Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Thursday, April 30, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says nobody in his office knew an allegation against Canada’s top military officer three years ago was a “Me Too complaint.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Thursday, April 30, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says nobody in his office knew an allegation against Canada’s top military officer three years ago was a “Me Too complaint.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

PM defends aide, says office didn’t know Vance allegations were ‘Me Too complaint’

Trudeau has denied personally knowing about the allegations until the story broke on Feb. 2

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vigorously defended his top aide on Tuesday, saying that while his office knew there was a complaint against then-defence chief general Jonathan Vance three years ago, no one knew it was about sexual misconduct.

The comments came in response to fresh questions about what the prime minister and his chief of staff, Katie Telford, knew about the allegation against Vance in March 2018 following testimony last week from one of Trudeau’s former advisers.

Responding to a question during one of his regular COVID-19 briefings, Trudeau described his chief of staff as “an extraordinarily strong leader” who has been instrumental in pushing the federal government to become more feminist.

“It’s because of Katie that I have sat down with multiple women leaders within the Armed Forces and elsewhere to have conversations about this over the years to look at what more can and should be done,” the prime minister said.

He went on to say that while “my office knew there was a complaint against (now retired) general Vance, nobody knew that it was a ‘Me Too’ complaint. We did not have information on what was the nature of that complaint of that allegation.”

Trudeau later repeated the comments in the House of Commons in response to Conservative questions, adding in French that “there was no one in my office or in (Defence) Minister (Harjit) Sajjan’s office who knew the nature of the complaint.”

Former Trudeau adviser Elder Marques told a parliamentary committee on Friday that Telford or her assistant contacted him in early March 2018 to speak with Sajjan’s top aide about an issue relating to Vance.

That request came shortly after then-military ombudsman Gary Walbourne raised a complaint against Vance of inappropriate sexual behaviour with Sajjan during a closed-door meeting on March 1, 2018.

The testimony from Marques appeared to contradict the sequence of events laid out by Sajjan earlier this month, and raised new questions about what Trudeau knew about the allegation before Global News reported on the allegations in February.

While the nature of the complaint reported by Walbourne has not been confirmed, Global has reported that it involves a lewd email Vance allegedly sent to a service member he significantly outranked in 2012, before he became commander of Canada’s military.

Trudeau has denied personally knowing about the allegations until the Global story broke on Feb. 2.

Vance, who stepped down as chief of the defence staff in January and retired from the military in April, has not responded to requests for comment from The Canadian Press, but Global has reported he denies any wrongdoing.

In the House of Commons, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole pointed to Marques’ testimony as well as partially redacted email exchanges on March 2, 2018 referencing “allegations of sexual harassment” to undermine Trudeau’s claim on Tuesday.

The emails dated March 2, 2018, obtained by The Canadian Press, are between Privy Council official Janine Sherman and someone else who appears to be offering advice on how Sherman should approach Walbourne to start investigating the allegation.

Sherman has testified that she exchanged emails on that date with “people in the Prime Minister’s Office,” though the emails discussing sexual harassment appear to have originated from someone within Sajjan’s office.

“He just told the House that his office was not aware that they were of a ‘Me Too’ nature,” O’Toole said as he held a piece of paper in the House of Commons. “The only trouble is his team used the term sexual harassment in their emails about this incident in March 2018.

“Will the prime minister be honest with this house and with the women serving bravely in our Canadian Armed Forces that he was aware and he failed them for three years?”

Conservatives on the defence committee, meanwhile, have latched onto Marques’ testimony as evidence that more hearings are needed to find out why the Liberal government didn’t do more to investigate the allegation against Vance.

The defence committee is scheduled to meet again on Friday, where the Tories are expected to push for Telford to testify.

Walbourne has testified he told Sajjan the complaint related to “inappropriate sexual behaviour,” but Marques was more circumspect in whether he and Telford knew about the nature of the complaint.

“I believe I was told that the issue was an issue of personal misconduct,” Marques told the Commons defence committee.

“I have to say, in the context of hearing that, that I think my presumption was certainly that it could be of a sexual nature, but I don’t think I was actually given that information specifically.”

Former Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick was also uncertain, though he told the committee that email exchanges between Marques, Sajjan’s chief of staff Zita Astravas and a senior civil servant, Janine Sherman, at the time may have referred to sexual misconduct.

Sherman was charged with looking into the allegation against Vance, but has told the committee that she could not conduct an investigation because Walbourne would not provide information about the complaint.

“I think the language was ‘potential sexual harassment,’” Wernick said. “There is a back-and-forth of emails between Zita, Janine and Elder. I certainly would say that it was in the realm of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment, but I couldn’t speak to the exact language.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Canadian Armed ForcesJustin Trudeau

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Younger Princeton residents are now being urged to register for a vaccination notification. (Black Press Media photo)
Princeton lags behind in vaccination rates

Approximately 24 per cent of residents here have received their first dose

Memorials have been set up to honour those who died during the Second World War. (Pixabay.com)
COLUMN: It’s time to stop making comparisons to Hitler

The deadliest, most destructive war in human history should not become a metaphor

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

An example of one the sounding boards the RDOS has set up to gather feedback for their first parks, trails and recreation master plan. (RDOS)
Looking for feedback from Princeton and Keremeos for park and rec plan

Sounding boards have been set up in both regions for in-person input

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Kelowna OK Tire closed due to COVID-19 exposure

The business will remain closed until May 11

The dash cam footage, taken May 7 at 8:18 a.m. belonged to the driver of a southbound vehicle that recently travelled out of the tunnel. (Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Coronavirus 3D illustration. (CDC photo)
Two South Okanagan businesses closed due to COVID-19

The businesses are listed on the Interior Health website

Police were on the scene of a fatal shooting in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. government to give more than $8 million for programs to curb gang violence

221 not-for-profit projects led by local governments and school districts among others will receive a one-time grant

Gord Judson steers his log truck down a forest service road, using two-way radio and call signals to mark his position for oncoming traffic. (B.C. Forest Safety Council)
Planning some B.C. wilderness fishing? Don’t catch a log truck

Remote recreation areas bracing for heavy pandemic pressure

Former University of British Columbia student Stephanie Hale, 22. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Bassett
Human Rights Tribunal to hear complaint against UBC Okanagan for ‘mishandling’ sexual assault report

Stephanie Hale did not return to campus after the student she alleges attacked her was cleared of wrongdoing

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman’s restaurant is located in the tiny community of Field, which relies on tourism

Most Read