So, about a month ago, when the allegations about now retied General Jonathan Vance first surfaced, “Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan repeatedly said he was “surprised” by the allegations made against former Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance but would not disclose when he learned of allegations, stating that his hands were tied when it came to providing any such details.” Now it appears, according to testimony provided the other day that “Former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne says he specifically told Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan about allegations of misconduct against Gen. Jonathan Vance during a “hostile” closed-door meeting three years ago.” In fact, “Walbourne said he met with Sajjan in March 2018 to brief him about the allegations. The ombudsman also had evidence to give Sajjan, but the minister refused to accept the material … [Mr Walbourn said that] … “Yes, I did directly tell him about an allegation of inappropriate behaviour against the chief of defence staff,” Walbourne said to the committee. “I did tell the minister what the allegation was. I reached into my pocket to show him the evidence I was holding. He pushed back from the table and said, ‘No.’”“
This puts the Minister and the former Ombudsman on directly opposite sides of the question: he said vs. he said. The relationship between government officialdom and an ombudsman is complex ~ there are many privacy issues, especially surrounding those who might ask the ombudsman to investigate a complaint. Mr Walbourne, a career civil servant, seems to have had a somewhat difficult relationship with a minister’s office that was trying to work out procedures for financial accountability after the Auditor General released (2015) a scathing report about his predecessor’s expenses.
Now, if this was a Conservative government then I am absolutely certain that the media, all of it, would be calling for the defence minister’s head on a platter but the notion that Liberal ministers should be accountable for their own actions and decisions, much less the actions of their officials, seems quite foreign to all of us. This is, after all, Justin Trudeau’s government so it cannot be held responsible for anything, can it?
It has been five and a half years since Prime Minister Trudeau was elected in October of 2015. Allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces preceded him. In fact, then newly minted Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance launched Operation HONOUR in August of 2015 in response to a judicial inquiry report. The problems were not a secret but the solutions, beyond platitudes, were elusive. There are attributes of military service, especially when deployed overseas or at sea, which are different from the working experience of 99% of Canadians. None of those differences excuse sexual harassment or sexual assault but what was needed, in the 1990s when I was still serving, and in the 2000s, was action, leadership, not just more words.
Now the situation is coming to a head in a growing political war-of-words which is not what Prime Minister Trudeau needs now, as he considers when to go to the polls in 2021. Should he fire Harjit Sajjan? The Minister of National Defence is a highly visible reminder of the Liberal Party‘s links to the politically powerful Sikh-Canadian community …
… there are, currently, about a dozen Sikh-Canadian MPs in the Liberal caucus, many representing crucially important suburban seats in Ontario and British Columbia. But he is also a reminder of yet another Liberal policy failure.
Over five years I explained that I was perplexed by the choice of Mr Sajjan to be the Minister of National Defence. Medals, I suggested, do not make the man, and if they did then I wondered by Andrew Leslie, who has a much more impressive “rack” had not been given the job. I think the reason was obvious then and it remains so now. But I suspect that if he had made better choices in 2015 Prime Minister Trudeau would not be facing problems now.
Justin Trudeau came to power with an unspoken promise to ignore the military. Harjit Sajjan was a safe choice to be a do-nothing Minister of National Defence, and the bloated, actually morbidly obese military command and control (C2) superstructure, with many dozens ~ now well over 100 ~ admirals and generals and commodores, was happy enough to relax a bit, after the Afghanistan War, while the generals wrote memoranda to each other, gave one another medals and awards, designed colourful new shoulder patches for their HQ staffs and told critics that they were all doing their best to preserve what they could in a time of budget constraint and so on. Canada was “back,” as Justin Trudeau promised, but back in a manner that we hadn’t seen since Pierre Trudeau’s days.
Well, now the military is back in the news … in the worst possible way and it’s a problem for Justin Trudeau and for the country. My prescription is unchanged from last week: a thorough cleaning of the top ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces, for a start ~ every single one of the dozen or so admirals and vice-admirals and lieutenant generals to be retired, early. A new, interim Chief of the Defence Staff should be appointed with a mandate to restore the military ethos and to make operational effectiveness the primary goal. (If you fix the ethos then the sexual misconduct will fix itself.)
And, now, a new Minister is needed, too, I think. I understand that Harjit Sajan may need to stay in the cabinet, but Lawrence MacAuley, and able and honest man, is underemployed in Veterans Affairs, and Joyce Murray could certainly do something more than whatever Digital Government might involve.