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

Photo: RCMP
Rossland pedestrian dies after being pinned between 2 vehicles

RCMP Sgt. advises that victim services is available for anyone requiring help

Dani Evans with her brother Alex, 9, and George, her buddy dog (a guide dog for children). Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Visually impaired girl walks for Nelson Friends of the Family

Dani Evans is raising money through the month of May

Pharmacist Barbara Violo shows a vile of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Castlegar pharmacies gets additional AstraZeneca vaccines

Several Castlegar pharmacies list appointment openings this week

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

Castlegar City Hall. (Photo: Kristen Lawson)
City of Castlegar finance reports for 2020 show revenue losses

Some losses were offset by savings and grants

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
B.C. to provide three days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

(Pixabay)
B.C. doctors could face consequences for spreading COVID misinformation: college

College says doctors have a higher level of responsibility to not spread incorrect information

Kelowna resident Sally Wallick helped rescue a kayaker in distress a week and a half ago. (Sally Wallick/Contributed)
VIDEO: Kelowna woman rescues capsized kayaker in Okanagan Lake

Sally Wallick is asking people to be prepared for the cold water and unpredictable winds

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about phase two in B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
All of B.C. will eventually ease out of COVID-19 restrictions at same time: Henry

People who have received two doses of a vaccine can’t yet return to post-pandemic activities with each other, she says

Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Copp (9) and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) watch an incoming shot during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, April 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
‘Very jealous’: Canadian teams can’t take advantage of NHL’s relaxed COVID-19 rules

League eased some tight COVID-19 health and safety protocols over the weekend for fully vaccinated clubs

A map of Huu-ay-aht-owned forestry cutblock. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
B.C. First Nations restrict access to territory in wake of forestry standoffs

Huu-ay-aht set up checkpoints after heated and dangerous incidents on southwest Vancouver Island

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Most Read