Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vigorously defended his senior aide on Tuesday, saying that although his office knew there was a complaint against then defense chief Jonathan Vance three years ago, no one knew that it was sexual misconduct.
The comments came in response to new questions about what the Prime Minister and his chief of staff, Katie Telford, knew about the allegation against Vance in March 2018 following testimony last week from one of the former advisers by Trudeau.
Responding to a question during one of his regular COVID-19 briefings, Trudeau described his chief of staff as “an extraordinarily strong leader” who was instrumental in pushing the federal government to become more feminist.
“It is because of Katie that I have sat down with several female leaders in the military and elsewhere to have conversations about this over the years, to see what more can and should be done,” he said. declared the Prime Minister.
He added that while “my office knew there was a complaint against General (now retired) Vance, no one knew it was a ‘Me too” complaint. information on the nature of this complaint. allegation. “
Trudeau later repeated the comments in the House of Commons in response to the Conservatives’ questions, adding in French that “there was no one in my office or in the office of (Defense) Minister (Harjit) Sajjan who knew the nature of the complaint ”.
WATCH | Trudeau on what his chief of staff knew about Vance’s allegations
Former adviser contradicts defense minister’s story
Former Trudeau adviser Elder Marques told a parliamentary committee on Friday that Telford or an aide contacted him in early March 2018 to speak with Sajjan’s senior aide about a matter relating to Vance.
The request came shortly after then-military ombudsman Gary Walbourne filed a complaint against Vance for inappropriate sexual behavior during a closed-door meeting with Sajjan on March 1, 2018.
Marques’ testimony appeared to contradict the sequence of events expounded by Sajjan earlier this month and raised new questions about what Trudeau knew about the allegation before Global News reported on it in February.
Although the nature of the complaint reported by Walbourne has not been confirmed, Global has reported that it was an obscene email Vance allegedly sent to a member of the service that he vastly outperformed in 2012, before to become Commander of the Canadian Army.
Trudeau denied having personal knowledge of the allegations until Global’s story broke on February 2.
Vance, who resigned as Chief of the Defense Staff in January and retired from the military in April, did not respond to requests for comment from the Canadian Press. Global has reported that he denies any wrongdoing.
In the House of Commons, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole pointed to Marques testimony and partially redacted email exchanges on March 2, 2018 referring to “allegations of sexual harassment” to undermine Trudeau’s claim on Tuesday.
The emails dated March 2, 2018, obtained by The Canadian Press, are between Privy Council official Janine Sherman and someone else who appears to be offering advice on how Sherman should approach Walbourne to begin investigating the allegation.
Sherman testified that she exchanged emails on that date with “people from the Prime Minister’s office,” although the emails discussing the sexual harassment appear to be from someone in Sajjan’s office.
“He just told the House that his office didn’t know they were of a ‘me too’ nature,” O’Toole said as he held a piece of paper in the House of Commons. “The only problem is that his team used the term ‘sexual harassment’ in their emails about this incident in March 2018.
“Will the Prime Minister be honest with this House and with the women who courageously serve in our Canadian Armed Forces that he knew about it and let them down for three years?”
Conservatives push for Telford to testify
Conservatives on the defense committee, meanwhile, relied on Marques’ testimony as evidence that more hearings are needed to find out why the Liberal government has not done more to investigate the allegation against Vance.
The defense committee is expected to meet again on Friday, where the Tories are expected to press for Telford to testify.
Walbourne testified that he told Sajjan the complaint related to “inappropriate sexual behavior”, but Marques was more wary about whether he and Telford knew the nature of the complaint.
“I believe I was told the problem was a personal fault issue,” Marques told the Commons defense committee.
“I have to say, in the context of hearing this, that I think my presumption certainly was that it could be sexual in nature, but I don’t think I received this information specifically.”
Former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick was also uncertain, although he told the committee that at the time, email exchanges between Marques, Sajjan’s chief of staff, Zita Astravas, and a senior official, Janine Sherman, may have referred to sexual misconduct.
Sherman was accused of reviewing the allegation against Vance, but told the committee she could not conduct an investigation because Walbourne would not provide information on the complaint.
“I think the language was’ potential sexual harassment,” Wernick said. “There is a back and forth of emails between Zita, Janine and Elder. I would definitely say it was in the realm of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment, but I couldn’t speak in the exact language. “