Rouleau stepping aside as defence vice-chief following golf game with Vance
OTTAWA -- The second-in-command at the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is stepping away from his post following a golf outing with Gen. Jonathan Vance, who remains under investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct.
In a resignation letter to CAF members, Lt.-Gen. Michael Rouleau said that he accepts how his decision to golf with Vance and Vice-Admiral Craig Baines, head of the Royal Canadian Navy, earlier this month contributed to “further erosion of trust” in the investigative process.
“As a result of this incident, I am stepping aside immediately as [vice-chief of the defence staff] and will transition to the CAF Transition Group. Major-General Frawley will serve as [acting vice-chief of the defence staff ] until Lieutenant-General Allen assumes command. I am acutely aware of the tumultuous times we are navigating together,” the letter reads.
Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen had been named to take over the role in March as sexual misconduct allegations levied against top military leaders continued to surface. She will be the first woman to hold the role.
Military police launched an investigation into Vance in early February following his retirement. CTV News has not independently verified the allegations against him. Shortly thereafter, his successor Admiral Art McDonald stepped aside voluntarily as an investigation was underway into his behaviour. Both have denied any wrongdoing.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the public face of Canada’s vaccine rollout since November, is also facing a sexual misconduct claim against him that dates back more than 30 years. Fortin's lawyer has said he denies wrongdoing.
Rouleau has oversight over the military police and is able to issue orders to the CAF’s top police officer, Provost Marshal Brig.-Gen. Simon Trudeau. Since changes made to the National Defence Act in 2013, those orders have included the ability to "issue instructions or guidelines in writing in respect of a particular investigation."
Rouleau in his letter explained that he maintains contact with a number of generals and flag officers because he is “concerned with their well-being.”
“These officers include some who are under investigation and others who are not, but as people who have committed their lives to the service of Canada, they have earned our duty of care,” the letter reads.
“In this particular case, I was reaching out to a retired member of the CAF to ensure his wellness. This was a private activity, and I can assure every member of the CAF that none of us discussed any matters pertaining to any ongoing [military police] investigations, or the CAF/DND at large. However, I understand how such an activity could lead some to perceive a potential conflict of interest and controversy, given the current context, but nothing can be further from the truth. For this I am sorry.”
In a statement to CTV News on Monday, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, acting chief of the defence staff, said the golf game was “troubling” and that he is seeking “relevant advice” to determine the path forward.
Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “disappointed” upon hearing of the event and that the three men showed “very poor judgment.”
“I absolutely understand and sympathize with the sentiment that men and women, but maybe especially women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), have having seen this, and the concern that it causes them to have about the possibility of real fairness for them,” Freeland said, speaking to reporters on Monday.
During question period, opposition MPs scrutinized the leadership of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
“This brazen act by two of the military’s most senior commanders is a public declaration they are neither impartial nor think the rules apply to them. The problem starts at the top of the chain of command with this defence minister,” said Conservative MP Leona Alleslev.
Sajjan responded by noting that the government is “absolutely committed” to ensuring a swift culture change within the Forces to create a workplace free from harassment.
“I’ve been working since day one to making sure that we create institutional culture change that’s absolutely necessary,” he said, adding that the provost marshal has “complete” independence from the chain of command.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole also pointed blame squarely at the minister.
“There is no leadership from Minister Sajjan. Not a single person I know that served in the military or is there now has respect for the minister when he’s been part of a cover-up of sexual harassment allegations for three years and so without leadership at the top, an important institution is withering before our eyes,” he said.
“As a veteran, I’m very concerned by that.”
With files from CTV News’ Annie Bergeron-Oliver & Brooklyn Neustaeter.