pleasure — meaning they can be removed for any reason if the prime minister and cabinet no longer have confidence in him to do the job.
Navy Lt. Heather Macdonald told Global News in an interview on Sunday that “several” people came forward to corroborate her allegation against Adm. McDonald to military police.
Global News has verified at least one of those was a senior officer in the navy.
“I felt somewhat betrayed by that letter, personally,” she said of McDonald’s letter.
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.
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A spokesperson for Sajjan offered no clarity on why the government has still not made a decision about Adm. McDonald’s future in the role, nine months after he first stepped aside.
“As previously stated, Admiral McDonald remains on leave from the Canadian Armed Forces while the government reviews the situation,” said Daniel Minden, the minister’s press secretary.
He said anyone with concerns about military police handling of an investigation can make a complaint to the Military Police Complaints Commission, which is the civilian agency overseeing military police.
With a file from Global’s Abigail Bimman.