Admiral Art McDonald won’t immediately return to his job leading the military, Sajjan says

Politics·Updated

Admiral Art McDonald has said he plans to return to his position as chief of the defence staff after a five-month investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct ended with no criminal charges against him — but Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said today the government has no immediate plans to put him back on the job.

Admiral Art McDonald is shown at a media briefing in July, 2019, when he was commander of the Royal Canadian Navy.(Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Admiral Art McDonald has said he plans to return to his position as chief of the defence staff after a five-month investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct ended with no criminal charges against him — but Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said today the government has no immediate plans to put him back on the job.

McDonald stepped aside in January after only a month in the top job. CBC News has reported McDonald faced allegations linked to a female crew member and an incident aboard the warship HMCS Montreal a decade ago, during a northern exercise known as Operation Nanook.

"Now that he has been exonerated, it is appropriate for Admiral Art McDonald to return to his duties as [chief of defence staff]," his counsel Michael Edelson and Rory Fowler wrote in a media statement released today.

"Given that it was his decision to step aside, it is now his decision — indeed, obligation — to return to his duties. Admiral McDonald, who has long been recognized as a proven leader of culture change in the Canadian Armed Forces, will now return to his duties as Chief of Defence Staff."

Today's statement marked the first time McDonald has commented publicly on his case. His statement comes five days after the military said it had concluded an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against McDonald and that charges would not be laid.

Sajjan told reporters today that his "expectation" is that "Admiral McDonald will remain on leave while we review this situation."

"The position of chief of defence staff must always uphold the highest standard within the Canadian armed forces," he added.

Sajjan said that Canada and its military are "very well served" by acting chief of the defence staff Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre.

Government deciding on next steps

In a statement issued Friday night, the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal — who advises the chief of the defence staff on policing matters — said that the Canadian Forces National Investigative Service interviewed "a large number of potential witnesses" and the evidence "did not support the laying of any charges."

When asked if McDonald would be replaced as chief of the defence staff, the Privy Council Office said it only learned the news on Friday and would be making a "determination" on next steps. The position of chief of the defence staff is a governor-in-council appointment — meaning the prime minister can dismiss the chief at any time.

McDonald's lawyers said it was his decision to step aside. They said he stayed quiet in public and did "everything in his power to support and enable a fair process" while the allegation was investigated.

"He has remained silent on this case until now," the lawyers wrote. "In light of the decision of the investigation and its closure, the admiral is now free to speak publicly. He would like to clearly and explicitly declare his innocence of the accusation made against him.

"The complaint was unfounded …The absence of any charges — even Under the Code of Service Discipline — is indicative of the absence of blameworthy conduct. As the investigation revealed, the complaint was groundless."

McDonald's legal team said he was selected for the job of chief of the defence staff following "the most rigorous process ever concluded," including psychometric screening and polygraph testing for inappropriate behaviour.

Retired Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance has been charged with one count of obstruction of justice following an investigation into claims of inappropriate behaviour with superiors. Vance denies the allegations.(Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

McDonald replaced retired Gen. Jonathan Vance, who was also under investigation over allegations of inappropriate behaviour with subordinates and now faces a charge of obstruction of justice. Vance denies the allegations.

Vance is due in provincial court on Sept. 17.

The military is grappling with a sexual misconduct crisis that has seen a series of senior leaders placed on leave with pay pending investigations. The Liberal government has been accused by opposition parties of not doing enough to tackle the issue.

CBC News reported yesterday the military has yet to hand over a single sexual assault investigation to civilian police. The move goes against a key recommendation of retired Supreme Court justice Morris Fish's report in June, which urged the military to surrender control of sexual misconduct cases to civilian authorities until it reforms the way it deals with victims' rights. The Liberal government said it accepts the report's recommendations in principle and will act quickly.

But the Canadian Armed Forces recently rejected retired military member Stéphanie Viau's request to ask the RCMP to investigate her rape allegation against Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson. The former head of the military's HR is on leave with pay and said he denies the allegation.

The military has yet to say if it will consider taking administrative action against McDonald in lieu of criminal charges.

Retired lieutenant colonel Eleanor Taylor is one of the most prominent women to serve in the Canadian military; she resigned in disgust back in March in response to the sexual misconduct crisis. She wrote on Twitter over the weekend that military leaders must be held to a standard higher than the Criminal Code.

"The standard of behaviour for our leaders must be greater than the threshold of criminality," Taylor tweeted. "The absence of a charge does not mean that nothing happened that violated the expectations we have of our people, especially our most senior ones."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca

    With files from Murray Brewster, Nick Boisvert, Kristen Everson

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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