Federal Conservatives led the charge Tuesday for a House of Commons committee investigation into what the Liberal government did — and did not do — after being confronted almost three years ago with informal allegations of inappropriate behaviour by the country’s former top military commander.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and other senior government officials will be called before the defence committee for three planned hearings about the growing controversy involving Gen. Jonathan Vance, the former chief of the defence staff.
The military’s National Investigation Service is looking into allegations raised last week in a Global News story. That story claimed Vance had an inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate while he was defence chief and that he sent an inappropriate email to a second woman of junior rank in 2012, before he took over the military’s top post.
‘Spectres of concern’
Last week, CBC News reported that informal allegations and “spectres of concern” about possible inappropriate conduct by Vance were brought before the current Liberal government and the former Conservative government.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the 2015 defence chief selection process said a possible inappropriate relationship between Vance and a junior officer serving with NATO in Naples was investigated prior to his appointment as Canada’s top commander. The relationship with the woman, who is now his wife, was cleared by Canadian military investigators.
CBC News also reported that the former military ombudsman, Gary Walbourne, took a separate informal complaint of misconduct involving Vance to the defence minister in March 2018. A disagreement over what to do about the complaint led to Walbourne’s early departure from his watchdog position.
Sajjan said he directed the information to the “appropriate authorities” — meaning the Privy Council Office (PCO), which is responsible for major appointments such as that of the defence chief.
Neither Sajjan nor PCO will say what happened with the informal complaint.
A spokesperson for PCO, Paul Duchesne, said last week that “no information was provided to PCO which would have enabled further action to have been taken.”
Conservative defence critic James Bezan said that what did or didn’t happen with the complaint needs to be investigated.
He proposed calling a short list of senior defence and privy council officials, serving and retired, to testify in addition to Sajjan.
New Democrat defence critic Randall Garrison said he wants to hear from former Conservative defence minister Jason Kenney about the concerns raised prior to Vance’s appointment.
The Liberal parliamentary secretary of defence, Anita Vandenbeld, said she believes it’s “appropriate to look at the vetting process” that led to the general’s appointment.
A substantial portion of the committee meeting on Tuesday was taken up with arguments over whether the names of witnesses other than Sajjan should be included in the motion.
In the end, MPs opted to keep it vague and draw up wish lists of possible witnesses.