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Defence Minister under the microscope after latest Canadian Forces sexual conduct controversy

Defence Minister under the microscope after latest Canadian Forces sexual conduct controversy

Is it possible there is simply no one in the senior ranks of the Canadian Forces whose personal record will withstand scrutiny on the subject of sexual misconduct? That is the impression left in the wake of the latest public relations fiasco the Canadian Forces. Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe had been assigned to review recommendations from an ongoing external review by retired Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour, into military sexual misconduct.

Prior to the appointment, Dawe had been on paid administrative leave after it was revealed he wrote positive character references to a judge ahead of the sentencing of Maj. Jonathan Hamilton, who earlier was found guilty of sexually assaulting a retired military officer and physically assaulting her husband. Dawes later issued an apology. Immediately as the appointment was made, there was a chorus of outrage at Dawe’s appointment from survivors of sexual assault in the Canadian military and many observers.

At a news conference in Ottawa Wednesday Prime Minister Trudeau made no attempt to disguise his disgust with the public relations disaster.

The Dawes affair appears to have done damage to Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan’s status in the Trudeau cabinet. Asked about his confidence in his minister, Trudeau would only say that every candidate for the new cabinet will be closely scrutinized.

The episode is only the latest in a series of allegations of improper sexual contact involving the top brass in the Canadian forces.

Gen. Jonathan Vance: Former chief of the defence staff who stepped down on Jan. 14. A subordinate at the heart of the sexual misconduct allegations, Maj. Kellie Brennan, told a parliamentary committee that Vance fathered two children with her but has taken no responsibility for them during a relationship that allegedly began in 2001 and continued after Vance became top commander in 2015.

Admiral Art McDonald: Vance’s successor who stepped aside six weeks after taking the top job. A former commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, McDonald voluntarily gave up his new post when the defence minister announced on Feb. 24 that military police were looking into an allegation, which hasn’t been detailed publicly.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan: Sajjan has come under fire from opposition MPs and the one-time Canadian Armed Forces ombudsman over his handling of misconduct allegations. A former army lieutenant-colonel and Vancouver police detective, Sajjan has argued he was right to pass off responsibility for a report of misconduct against Vance in March 2018 to the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic operation that supports the Prime Minister’s Office. He told the House defence committee earlier this year that drawing an elected official into a probe would be “wrong and dangerous, politicizing any investigation.”

Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson: A top-ranking military officer who temporarily left his job following media reports of an allegation of sexual assault. The head of military personnel in Ottawa stepped aside last month as he faces a military police investigation. He has denied the allegations.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin: The former head of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout who was abruptly replaced in May, five days before the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service referred a sexual misconduct investigation to the Quebec prosecution service to determine whether charges should be laid. Through his lawyers, Fortin has denied any wrongdoing.

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