Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told the House of Commons defence committee today that he was “shocked” by the allegations against Gen. Jonathan Vance, which emerged two weeks ago in a report by Global News.
The former defence chief is alleged to have had an inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate while serving as the country’s top military commander, and is separately alleged to have sent a racy email to another woman of junior rank in 2012.
Sajjan also told MPs today that any such allegations brought to his attention have been raised with the “appropriate authorities.”
He declined to comment on the specifics of the case, pointing out that it is being investigated by the Canadian Forces National Investigative Service.
“I was just as surprised as everyone else, but any time during my tenure as Minister of National Defence, if anything was brought to me, I always made sure it was quickly sent to the appropriate agency for a thorough investigation,” Sajjan told the committee.
An ‘obvious contradiction’
Opposition MPs said they were puzzled by Sajjan’s testimony.
“There seems to be an obvious contradiction in what you’re saying today,” said NDP defence critic Randal Garrison. “In your opening statement, you said you were shocked as everyone else to hear of these allegations, but yet you imply you knew about these allegations.
“So, these can’t both be true at the same time.”
Sajjan denied having implied anything. A visibly frustrated Garrison put him on the spot. “I am asking you to confirm to me,” he said, “whether you knew or did not know about these allegations before they became public.”
Sajjan did not answer directly but instead emphasized the importance of protecting the integrity of the ongoing investigation.
CBC News has reported that former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne brought an allegation regarding to Sajjan’s attention on March 1, 2018, in a private meeting.
The minister refused today to disclose what was said in the meeting, citing confidentiality. He was later accused by the Conservatives of being evasive.
“I’m not fudging anything,” Sajjan said.
Senior officials from the Privy Council Office, which oversees appointments such as the chief of the defence staff, testified Friday that the department did not “have information to take further action.”
There’s a difference between a formal complaint and rumours, suggested Janine Sherman, the deputy secretary to the cabinet.
Both New Democrat and Conservative MPs pointed out that former vice-admiral Mark Norman was suspended from his position several years ago on the basis of allegations that he had leaked cabinet secrets. An RCMP investigation did result in charges in that case, but they eventually were set aside by prosecutors.
The opposition MPs said Sajjan should have removed Vance immediately upon hearing the allegations of inappropriate conduct — particularly, said Garrison, as the military struggles to stamp out sexual misconduct in the ranks.
“You knew there were allegations of a very serious nature against the person in charge of the program for rooting out sexual misconduct in the military,” Garrison told Sajjan.
Apart from responding to the original Global News story, Vance has declined to comment.