Canada’s former top bureaucrat testifies fighter jet purchase distracted from allegation of sexual misconduct against top general

Published by Brent Patterson on

In testimony to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Defence yesterday, former Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick suggested that other priorities – including the purchase of new fighter jets – “caused us to lose focus” on the allegation of sexual misconduct involving Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance.

CTV reports: “[Canada’s former top bureaucrat] said at the time there were other preoccupations including the implementation of new defence policies, a renewed acquisition of fighters jets, Canada’s deployment to Mali, the Armed Forces’ leadership of the NATO training mission in Iraq, and the fact that Vance had good relations with the U.S. military at a time of turbulence in the White House.”

The Ottawa Citizen also reports: “Those included the RCMP charge laid against Vice Adm. Mark Norman for allegedly leaking information about shipbuilding, concerns about how U.S. President Donald Trump was affecting defence issues, attempts to purchase new fighter jets, and significant turnover and upheaval in the senior military leadership.

Wernick told the standing committee: “I concede in hindsight that they probably caused us to lose focus on the issue of sexual misconduct.”

An allegation against Vance came to light in March 2018. Military ombudsman Gary Walbourne raised the report with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan at that time. Wernick and Sajjan met in May and June 2018 to discuss Vance’s performance, but neither of them raised the allegation against Vance in those meetings.

This somewhat coincides with the acquisition schedule for new fighter jets.

In January 2018, the Government of Canada held an open information session with over 200 participants from more than 80 companies to provide information on how it planned to buy new fighter jets. By October 2018, a draft version of the request for proposals was released to eligible suppliers for their review and feedback.

Military police launched an investigation into the sexual misconduct allegation in February 2021 after Vance retired from the military.

Several years ago, a report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps on sexual harassment in the military found: “There is an underlying sexualized culture in the CAF that is hostile to women and LGTBQ members, and conducive to more serious incidents of sexual harassment and assault.”

She further noted: “There is a broadly held perception in the lower ranks that those in the chain of command either condone inappropriate sexual conduct or are willing to turn a blind eye to such incidents.”

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