Gen. Wayne Eyre is officially taking over as the chief of the defence staff for the Canadian Forces as the military grapples with an ongoing crisis of sexual misconduct allegations against multiple senior leaders.
The Prime Minister’s Office announced the appointment in a press release Thursday afternoon, even as questions remain about what will happen to his predecessor’s future within the military.
Eyre has been serving in the role in an acting capacity since late February, when Adm. Art McDonald temporarily stepped aside six weeks into his own appointment to the position. He did so amid a military police investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct made against him.
That investigation ended in the summer with no charges against McDonald. Military police cited a lack of evidence for the decision, and shortly afterwards McDonald began waging an increasingly public fight to regain the role, claiming he had been exonerated and the allegation was deemed “unsubstantiated.”
However, military police issued a statement emphasizing that was not the case, and that the allegation against him had not been deemed “unfounded.”
McDonald has denied the allegation against him.
Eyre was promoted to the rank of general in August in what was widely viewed as a signal that the government did not intend to allow McDonald to resume the duties of the role.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointed to a controversial letter sent by McDonald to senior military officers arguing for his reinstatement as a factor that would be weighed in whether or not to let him return.
Military experts warned the letter raised serious concerns about McDonald’s suitability for the role.
Since then, Trudeau has shuffled the former defence minister out of the role following months of mounting criticism of Harjit Sajjan’s handling of the sexual misconduct crisis. Anita Anand is now defence minister, and she congratulated Eyre in a tweet shortly after the announcement of his appointment.
“General Eyre and I will continue to work together to build a military where all members feel safe, protected, and respected, wherever they are, whatever they are doing,” Anand wrote.
In a message sent to Canadian Forces members, Anand described the current moment as a “critical time” for the country and its military.
“Canada has always striven to be a force of stability around the globe, and our armed forces have consistently played a key role in this mission,” she said in the message.
“We know that there is currently a crisis of culture, and of confidence, in our Canadian Armed Forces, which has resulted in broken trust. Rebuilding that trust is crucial.”
The precise terms of McDonald’s removal, however, remain unclear.
Anand faced questions from reporters on Thursday and did not say whether McDonald is beginning the process of retiring from the military or being discharged, saying only that he remains “on leave.”
“Today the governor general has signed an order terminating Adm. McDonald in his position,” Anand said. “He is no longer chief of the defence staff.”
The role of chief of the defence staff is one that serves “at pleasure,” meaning the prime minister can dismiss the person in the role at any time, for any reason.
She did not answer questions about whether the government is facing or expects to face a legal challenge to the removal from McDonald.
According to the executive order terminating McDonald’s position as chief of the defence staff, he was “invited” on Oct. 26 to submit anything he believed the government should take into account in deciding whether to let him return to the role.
He did submit material, that order states, on Nov. 1.
However, the order states people appointed to such roles have “an obligation to act in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that is not discharged by simply acting within the law.”
The decision took into account four things: McDonald’s Nov. 1 submission, the letter he sent to senior military officers on Oct. 14, and public statements issued either by him or on his behalf since Aug. 11.
A spokesperson for the Privy Council Office told Global News that questions around McDonald’s future as a member of the military “will be addressed through CAF processes.”
Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour began in May an external, independent review of the crisis within the military and in October issued her first interim recommendation urging sexual offences be handed over to civilian authorities for investigation and prosecution.
Anand acted on that just days after coming into the new role, instructing military justice officials to begin implementing the recommendation from Arbour.
Her office confirmed to Global News on Wednesday that an apology will come for survivors and victims of military sexual misconduct before the end of the year, which is two years after the government agreed to do so as part of a $900-million class-action settlement.
The deadline for claims to be submitted under the process was midnight — a total of 18,796 survivors and victims came forward to submit claims through that.
Advocates for survivors and victims have said they believe that apology should come from the defence minister and the prime minister as well, given the extent of the military sexual misconduct crisis and the government’s failures to implement key recommendations from the 2015 Deschamps report.
That landmark report documented the extent of the longstanding issue of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces, describing the problem as “endemic” and the culture of the military as “toxic.”