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Concerns about Gen. Jon Vance’s alleged relationships with female subordinates were talked about among military leaders and in the defence community over the past several years, but no action was taken because no official complaints were ever filed.
The Canadian Forces announced Wednesday it will investigate allegations about the former chief of the defence staff. National Defence spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier said the investigation will be independent but added that “the specifics around any investigation have yet to be determined.”
The investigation follows a report by Global News that Vance allegedly had an ongoing relationship with a woman he significantly outranked. Global also reported that Vance is alleged to have made a sexual suggestion to a second, much younger soldier in 2012, before he was appointed chief of the defence staff.
This newspaper requested comment from Vance but he has not responded.
One of the women in the Global report raised concerns about Vance’s behaviour with the Canadian Forces Ombudsman but she declined to file a formal complaint, this newspaper has confirmed. She wanted the ombudsman’s office to be aware of the issue. Without a complaint little could be done, according to sources familiar with the matter.
In addition, sources say concerns about allegations of Vance’s alleged behaviour were acknowledged among senior staff and their wives when the general was named as chief of the defence staff in 2015 by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Other generals were also aware of allegations and some National Defence headquarters staff discussed the situation among themselves but without formal complaints from the women they did nothing.
The relationships were consensual. Some of the concerns, sources say, focused on the power-imbalance of having a senior officer allegedly in a relationship with a woman in lower-ranked positions.
Vance was also the driving force behind Operation Honour, the military’s effort to quash sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces and some officers suggested his alleged behaviour undercut that initiative.
The current Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Art McDonald, issued a statement Wednesday announcing an investigation into the allegations about Vance will be conducted. “To us, the strong and accomplished CAF/DND team, the allegations in recent media reports regarding my predecessor are quite troubling — indeed, distressing and hurtful for all of us to contemplate,” McDonald said in a statement to military personnel. “Like you, I worry, first and foremost, for the well-being of those who have come forward so courageously — committing to ensure that they are supported and protected.”
“Like you, I pray that our collective and enduring efforts in support of survivors will soon help end the fear of speaking-up that plagues those feeling violated or hurt and in such need of the compassion and help of teammates — we have work to do together here and, like you, I hear the call to do more,” McDonald added. “And frankly, I fear that situations like these erode the trust you have in leadership.”
McDonald promised he would be open and transparent as the investigation into Vance unfolds.
Vance acknowledged having been in a relationship with the first woman nearly 20 years ago, according to Global, and that relationship had evolved over the years but was not sexual. Originally, Vance told Global that he only knew the woman in a professional context and denied having any direct communication.
The former defence chief also said he had no recollection of making a sexual comment to the other junior member, adding if he did make the comment it would have been intended as a joke and that he was prepared to apologize. He had suggested any sexually explicit exchanges could be fabricated.
In that case, the female corporal had reached out to Vance for career advice, Global reported. A response sent from Vance’s email account raised the prospect of going to a clothing-optional vacation destination with her, the network noted.
Vance, who retired in January, has earned praise from both Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
— With files from The Canadian Press
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021