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Military reeling as new defence chief steps aside amid allegations of misconduct

February 25, 2021  By Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Art McDonald became the first naval officer to serve as the permanent defence chief since 1993. (Photo: Canadian Armed Forces, Twitter)

OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is reeling after news defence chief Admiral Art McDonald is being investigated for misconduct, only weeks after military police launched an investigation into allegations against his predecessor.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan revealed late Wednesday McDonald had “voluntarily stepped aside” while military police investigate unspecified allegations.

McDonald took over as the chief of the defence staff last month from Gen. Jonathan Vance, who is being investigated after allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

Vance has denied any wrongdoing and McDonald has not commented.


Canadian Army commander Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre has been appointed acting chief of the defence staff.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan called Thursday for the government to reveal the nature of the allegations against McDonald, who used his first address as defence chief on Jan. 14 to apologize to victims of military sexual misconduct and hate.

“In the interest of morale, and for our women and men in uniform to have confidence in the senior leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces, Minister Sajjan must confirm why chief of defence staff Admiral Art McDonald is under investigation,” Bezan said in a statement.

The new allegations have added to the chorus of calls for external oversight of the military, which self-polices allegations of sexual misconduct in the ranks.

Lawyer and retired colonel Michel Drapeau said the government needs to appoint a permanent and independent inspector general similar to that of other militaries.

That person would have the investigative powers to look into allegations of wrongdoing within the Canadian Armed Forces.

“If, during his investigation, he came across any evidence of a criminal nature, he would be duty bound to stop his investigations and turns the matter to the criminal police,” Drapeau said in an email.

Barring that, Drapeau said Sajjan should immediately convene a board of inquiry – perhaps headed by a military judge – to investigate the allegations against McDonald, with police only involved if the allegations are of a criminal nature.

Should police become involved, Drapeau added, it should be the RCMP.

“I do not have confidence in terms of training, experience and independence,” Drapeau said of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, the NIS.

“Additionally, (the military police) and NIS report to the vice-chief of the defence staff, which makes any claim of `independence’ illusory.”

In addition to criminal offences, Canadian military personnel can also be charged with what are known as service offences, which usually relate to inappropriate conduct such as drunkenness and having a relationship with a subordinate.

Former naval reservist Marie-Claude Gagnon, who founded a group for survivors of military sexual misconduct called It’s Just 700, has been raising concerns for years about gaps in the system.

She said the time for external oversight of the Armed Forces is now.

“External oversight, it’s essential,” Gagnon said. “Self-policing itself has never worked. … It’s not a recipe for success. I’m hoping that there’s no doubt that there needs to be oversight.”

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2021


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