Canada’s former military ombudsman said today he warned Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan about possible sexual misconduct involving Gen. Jonathan Vance in his final meeting with the minister three years ago.
Gary Walbourne appeared before a Parliamentary committee today to deliver a blistering indictment of Sajjan’s handling of the allegation against Vance — chief of the defence staff at the time — during a private meeting on March 1, 2018.
“I did tell the minister what the allegation was. I reached into my pocket to show him the evidence I was holding. He pushed back from the table and said, ‘No,’ and I don’t think we exchanged another word,” Walbourne said.
The meeting ended, Walbourne said, when he asked Sajjan for direction on what to do about the allegation.
“I wanted the minister to do his job,” he said. “There was no book. There was no manual about what to do with an allegation against the chief of the defence staff.”
‘I will not reveal the name’
Walbourne refused to get into the substance of the allegation against Vance, saying the complainant had told him she was not filing a formal complaint.
“I had explained to minister Sajjan that the complainant has approached me only after the assurance of confidentiality,” he said. “I will not reveal the name of the complainant or the details of the complaint, for this is their story to tell, not mine.”
Much of what Walbourne had to tell the committee was first reported by CBC News, quoting confidential sources, in a series of stories over the past month.
But his committee appearance today offered the first official, public acknowledgement of what was said in the meeting and calls Sajjan’s actions into question.
The meeting was the nadir of a poisoned relationship between Walbourne and Sajjan that led to the watchdog’s resignation and early departure from the post later that year.
Walbourne walked the committee through a separate workplace harassment investigation of his office, suggesting it was a political vendetta that only accelerated after the acrimonious meeting with Sajjan.
The House of Commons defence committee is investigating what the Liberal government knew, and when, about allegations of sexual misconduct involving Vance.
Sajjan has declined repeatedly to discuss the concerns Walbourne raised with him, citing confidentiality. He has insisted that whenever “allegations” were brought to him, he handed them to the “appropriate authorities.”
Walbourne said that, the day after he told Sajjan about the complaint, he was called to the Privy Council Office where he was asked about the allegation.
“I was shocked they knew about it. I was completely floored when they asked about the allegation involving the chief of the defence staff,” he said, noting he had asked Sajjan to keep the matter confidential.
The Privy Council Office review, however, was stymied by Walbourne’s refusal to separately turn over potentially incriminating emails and the name of the female military member who had complained informally to him about Vance.
Without those leads, senior officials appeared unable to pursue concerns he had raised, both in writing and in the meeting with Sajjan.
The Privy Council Office is responsible for the conduct of governor-in-council appointments such as the defence chief. The government has not said whether PCO shared the concerns with the Prime Minister’s Office.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said publicly he first learned about the allegations against Vance through a Global News report last month. That report alleged the former top commander had had a long-standing, inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate, and separately had sent a racy email to a junior female non-commissioned officer.