The Canadian Press with CNC files
OTTAWA — A House of Commons investigation into the Trudeau government's handling of sexual misconduct allegations in the Canadian Armed Forces has been shut down by the combined votes of Liberal and Bloc MPs.
The standing committee on national defence had been probing the issue, including specific allegations made against former chief of defence staff Gen. Johnathan Vance.
The committee heard the military ombudsman raised concerns about Gen. Vance directly to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan in 2018, contradicting Sajjan's statements that he had first learned about the allegation through media reports in winter 2021.
The committee heard staff for the Minister of Defence passed along concerns to the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister, but were not followed up. Testimony also stated the Prime Minister's Office was alerted to the allegations in 2018. However, in defiance of a committee motion, last week, the Liberals refused to allow PMO advisor Eldon Marques to appear and give testimony to the committee.
Like the Defence Minister, the Prime Minister said he was unaware of the 2018 allegations until news reports made them public earlier this year. After testimony confirming his office was informed, Trudeau changed his tune, saying he was aware of the allegations but unaware of their details until earlier this year.
Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld, the parliamentary secretary to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, proposed the motion to shut down the inquiry. The motion passed with the support of a Bloc Quebecois MP.
It called for committee members to get their drafting recommendations into the clerk by Friday in hopes that a report is tabled in the House of Commons by June.
Vandenbeld said survivors of military sexual trauma want the inquiry to be shut down so the report could be written.
Conservative Manitoba MP James Bezan, who sits on the committee and is the party's defence critic, told the House of Commons that the Liberals' shut down of the investigation amounts to a cover up.
He accused Liberal parliamentarians of stopping the committee of hearing from key witnesses and finding out what Sajjan knew at the time when issues were first raised with him several years earlier.
NDP defence critic Randall Garrison also emphasized prior to Monday's vote the importance of hearing from Marques given ongoing questions about whether Trudeau was informed at any point about the allegations involving Vance.
In response, Sajjan said he appeared at the committee three times for more than six hours and looks forward to its recommendations.
Bezan noted in an interview that the committee has yet to hear from Sajjan's former chief of staff Zita Astravas or Elder Marques, who was a senior adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2018.
"We still haven't heard from some of the key witnesses that the Liberals have been blocking from coming," Bezan said.
Opposition parties had been hoping to grill both ministerial aides over who in the Prime Minister's Office were told about the allegations involving Vance three years ago, and why more wasn't done.