Adm. Art McDonald‘s decision to send a letter to senior military staff claiming his exoneration from a sexual misconduct allegation against him and urging his “immediate” reinstatement to the military’s top post will factor into whether he can return at all, says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The letter has been fiercely criticized for both the claims in it and the challenge it appeared to pose to the core principle of civilian control of the military. McDonald claimed the lack of charges against him means he has been exonerated and the investigation deemed the allegation “unsubstantiated.”
That is not true, according to a statement issued in response by the military’s provost marshal this week.
Yet Trudeau has refused to say why the government continues to allow McDonald to remain in the role as chief of the defence staff, from which he is currently suspended, or when he will make a decision on whether McDonald should be allowed to return to the duties of the role.
When asked about the letter by Global News on Thursday, Trudeau said McDonald’s remarks “do not align” with what he described as the government’s approach to focusing on survivors and victims.
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“It will be taken into account as we make a final determination on the post of chief of defence staff,” he added, noting it is important that “we take the right decisions in the right way.”
McDonald holds the position of chief of the defence staff at the pleasure of the government, meaning he can be removed at any time for any reason.
Gen. Wayne Eyre has been acting in his place since February, when McDonald stepped aside voluntarily while the investigation into the allegation against him got underway. In his own letter to senior military officials last Friday, Eyre called McDonald’s letter “shocking.”
The Canadian Forces Provost Marshall also issued a statement on Monday noting there is a difference between an investigation not meeting the threshold to lay a charge, and what McDonald claimed.
“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.'”
That’s because 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.”
Global News reported on Sunday that the woman at the heart of the allegation against McDonald says there were “several” eyewitnesses who corroborated her allegation to military police as part of their investigation. That includes at least one senior Navy officer that Global News was able to verify.