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‘Time for patience is over’: Sajjan vows action on culture change within Canadian Forces

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OTTAWA —
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says he’s committed to swift action on the promise of widespread culture change within the Canadian Armed Forces following allegations of misconduct against two top military officials.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period with host Evan Solomon, Sajjan said the Forces need to start “preventing” these kinds of events, rather than “reacting” to them.

Sajjan announced Wednesday evening that Admiral Art McDonald was “voluntarily” stepping aside as Canada’s chief of defence staff, while a military police investigation into unspecified allegations of misconduct against him is ongoing. Sajjan appointed Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre as acting chief of the defence staff in the interim.

There is also a separate investigation into McDonald’s predecessor, Jonathan Vance, who McDonald replaced just six weeks ago. Following Vance’s retirement, military police launched an investigation into his alleged inappropriate conduct while in uniform that CTV News has not independently verified. Vance has denied wrongdoing.

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“The key most important piece of this is this, when you learn something, do you take action?” said Sajjan. “Regardless of rank, or your position, regardless of [whether] you’re at the top or you’re a corporal, we will take everything seriously.”

Questions have been raised as to when Sajjan and his office were made aware of the allegations against McDonald. He offered more clarity on Sunday’s episode, stating that he was informed following the “change of command.”

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McDonald was selected to take on his new role on Dec. 23, and he was later sworn in on Jan. 14, using his first address to apologize to Forces members who have faced discrimination or harassment while serving.

“That’s what I’m trying to emphasize here, when we learn of something we take immediate and strong action, but it was definitely after the change of command,” he said.

Sajjan added that a review of the vetting process for leadership positions will be undertaken as part of the overall culture shift.

“When it comes to creating that culture change, the time for patience is over.”

The House of Commons National Defence Committee has also begun its own study into “addressing sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces” and the investigations are reviving conversations about the need for external oversight of the military.

Sajjan repeated that the investigation underway by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) is already “independent” because while the military police does report to the vice chief of the defence staff, the CFNIS does not.

“They’re actually independent of the chain of command when it comes to investigations. Having said this, I will be reviewing all the independence of things to see what the process is,” he said.

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In a separate interview on CTV’s Question Period, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole – a former Air Force navigator— echoed the need to keep the inquiry completely separate from the organization, as was done with the investigation into workplace culture at Rideau Hall by The Quintet Consulting Corporation.

“The chief of defence staff is a very important institution within Canada, within our Armed Forces, that’s why we need to take these investigations outside,” he said.

“As a veteran, I am proud of the Canadian Armed Forces and I want it to be that beacon for everyone.”

With files from CTV News’ Rachel Aiello

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