Conservative members on one of the parliamentary committees probing allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces are pushing for an “urgent” meeting to call more witnesses.
Global News obtained a copy of the meeting request sent to the clerk of the House of Commons defence committee on Thursday morning. It says testimony last week by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s chief of staff, Katie Telford, “directly contradicts” previous testimony from high-profile witnesses, and that more witnesses are needed to clear up the information presented.
Among the witnesses cited in the request are Elder Marques, former senior advisor to Trudeau in 2018, as well as ex-military ombudsman Gary Walbourne, Defence Minister Harijt Sajjan and Janine Sherman, a senior bureaucrat in the Privy Council Office in charge of personnel matters.
“We believe Members of the Committee must reconvene publicly on an urgent basis to discuss the matter of witnesses,” the letter to the chair sent by the four Conservative members reads.
It did not cite specific examples of the testimony that Conservatives described as contradictory.
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The defence committee is one of two parliamentary committees that have been studying allegations of high-level sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces, first reported by Global News on Feb. 2.
As part of that study, the committee has heard testimony into the government’s handling of a March 2018 allegation made against Gen. Jonathan Vance, who retired as chief of the defence staff in Jan. 2021.
That testimony has centred around the allegation that Walbourne said he shared with Sajjan and that both individuals say Sajjan refused to look at evidence Walbourne had brought to show him.
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Instead, Sajjan says he referred the matter to his chief of staff, who passed it to the Prime Minister’s Office, who passed it to the Privy Council Office, who promptly opened — and then abandoned — a probe.
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Marques had testified last month that he first learned of the allegation from either Telford or her assistant on March 2, 2018 — the day after Walbourne shared it with Sajjan.
But Telford testified that she learned of the allegation from Marques, and said she could not recall whether there had been any previous information shared with her office about it.
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Multiple current and former serving members of the Canadian military have come forward publicly in the last three months to share their experiences of sexual misconduct during service and urge change.
In particular, the women and men speaking out have called for the creation of an independent reporting system so allegations can be probed outside the military chain of command, as well as for reforms to how military police handle sexual misconduct allegations.
Sajjan announced two weeks ago the launch of an independent, external review into the problem of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces, led by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour.
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That review will take between 12 and 18 months but Arbour is expected to file both monthly progress reports to Sajjan and interim recommendations ahead of a final report outlining a plan to create an independent reporting system for sexual misconduct in the military.
Experts say the military is now reckoning with an institutional crisis.
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