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Sexual misconduct crisis in Canada’s military prompts calls for defence minister’s resignation

Sexual misconduct crisis in Canada’s military prompts calls for defence minister’s resignation
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Amid a sexual misconduct and leadership crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces, demands are growing for the acting head of the military to and for the minister of defence to be sacked.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan — who has already been under fire for months over the government’s inability to tackle sexual misconduct in the ranks — must either resign or be fired, critics said this week.

Those calls come in the wake of yet another damning military scandal for which they say the minister has failed to take action and which has called into question the judgment of the acting chief of the defence staff.

The military’s second-in-command, vice-chief of the defence staff Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, resigned Monday after it emerged he and the commander of the navy went golfing with Canada’s former chief of the defence staff, retired general Jonathan Vance, who remains under military police investigation for alleged inappropriate behaviour.

The golf outing was especially problematic given that the vice-chief has oversight of the police force investigating Vance.

NDP defence critic Randall Garrison said Sajjan has displayed a “lack of leadership” throughout his tenure as defence minister. He said that lack of leadership was again evident in the wake of the golf outing, and is partly what led Garrison to now believe that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should replace his minister.

“Going forward, we need a defence minister in whom those serving in the Canadian Armed Forces will have confidence they take sexual misconduct seriously and will act,” Garrison said in an interview. “

“I don’t believe the current minister has the capacity to do that, so I believe the prime minister should replace the minister of defence.”

The Conservatives ramped up their calls on Wednesday for Sajjan to be fired, with Leader Erin O’Toole calling directly on Sajjan’s Vancouver South constituents to not re-elect him.

“It’s come down to the point that if Minister Sajjan won’t do the honourable thing and accept responsibility and resign,” said Conservative defence critic James Bezan.

“And if the prime minister won’t do the necessary thing and fire Minister Sajjan, then the only other option is that the voters in Vancouver South have the power to remove Minister Sajjan.”

Sajjan has “zero credibility on this file,” said Megan MacKenzie, an expert on sexual misconduct in the military, who has also now taken the position that he should be replaced.

“We have so much evidence now of systemic dysfunction in the military institution and so now, more than ever, what’s required is civilian leadership to acknowledge that and to take a role in fixing that,” said MacKenzie, who is the Simons chair in international law and human security at Simon Fraser University.

“We have a so-called feminist party in power and this is an issue where we need feminist action, and instead what we’re having is a deferral back to the dysfunctional institution.”

Questions have also been raised about the leadership of acting chief of the defence staff Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre in the wake of the Rouleau resignation, for which Eyre has yet to provide clear answers.

In a note to military staff Monday, Rouleau said he has maintained communication with officers under investigation “with the full knowledge and consent” of Eyre — something Eyre has not refuted.

“During this time of incredible crisis within the armed forces, it’s important that the acting chief of the defence staff fully communicate what took place,” Bezan said. “He owes it to Canadians. We expect transparency and a full explanation.”

The Department of Defence did not respond Wednesday to questions from the Star about Eyre.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the department said that Eyre was “aware” that Rouleau maintained “periodic contact with various senior officers across the CAF in order to check on their mental wellness in times of extreme stress, but was not aware of the specifics of these engagements.”

The department did not confirm whether he was aware Rouleau was in touch with Vance, although it said Eyre only found out about the golf outing on Saturday.

For the second time this week, Sajjan’s office did not respond to questions over what Eyre knew and whether it was appropriate that he consented to Rouleau communicating with officers who were under investigation.

A spokesperson for the minister said Wednesday “we do not believe it is appropriate” for the vice chief of the defence staff to be in contact with any member under military police investigation.

“The minister has asked the acting chief of the defence staff to review all processes to ensure that no actions taken adversely impact survivors nor jeopardize investigations in any way,” Daniel Minden said in an email.

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The lack of clarity around what Eyre knew raises questions for experts who study the military, chief among them whether he knew that Rouleau was in communication with Vance.

“On the one hand, if he knew and we find out that he knew, it’s going to collapse trust even more, and it’s going to be even more difficult for him to establish himself as this voice for change in the military,” said military expert Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“But at the same time, if we don’t know and we still have this doubt, it doesn’t help trust either.”
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