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Canada Tasha Kheiriddin: Trudeau's 'feminist' Liberals shut down a probe into military sexual misconduct

01:26  14 april  2021
01:26  14 april  2021 Source:   nationalpost.com

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While the country reels in the grip of COVID’s third wave, and the federal government scrambles to get more vaccines, many political issues that would normally take centre stage have been shunted to the sidelines. One of the most serious matters is the investigation by the House of Commons’ defence committee into allegations of sexual misconduct against former chief of the defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, and what Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau knew of them in 2018.

Harjit Sajjan wearing a suit and hat: Canada's Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada March 9, 2020. © Provided by National Post Canada's Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada March 9, 2020.

In February 2021, a month after Vance retired, Global News reported that Vance allegedly had an ongoing relationship with a woman whom he significantly outranked, and that he allegedly made a sexual comment to a second, younger female soldier in 2012, three years prior to him being appointed to head the Canadian Armed Forces. The matter is now under investigation by the military police. So are separate misconduct allegations against Vance’s successor, Admiral Art McDonald, who stepped down in February after just a few weeks on the job.

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This week, Liberal and Bloc Quebecois MPs teamed up to vote to shut down the committee, under howls of protest by the Tories and the NDP. The Liberals say that the 25 hours of testimony already heard by the committee is sufficient; the opposition counters that there were key witnesses the committee had yet to hear from. Those witnesses include Sajjan’s former chief of staff and a senior adviser to Trudeau. Their testimony is key to either substantiating or refuting damning testimony the committee heard from other witnesses, including former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne.

Walbourne told the committee last month that he met privately with Sajjan to raise sexual misconduct allegations involving Vance in 2018, but Sajjan was not interested in hearing them. “I tried to show him some evidence. He refused to look at it,” Walbourne testified. He added: “After this meeting, there were over a dozen requests from myself to the minister to meet. All were rejected.”

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Sajjan’s version differed. He testified that he didn’t allow Walbourne to provide him with details of the allegations because “any investigation should be free of political interference.” He further said that he directed Walbourne to submit the allegations to the “appropriate independent authority.”

According to Walbourne, Sajjan reported the meeting to the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister’s Office, which asked Walbourne for information about the complainant. But this was a catch-22: the complainant had not given Walbourne permission to divulge any of her details unless she was assured of “top cover” — i.e., confidentiality and protection — by the defence minister, the same person who was refusing to hear the details of her complaint.

The PCO then dropped the investigation for lack of evidence. Shortly thereafter, Vance got a salary-range boost of $50,000, signed off by the prime minister. Trudeau’s office explained that these increases are based on “the recommendation of the civil service.”

Liberals shut down probe into sexual misconduct in Canadian military

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The women who came forward to the committee are frustrated, dispirited and angry. In the words of Christine Wood , representing a group that led a class-action lawsuit against the federal government over sexual violence in the Armed Forces, “It is outrageous that two chiefs of the defence (staff) have faced allegations within weeks of each other, but it is even more outrageous to accept that one thousand and six hundred people report a sexual assault on average every year within the CAF.”

It is indeed. It is equally frustrating that a government and prime minister that continually flaunt their feminist credentials are failing to tackle misogyny and harassment within one of this country’s most important institutions. Canada’s military has an abysmal record on sexual misconduct and violence, dating back well before the current Liberal regime.

Ironically, Sajjan told the committee , “We must prevent the fear and the barriers that prevent people from coming forward. We need a complete and total culture change.” Yes we do. And when a PM holds himself out as a champion of women’s equality, on everything from abortion rights to gender parity, women have the right to expect transparency and action, not silence and shutdowns.

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This is interesting!