Opposition blasts Liberal committee chair for cancelling debate on calling Trudeau’s top staffer to testify
|Toronto Star 03 May 2021 at 13:28|
The opposition called out the Liberal chair of the defence committee on Monday for cancelling a meeting, preventing debate to continue on a motion to call on the prime minister’s chief of staff to testify.
Monday’s meeting at the House of Commons standing committee on national defence was set to take place barely an hour after Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole called on Justin Trudeau to fire chief of staff Katie Telford, over the handling of an allegation in 2018 against ex-chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance.
The Conservatives tabled a motion on Friday demanding that Telford testify about the handling of that allegation. The NDP and Bloc Québécois said they will support the motion.
Debate was expected to resume Monday, but the committee’s website was updated just minutes before the meeting started at 11 a.m., indicating it had been cancelled, though no reason was given.
In an emailed statement, Liberal MP and committee chair Karen McCrimmon said the committee will be meeting again later this week, but did not provide a reason for Monday’s cancellation.
“The national defence committee is doing important work on the issue of sexual misconduct in the military. It is an issue that has been of concern in the Canadian armed forces for many, many years. Action is needed,” she said.
“And so the committee will be working hard to develop recommendations for government.”
The committee has been probing the handling of the Vance allegation since February, and has heard that Telford was kept in the loop about it.
“(Karen McCrimmon) just single-handedly cancelled today’s defence committee meeting,” Conservative defence critic and committee member James Bezan tweeted . “The Liberal coverup into sexual misconduct in the (Canadian armed forces) continues.”
The Liberals talked out the clock on Friday, preventing the Telford motion from coming to a vote, amid opposition accusations of a coverup.
The committee Elder Marques that Telford was kept in the loop on the handling of an allegation against Vance in 2018.
Trudeau said last week that his office didn’t know at the time the details of the allegation , or that they were dealing with a “MeToo” complaint. The opposition has pointed to emails tabled at committee between civil servants and PMO discussing “sexual harassment” allegations.
Trudeau has previously said he only became aware of the allegation’s existence this year, and has defended his chief of staff as an “extraordinarily strong leader” on the file of sexual misconduct in the military.
“It is time for Mr. Trudeau to stop hiding the truth from Canadians and take responsibility for the actions within his own office who orchestrated this coverup,” O’Toole told reporters Monday, demanding that Telford be fired.
What is publicly known is that on March 1, 2018, ex-ombudsman against Vance in a private meeting with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who refused to look at the evidence, saying that as a politician, he could not get involved in an investigation.
Walbourne has stated that he raised an allegation of sexual misconduct in the meeting, while Sajjan has said the former ombudsman did not provide specifics.
The matter was referred to the Privy Council Office — the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister’s Office — but civil servants said they were unable to take any action as Walbourne refused to provide any information regarding the allegation, as the complainant had not given him permission to do so.
Vance stayed on in the top job until his retirement earlier this year, at one point receiving a raise, signed off by Trudeau.