In the weeks prior to appointing Gen. Jonathan Vance as chief of the defence staff, the former Conservative government looked into a "rumour" that he'd had an inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate in 2001 and had even tried to advance her career.
A former top official in the prime minister's office of the day, Ray Novak, told a parliamentary committee on Monday that in the weeks before Vance assumed command of the Canadian military, the government was grappling whether to go ahead with the appointment.
The Conservative pick for defence chief had been investigated prior to being selected over allegations that while serving with NATO in Naples he'd had an inappropriate relationship with a U.S. Army colonel who later became his wife.
The matter was put to rest when former National Security Advisor (NSA) Richard Fadden reported that the Department of National Defence and the military had investigated it and found no Code of Service Discipline violations, said Novak, who served as chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2015.
Harper spoke directly with Vance
In a private meeting, Harper even raised the issue directly with Vance and "asked if there was anything else he should know," Novak told the House of Commons defence committee, which is investigating what the former Conservative government — and the current Liberal government — knew about the top general's personal life.
Satisfied with Vance's answers in the spring of 2015, the Conservatives proceeded with the appointment only to receive two further separate tips on the eve of the change of command that summer.
The first came from the chief of staff to the veteran affairs minister of the day, who telephoned Novak with information and an expression of concern.
"The call relayed a rumour that General Vance had an inappropriate relationship and/or had improperly sought to further an officer's career during his time at CFB Gagetown, which I believe was in 2001," said Novak.
"I advised the National Security Advisor about the call; he indicated he would investigate further."
That is potentially significant because one of the allegations at the centre of the crisis that has roiled the Canadian military involves the claim that Vance had had a long-standing inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate, Maj. Kellie Brennan, which began in 2001 in Gagetown, N.B.
The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (NIS) is now investigating whether there were any military regulations or laws broken.
The second tip, which was anonymously emailed to a senior defence department official and made its way to the prime minister's office in July 2015, involved a restating of the allegation of an inappropriate relationship in Naples.
PMO briefed on investigations into tips
"In subsequent conversations between the PMO, the PCO and the Minister's Office, it was agreed that the Change of Command Ceremony would be delayed if needed to allow sufficient time for further review," Novak said.
"In the course of the next week or so, the National Security Advisor briefed the Prime Minister and PMO that the NIS had found nothing further with respect to the General's time at NATO, and that their review of the matter was closed. As for the Gagetown rumour, the NSA briefed the Prime Minister and PMO that there was nothing in DND's files, no record of a complaint, and no current or former investigation."
Fadden, in fact, asked Vance directly about the Gagetown rumour and the general "responded he had been in a public relationship with the named individual at the time, that this person did not report to him, and he denied ever improperly acting to further her career."
Vance went on to serve five year as defence chief before retiring in January of this year. His successor, Admiral Art McDonald, stepped aside from the post two weeks after being sworn-in following separate allegations of misconduct against him.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.
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