PM's chief of staff offers to testify before defence committee Friday in military misconduct review
OTTAWA -- The prime minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, has offered to appear before the House of Commons’ defence committee on Friday as part of its ongoing review into sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, CTV News has learned.
It comes as the Liberals face ongoing pressure from opposition parties to detail what was known about an allegation of sexual misconduct levied against former defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance when it was brought to light in March 2018.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has maintained that he was unaware about the allegation until news reports early this year, yet according to testimony by his former senior adviser Elder Marques, members within his office – including Telford – were aware of a “complaint” against the top soldier but it’s unclear they understood it to be sexual in nature.
Trudeau has since said that no one was aware it was a “Me Too complaint.”
The Conservatives’ opposition motion this week, which was ultimately defeated, called on Trudeau to fire his chief of staff for failing to inform him about the complaint that was first reported to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan on March 1, 2018 by former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne.
Walbourne in separate testimony said Sajjan refused to look at the evidence he had on-hand and asked him to find other avenues to detail the allegation.
Sajjan’s office ultimately informed the Privy Council Office of the situation, as it dealt with a governor-in-council appointment, and told them to follow up with the then-ombudsman. When they did, Walbourne said he was unable to provide further details because he didn’t have the victim’s consent.
A military investigation into the Vance allegation was launched in February and since then two House of Commons committees have been engulfed in a study of sexual misconduct more broadly in the Canadian Armed Forces.
The opposition members on the defence committee have said they’re keen to get Telford’s “side of the story” to determine what, if anything, the prime minister knew and when, while the Liberal members have pushed to move ahead with a report.
After the Liberals filibustered last Friday’s meeting, members were set to gather on Monday to decide whether to invite Telford to testify, but it was abruptly cancelled by Liberal chair Karen McCrimmon.
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, Conservative defence critic James Bezan questioned the Liberals’ sudden change in position.
“For a week, the Trudeau Liberals have blocked Katie Telford from testifying on her role in this cover-up. Now she’s suddenly available. What’s changed? Tomorrow Canada’s Conservatives will continue to push for answers…” he said.
Vance was also under investigation in 2015 when he was appointed chief of defence staff under prime minister Stephen Harper.