Yesterday, Tuesday, April 6. 2021, a meeting was held by the Standing Committee on National Defense. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss ministerial responsibility with the Minister of Defense as well as to discuss the issues surrounding sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces. This includes the allegations against former Chief of the Defense Staff, Jonathan Vance.
Earlier this year allegations of sexual misconduct against General Vance surfaced as well as other's in the Canadian Armed Forces. What makes this even more preposterous is the fact that the original allegations were reported to the Minister of Defense and the Prime Minister's Office in March of 2018 and yet an investigation has not been launched until recently.
Minister of National Defense Harjit Sajjan from the liberal party was the first witness called for questioning. He stands by phrases such as, “I do not and will not accept any form of sexual misconduct,” and “sexual misconduct is harmful beyond measure.” He went on to list several resources and protocols that have been put in place to attempt to give aid to this problem. This list includes a sexual misconduct call center that is seperate from the military chain of command, partnering with statistics Canada to conduct surveys enabling them to understand just how large this problem is and they reviewed 179 old cases that had been put into the category of “Unfounded”, etc.
He had gone on to discuss how much work still needed to be done to change everything surrounding sexual misconduct situations. Sajjan had noted that it is a public responsibility to be conscious and purposeful to create the change. Also, there needs to be more support and focus toward those that are survivors or are currently battling a situation such as this.
Once the questions of procedure, who was informed of the allegations against General Vance and when, Sajjan had stated that he had immediately spoke to his Chief of Staff regarding the information, this took place March 1, 2018. The Chief of Staff at that time was Azita Astravas. She had apparently reported the misconduct to the privy council and the Prime Minister’s office. Sajjan claims that he then followed up with Astravas several times to see if there had been any updates. The outcome he had apparently hoped to have was an independent investigation.
Sajjan then claimed that they had essentially backed off to allow witnesses to come forward as they did not want to interfere with the investigation. It was quickly pointed out by his questioner, James Bezan, that at that time there wasn’t an investigation taking place, no evidence had been brought forward, and that there was no political involvement because there was no investigation started and there wasn’t any direction given by Sajjan.
Larry Bagnell, another Liberal party member questioned Sajjan, but it appears that the focus was mostly surrounding the changes that have been made as well as the changes to come. Only small portions of their conversation even mentioned the scandal surrounding the sexual misconduct allegations and how they were overlooked for three years.
An opening statement from Xavier Barsalou-Duval of the Bloc Quebecois, was quite attention grabbing. He stated that, “Normally when a minister appears it’s a nice surprise, but today I’m not certain… Your presence today here is because you decided to go against the committee’s will to convene staff from your office. And yet, they might have interesting comments to make to this committee, and so, is this obstruction?”
Sajjan’s defense was to discuss how open he was willing to be during any questioning just as he has previously. He stated, “ I actually welcome having these discussions because the work we have in front of us, no one person is going to have all the answers.”
To this Barsalou-Duval responded with, “You are not answering the question that I asked.”