The House of Commons defense committee agreed on Monday to summon Canada’s former military ombudsman to further its investigation into what the Liberal government did and was not aware of the allegations of inappropriate behavior by the former chief of defense staff of the country before they were made public.
The committee took an unusual decision after former ombudsman Gary Walbourne declined an earlier, more friendly and less formal invitation to testify on the advice of his lawyer.
The motion to issue the subpoena was brought forward by opposition conservatives, who argue that evidence from the former watchdog is critical to their work to investigate the allegations against Gen. Jonathan Vance.
“We have to hear it,” Tory defense spokesman James Bezan said. “There are a number of questions surrounding what he knows.”
Bezan said the committee needed to hear from Walbourne to “get to the bottom” of reports that Walbourne had warned Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan about possible inappropriate conduct by General Vance in a private meeting between the two on March 1, 2018.
Appearing before the committee last week, Sajjan did not disclose what happened during that meeting – citing the cloak of confidentiality that surrounds all communication with the mediator.
Bezan accused Sajjan of obscuring.
NDP defense critic Randal Garrison went further and said the committee should call Walbourne due to the minister’s no response.
“It is necessary for us to take this step,” said Garrison. “It could have been prevented by the minister from being more frank.”
He suggested that Sajjan might want to write to the committee to modify his testimony.
“No one asked him to talk about the specific allegations, but we ask him if he was aware of the allegations,” Garrison said.
Following a Global News report nearly three weeks ago that Vance had an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, the Army’s National Investigation Service has launched an investigation into whether the former senior commander military had violated the Code of Service Discipline and whether any laws had been broken.
In his testimony, Sajjan repeatedly deflected the committee’s questions by citing the need to protect the integrity of the investigation and to be fair to witnesses who spoke to military police.
But the woman at the center of the allegations, Major Kellie Brennan, spoke at length in an interview on Sunday with Global News – shedding important light on allegations of a long-standing affair with Vance, his interaction with military police and a news story. bomb. claim the former defense chief wanted her to lie to investigators.
Brennan needed permission from her superiors before doing the interview – which the Minister’s office would have been informed of.
‘A specter of worry’
TBEN News reported on February 4, 2021 that Walbourne fell out with Sajjan after raising concerns over allegations of Vance’s improper conduct – a disagreement which ultimately led to his resignation as ombudsman.
At the time, a high-level government source admitted that “a specter of concern related to the former chief of defense staff” was raised at the March 2018 meeting, but the minister had insisted that the matter be directed to the “appropriate authorities” for investigation – which includes the Privy Council Office (PCO), which oversees appointments as the Chief of the Defense Staff.
At the time, the PCO, which backs the PMO, said that with regard to the informal allegations nearly three years ago, “no information was provided to PCO that would have allowed it to take other measures “.
Sajjan could have ordered a probe, expert says
The defense committee heard from retired Colonel and military law expert Michel Drapeau on Monday, who said Sajjan had the option under the National Defense Act to convene a commission of inquiry or appoint a military judge to investigate allegations or even concerns about the Chief of the Defense Staff. .
Drapeau said this could have helped deepen any investigation PCO may have been prepared to undertake.
Several sources told TBEN News that the Privy Council’s review of concerns about Vance was hampered by Walbourne’s refusal to hand over the documentation and the name of a complainant who had approached his office.
Drapeau said the independence of the ombudsman’s office and the confidentiality it grants to complainants made cooperation with PCO out of the question.
The committee also heard today from retired Supreme Court judge Marie Dechamps, whose 2014 groundbreaking investigation led to the military crackdown on sexual misconduct.
She told MPs that Operation Honor – the official campaign to rid the military of harassment and assault – is still worth pursuing despite the credibility it has suffered as a result of the allegations against Vance.
Deschamps said that, if at all, the scandal reinforced his belief that there should be an independent body outside the military to deal with reports of sexual misconduct.