Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau bemoaned the “frustrating” protocols in place to deal with sexual misconduct claims in the Canadian military, claiming that they stopped him and others from taking action in the case of Gen. Jonathan Vance on Thursday.
During the TVA French language leaders discussion in Montreal, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole slammed Trudeau for his handling of the charges against the former chief of defence staff.
In his response, Trudeau said it’s “frustrating” to rely on the processes currently in place that dictate how women report sexual misconduct allegations — and how they’re handled within the military and the government.
Asked by reporters after the debate to further clarify his remarks, Trudeau said in English he meant the current systems in place “aren’t yet good enough or strong enough to deal with (allegations) properly.”
“The answer is always imperfect to say, ‘there’s a process we have to follow,’” he said. “‘Yes, we will give credibility and processes of resources to anyone who comes forward, but we have to rely on third party verifiers and experts to make determinations to make sure we’re getting it right.’ That’s not a satisfactory answer.
“So saying, ‘well, there are processes’ is not a satisfactory answer to me or to anyone, but it’s the best answer that we have.”
Trudeau noted that his government has introduced new policies meant to protect victims who come forward with sexual misconduct allegations, and that more “rigorous processes” will be created if he wins a third term as prime minister.
“There is so much more to do,” he said.
But Trudeau did not mention specifically what those new processes could be, including whether he will move forward with an independent reporting system — something that has been recommended by other party leaders and experts.
During the debate, O’Toole accused Trudeau of a lack of leadership when it comes to protecting female members of the Canadian Forces from sexual harassment, repeatedly stressing that there should be zero tolerance for such behaviour.O’Toole said Trudeau’s office “camouflaged” allegations that Vance acted inappropriately towards female subordinates while serving as chief of defence staff, and asked Trudeau if he regretted giving Vance a salary increase after the allegations were made in 2018.
Trudeau refused to answer that question, but then admitted that it was “frustrating” to have to follow the processes that are in place to keep such allegations independent from political interference.
“Mr. Trudeau, you were in charge. That’s not acceptable,” O’Toole said before the topic was changed.
Trudeau has said he did not personally know about a complaint against Vance that was disclosed to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2018, and his staff did not know the details of the allegation.
Global News reported on Feb. 2, 2021, that Vance is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour with two female subordinates, which he denies.
On Feb. 3, one day after Global News reported on the claims against Vance, military police launched an inquiry. Since then, allegations have been leveled against a number of senior Canadian Forces officers, resulting in what analysts have termed as a military institutional crisis.
Following an inquiry into allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior, Vance was charged with one count of obstruction of justice last month. In that case, he has denied any misconduct and has not been charged in connection with the original charges.