Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has challenged those critcizing his handling of an allegation of sexual misconduct made against former Chief of the Defense Staff .
Back in 2018, Sajjan pressed military ombudsman Gary Walbourne to seek out "external guidance about the alleged incident" in order to "advance the allegation in an "independent" manner," CTV reports.
"Please don’t have this [committee] member define my experience in the Canadian Armed Forces or what it was like because I would not do it for what happened in your life either okay?" he said in an emotional statement facing a line of questioning at the House of Commons national defence committee on Friday about whether Sajjan’s long working relationship with Vance prevented him from seeking out more information.
"I’ve had many people, many white men, trying to tell me what my experience is," he said. "Please don’t do that, don’t define my experience."
Walbourne, however, conversely reports that Sajjan refused to review the evidence and abruptly ended the meeting. Sajjan disputes this narrative. He claims that he followed up, asking his team to make the Privy Council Office reach out to Walbourne, and that the ombudsman had the authority to begin the investigation himself.
"It is the job of the ombudsman to conduct those investigations and I didn’t want to be put into a position where I potentially interfered with an investigation," Sajjan said. "For me to launch an investigation into any individual as a politician or direct an investigation, my God, that’s absolutely wrong."
This controversy comes amid Trudeau's claim that "Canada’s major institutions aren’t doing enough to prevent toxic and unsafe workplaces", calling various reports "troubling." Canada has recently ushered in its first female vice chief of defence staff, Frances Allen.
"I’m very pleased to see a strong woman in the vice chair position for the first time in Canada’s history and obviously the task of everyone in senior leadership in our military is to move forward on ending the challenges of harassment and discrimination in the military and other systems as well as ensuring that anyone who comes forward to share stories or allegations is given the support and resources they need."
The federal Conservatives are planning to call Zita Astravas and Elder Marques, two senior Liberal officials that first learned about allegations of sexual misconduct by Vance, to testify before the House of Commons' defence committee.