Feds face growing questions over misconduct in the military, as documents show hundreds of cases since 2016
OTTAWA -- The Conservatives are questioning the prime minister’s assertion that his office was unaware a misconduct allegation brought forward in 2018 against the former defence chief was sexual in nature, once again reigniting criticism of how the report was handled.
After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday his staff didn’t know the allegation against Gen. Jonathan Vance was a “Me Too complaint,” the opposition is pushing for his chief of staff Katie Telford to appear before the House of Commons’ national defence committee to detail her account of how the events unfolded in March 2018.
It comes as new documents tabled in the House of Commons responding to an order paper question posed by Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant show Operation Honour recorded 581 incidents of sexual assault and 221 cases of sexual harassment between April 1, 2016 and March 9, 2021.
The majority of sexual assault reports logged – 411 – have identified the victim as female and the perpetrator as male.
Operation Honour was instituted by Vance in 2015 as a way to combat sexual misconduct in the Forces and create long-lasting culture change.
The issue of sexual misconduct in the military has gripped parliamentarians for the past several months after allegations against Vance and his successor Admiral Art McDonald came to light. On top of military investigations, two House of Commons committees are also studying the issue.
In an interview on iHeartRadio’s The Evan Solomon Show, Conservative defence critic James Bezan said it’s necessary to hear from Telford to determine how it’s possible Trudeau wasn’t aware of the complaint if his chief of staff was.
“We do want her to tell her side of the story, and why – if we are to believe the prime minister – didn’t she brief the prime minister on this. We’re talking about the highest-ranking solider in the land,” he said on Wednesday. “I’m sure the prime minister knew.”
The party is also contemplating an opposition day motion to call upon the government to appoint a public inquiry to investigate the broader issue of sexual misconduct and “the various efforts to cover them up” in light of “the alarming number and rate of reports of sexual harassment and misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Asked whether the NDP would support a public inquiry into this issue, leader Jagmeet Singh said inquiries often prove valuable.
“It gives us better insight to what’s going and gives that independent assessment of the problem, and so in general, that’s an approach I take as helpful, it’s shown to be helpful in the past,” he said.
However, he noted there are steps the government can take now to improve the culture within the CAF.
“Clearly women are not being listened to in the Canadian Armed Forces. What is Justin Trudeau going to do about that now? I want to know what the action plan is right now,” he said. “We need to know there’s some accountability that people can’t ignore when complaints are raised.”
The documents tabled today don’t answer how many assault or harassment reports fell under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, nor did they detail the number of charges laid and findings of guilt associated with the incidents.
However, the documents did state that 99 of the 581 cases moved to civilian court proceedings, 42 to courts martial, and 17 to summary trials. There have been 216 administrative and 89 disciplinary actions taken, while 162 investigations were suspended by the individual impacted.
“Operation Honour Tracking and Analysis System is the primary means of recording and tracking inappropriate sexual behaviour incidents in the Canadian Armed Forces. Any incident that is reported to the chain of command as of April 1, 2016 must be reported to the system regardless of when the incident occurred,” reads the response from the Department of National Defence.
Both the national defence and status of women committees have heard from current and former members, experts, and survivor advocates who say Operation Honour has not been effective in establishing culture change within the CAF.
"I’ve heard from many that perhaps this operation culminated and we need to harvest what’s worked from there, learn from what hasn’t, and go forward with a deliberate change plan," said the acting top military commander, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, in his testimony.
Defence minister Harjit Sajjan also acknowledged this when he appeared several times before committee and the ministry addressed it in the documents recently tabled.
“National Defence recognizes that efforts to date, including Operation Honour, while well-intentioned, have not delivered the results that the Canadian Armed Forces needs, and its people deserve,” the document reads.