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Former military commander in Canada accused of obstructing justice

OTTAWA – The former senior Canadian military officer, under investigation for sexual misconduct, was charged on Thursday with obstruction of justice, the latest in a series of events that have highlighted widespread harassment and conflicts of interest in the country’s military, largely involving elite force.

The charge against General Jonathan Vance, the former Chief of Defense Staff of the Canadian Forces, who twice led military troops based in Kandahar, Afghanistan, stems from an investigation into allegations sexual misconduct brought against him.

In a statement, the Canadian Forces investigative arm provided no details other than that obstruction of justice occurred in February, during its investigation. The general retired in January.

Michel Drapeau, a former Canadian military officer who now teaches law at the University of Ottawa, said no chief of defense staff has ever faced criminal charges.

“Many active and retired members like me see this with dismay and sadness,” he said in a telephone interview. “We don’t know if this is the end or the start of a process – there are so many allegations.”

Global News, a broadcaster, reported that court documents showed Mr Vance contacted a woman and asked her to “make false statements about their past relationship” to investigators.

The charge against Mr. Vance has been brought under criminal law rather than through the military justice system and will be heard in a civilian court, the investigation service said. Several military law experts argue that the design of Canada’s military justice system makes it impossible to court martial the superior force commander, an unprecedented step.

The charges are the latest step in a series of events linked to sexual misconduct and the country’s military elite. Two reviews, one released last month, also found that the Canadian military is in the throes of sexual harassment.

Shortly after the investigation of Mr. Vance began, Admiral Art McDonald, his successor, stepped down when he was the subject of a separate misconduct investigation.

Even the rollout of the vaccine in Canada has been affected by allegations of sexual misconduct. Major-General Dany Fortin resigned in May as chief of deployment logistics after being investigated into allegations of misconduct that arose while a student at the military college.

In March, Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson, Chief of Military Personnel, took indefinite leave while under investigation for sexual misconduct.

And last month, the Army’s second-in-command resigned after inviting Mr. Vance to a game of golf. Lt. Gen. Mike Rouleau, vice chief of the defense staff, said he offered the game to Mr. Vance “for his welfare.”

While General Rouleau said the investigation had not been discussed, he admitted that he understood “how such activity could lead some to perceive a potential conflict of interest”.

In 2019, the government allocated $ 690 million to resolve complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct within its military that were brought in five class actions.

As incidents mounted, opposition MPs called for the resignation of Harjit Sajjan, the defense minister who is a former army lieutenant colonel and served in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

In February, Global News aired an interview with Kellie Brennan, a former army major, who said she had sex with Mr. Vance for several years, including periods when she was under his command in Toronto. and in Ottawa.

In April, during a House of Commons committee hearing, Ms Brennan said Mr Vance told her he was ‘untouchable’ and asked him to lie if asked about their relationship. .

Although Mr Vance never threatened her physically, Ms Brennan said, he made it clear that there would be serious consequences if she spoke out against him.

She also testified that he fathered two of her children during their relationship, but that he does not support them.

Mr. Vance made no comment on Thursday. In the past, he has denied having sex with Ms Brennan while she was under his command, but admitted that they dated in 2001.

Investigators are also reviewing emails Mr. Vance sent to another female military.

While serving as Chief of the Defense Staff, a post he was appointed to by the previous Conservative government, General Vance launched a high-profile campaign to end sexual harassment in the military. The ongoing investigation has led the military to develop a new plan based, instead, on the latest independent review.

In the report of that review, Morris Fish, a former Supreme Court justice, found that sexual misconduct remains as “debilitating, endemic and destructive” as it was in a similar review in 2015. .

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