MP Report – April 2021
Tom Lukiwski, MP for Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan
Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan constituency is home to, two armed forces bases, as well as a large number of veterans and a great many civilians who have a higher-than-average respect for our country’s armed forces, so military issues are often top-of-mind in our area. While there is so much that Canada’s military does to make us proud, one area where our armed forces needs improvement is its treatment of female troops. These sorts of situations discourage women from military service, create general demoralization of the rank-and-file service members, and create loss of respect for our military on the world stage.
It was, therefore, a very serious situation when former defence chief Gen. Vance, one of the country’s top soldiers, was accused of sexual misconduct against former employees. The problem is that these allegations were also embarrassing for the Liberal government, who like to portray themselves as advocates of feminism but behind the scenes act otherwise (remember Jody Wilson-Raybould and sexual misconduct allegations against Trudeau himself).
The allegations against Vance were first brought forward by former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne, to whom the alleged victims had brought their complaints in confidence. In 2018, Walbourne took the allegations to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to ask him what the next steps should be for an investigation. Sajjan refused to listen and dismissed Walbourne from the room without explanation.
In testimony before the House of Commons Defence Committee, Sajjan first tried to assert that he had only heard about the allegations a few weeks ago. He also tried to avoid admitting that he had met with Walbourne on the topic. This whopper went all the way up the food chain, as Justin Trudeau himself in Question Period tried to assert that he had only heard about the allegations recently through “news reports” but that his office had also heard about them in 2018.
When the Liberals were finally caught in this web, Sajjan then claimed he shut down the discussion because he thought it would have been “inappropriate” for him to interfere in an investigation. But interfere is exactly what he did. Rather than establishing an independent investigation, he turned Walbourne’s allegations over to the Privy Council Office (PCO), the branch of the civil service responsible for providing political and policy support for the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Because it is tied directly to the government, the PCO is not qualified to conduct an independent, confidential investigation. Lacking confidence in the PCO’s independence, Walbourne felt it would be a breach of privacy to reveal the alleged victims to them.
The web surrounding the Vance investigation becomes more and more tangled. In February, Canada's new top military commander, Admiral Art McDonald suddenly stepped down after only two months on the job – a further sign of chaos in the armed forces under the Liberals’ watch. Minister Sajjan continues to try to muddy the waters with convoluted, hypocritical responses. Where there’s smoke there’s fire: it’s clear there’s something about this case that has the Liberal government very worried.
In the meantime, three years after having had the courage to come forward, the alleged victims continue to wait for justice. The current military ombudsman, Gregory Lick summed the situation up best in his testimony to the Defence Committee: "I say enough. Enough of the self-protectionism and deflecting. Enough political foot-dragging."