‘Sad Story All Around’: Sexual Misconduct in Canada’s Military

March 3, 2021 Updated: March 3, 2021

Both the current and former chiefs of the defence staff of the Canadian Armed Forces are being investigated for allegations of inappropriate behaviour, prompting a much deeper look into sexual misconduct in the military than efforts that had begun nearly six years earlier.

“It’s very serious and unsettling to see the former chief, and now our newly selected chief, to see these allegations and investigations into their behaviours,” retired Lt.-Gen. Guy Thibault said in an interview, referring to Gen. Jonathan Vance and Adm. Art McDonald respectively.

Thibault, a former vice chief of the defence staff himself, was Vance’s boss when some of the misconduct allegedly took place.

“Beyond what the media has reported on, I don’t have any additional information,” he said. “It’s a story that a lot of folks are quite interested in and a bit of a sad story all around.”

On Feb. 2, Global News reported allegations of sexual misconduct by Vance against two female subordinates. One of those women, Maj. Kellie Brennan, has since gone on record to say she’d had a sexual relationship with Vance while she was directly under his command. The second woman, a corporal, alleged that Vance in an email in 2012 had suggested going with her to a clothing-optional vacation spot. Vance says he has no recollection of that incident and also denied any inappropriate activity with Brennan.

McDonald, who replaced Vance as defence chief on Jan. 14, promised an investigation. However, he himself was replaced on Feb. 24 after voluntarily stepping aside when he also came under investigation. CBC reported that the allegations against him date back to 2010 and involve a female junior officer at a party aboard HMCS Montreal, at which alcohol was consumed, while the ship was in the Arctic.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has appointed army commander Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre as acting defence chief. However, Sajjan also faces questions, since retired military ombudsman Gary Walbourne reportedly raised concerns about Vance with him in 2018.

Thibault said the military has stepped up efforts to address sexual misconduct since reports on the issue appeared in 2013. Retired Supreme Court of Canada justice Marie Deschamps conducted an investigation and made recommendations in 2015, resulting in an initiative called Operation Honour, which was launched by Vance.

“The last six years, the effort has been placed on confronting the challenges … to hold people to account from a disciplinary side, the administrative action taken against perpetrators, providing victim support,” Thibault said.

“It’s hard to overstate how much work has been done, but the truth is that there are still incidents unfortunately still happening.”

The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service is looking into the allegations. The House of Commons defence committee has also launched a study into the matter.

Charlotte Duval-Lantoine of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, who has studied the topic of leadership, culture change, and gender integration in the Canadian Forces during the 1990s and who won a prize for an essay on this theme in 2018, believes an independent investigation is required.

“I think that the actual independence part is necessary,” Duval-Lantoine told The Epoch Times.

“We need to have a new commission of inquiry or board of inquiry, similar to what we had on the deployment in Croatia, or the deployment in Somalia in the 1990s.”

She says, however, that the investigation alone won’t be able to solve the problem, as it must be addressed by the leadership to change the culture that leads to misconduct.

“It starts at the top,” she said.

Operation Honour confirmed 84 cases of sexual assault and 172 incidents of sexual misconduct other than sexual assault in the 2018–19 reporting year, out of 302 investigations recorded that year, according to the latest tracking report.

Over 85 percent of the complainants were females and 62 percent were junior non-commissioned members, who hold ranks from private to corporal and master corporal. The investigations resulted in four people being permanently removed from command and 14 permanently removed from supervisory positions, among other actions taken.