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

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

Williams Lake RCMP are asking the public for assistance locating Marion Louise Billy. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake RCMP seek woman wanted for theft, weapon possession

RCMP released the information Thursday, May 6

Audrey McKinnon was officially named the NDP nominee for the federal riding of Cariboo-Prince George. (Twitter)
Audrey McKinnon confirmed as Cariboo Prince-George federal NDP nominee

The nomination comes during speculation the federal government

Gibraltar Mine general manager and community sports coach Ben Pierce moved to Williams Lake in 2008 for a career, and has fallen in love with the area while raising his family in the Cariboo. (Photo submitted)
OUR HOMETOWN: Mine manager on solid ground

Juggling academics, sports and a family was a challenge, but Pierce said he and Liselle made it work

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

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

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Most Read