In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Eyre said the scope of the claims submitted through that process demonstrate the fact that the problem is one that everyone in the Canadian Forces must work to address — even though there are no easy answers.
“The scope speaks to the depth of the issue,” Eyre said.
“I think it’s also important to note that the latest stats I’ve seen, 42 per cent are men, and that speaks to this not being just a woman’s issue. It’s an issue for all of us to address. It’s an issue of power dynamics as well that speak to an element that we have to fix.”
Eyre was formally appointed as chief of the defence staff on Thursday, after Adm. Art McDonald’s appointment to the role was terminated by the government, citing a lack of confidence in him.
The position of chief of the defence staff is one that serves “at pleasure,” meaning the appointee can be removed at any time, for any reason, by the government.
McDonald stepped aside voluntarily in late February after military police announced they were opening an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct made against him. McDonald has denied the allegation and the investigation ended this summer without charges.
Military police cited a lack of evidence, and shortly after, McDonald launched what became an increasingly public battle to try to return to the duties of the role, claiming in a letter to senior military officers that he had been exonerated and the allegation against him deemed “unsubstantiated.”
But the military provost marshal later issued a statement saying the allegation had not been deemed “unfounded.” McDonald quickly came under heavy criticism for the letter with Eyre calling it “shocking.”
Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Defence Minister Anita Anand echoed that assessment, describing McDonald’s letter as “shocking” and “unacceptable.”
Eyre had been acting in McDonald’s place since late February, and was promoted to the rank of general in August in what was widely viewed as a signal that the government intended to keep him there permanently.
In the executive order formally appointing Eyre, the government pointed to McDonald’s letter as among the factors weighed in the decision not to let him return to the job. That letter also stated that 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.”
Eyre said the military is not currently looking at any administrative penalties against McDonald in relation to the allegation of sexual misconduct made against him.
Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Morris Fish warned in June it is “legally impossible” for the military to criminally charge someone at the rank of chief of the defence staff.
“What has happened is between Adm. McDonald and the government. I’ve deliberately kept myself at arm’s length from that process, and he’s indicated that he’s releasing from the military so that will unfold,” Eyre said.
McDonald’s legal team issued a three-page statement on Friday in response to the appointment of Eyre.
In it, lawyer Rory Fowler said no one from the government had informed McDonald of the decision to appoint Eyre to the role, or about the announcement of that decision. He said that “the Prime Minister and Governor in Council have continued to vilify him for defending his name and reputation against untrue allegations,” and that McDonald has been subjected to “trial by media.”
Fowler contested the military provost marshal’s statement that the allegation had not been deemed unfounded, calling it “disingenuous,” and said that McDonald has been “unreasonably vilified in public.”
He also contested comments from the woman at the allegation, who said there were “several” eyewitnesses that corroborated her story, including at least one senior Navy officer that Global News was able to verify.
Fowler said his client had received a copy of the military police investigation into him roughly one week ago, and that the records that were disclosed indicated none of the 38 people interviewed as part of that process corroborated the allegation. However, Fowler also said the records were “excessively redacted.”
Global News reported in August that military police interviewed dozens of people as part of the probe into the allegation but were unable to determine an agreed upon set of facts as many of those interviewed claimed to have been drunk at the time.
The Canadian Forces is in the midst of what experts have described as an institutional “crisis” over multiple sexual misconduct allegations levied against senior leaders in the past 10 months.
Eyre said it’s vital for the military to address the problem head-on in order to be able to recruit and retain the people it will need in a world that he said is “probably more dangerous now than it has been since the end of the Cold War.”
“It’s a very dangerous world out there and we are going to see the Canadian Armed Forces called upon more and more. Canada is going to need us unlike ever before,” Eyre said.
“That’s why fixing our culture and underpinning our culture — that will underpin our operational effectiveness going into this much more dangerous world — is an imperative right now.”