Since the dawn of the Justin Trudeau era, international image has been a constant focus of the federal government. Despite the Prime Minister’s longing to be at the centre of international praise and adoration, his government’s obsession with foreign affairs has time and time again exposed its naivety in the field. Beginning with an embarrassing trip to the world’s largest democracy, India, tied with a scandalous trip to the Aga Khan’s private island, and the seeming inability to properly confront Chinese genocide and antidemocratic practices, this Prime Minister has fallen flat at every diplomatic turn.
Now that the Prime Minister has been forced to stay at home, probably for the better, his government’s inaction on serious concerns regarding the highest ranks of Canada’s military once again underscores its hypocritical and inept quality.
In mid January, General Jonathan Vance retired of Chief of the Defence Staff, paving the way for Vice-Admiral Art McDonald to take up the highest ranking institutional role within Canada’s military. Shortly after Vance’s retirement, reports emerged through Global News that the former CDS engaged in inappropriate behaviour with two female subordinates. Following the publication of these allegations, Vance’s replacement, Art McDonald made a comprehensive statement informing the public that the allegations against his predecessor would be thoroughly investigated. He also reaffirmed that allegations of this nature are very concerning for those who serve their country in the military every day, and that cultural and environmental changes are still necessary in reforming the Canadian Armed Forces going forward.
Only about a month and a half after taking over the military’s top post, Art McDonald voluntarily “stepped aside” from the position in response to ongoing investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct on his part.
Three years ago, then-ombudsman, Gary Walboure brought troubling allegations of misconduct against then-Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance to Minister of Defence, Harjit Sajjan. Walbourne says that Sajjan refused to even look at the evidence, and while he claims to have brought the allegations to the “proper authorities”, there are no such authorities in place to deal with the situation at hand. Sajjan neither confronted Vance, nor did he launch any kind of inquiry into the matter, which begs the question, who exactly were these “proper authorities” that Sajjan brought the complaints to, or did he bring them to anyone at all?
Adding to the clear dysfunction around this government, the Prime Minister has claimed for weeks that his first knowledge of the allegations surrounding General Vance came through the media in the last few weeks. After days of discussion and debate in the House and in committees, the Prime Minister finally admitted that his office was made aware of the allegations three years ago when they first emerged, and that he was aware of the fact that they surrounded the Chief of Defence Staff.
In 2015, Justin Trudeau campaigned vehemently on changing the culture in Canada’s military specifically pertaining to the unfortunate prevalence of sexual misconduct amongst its ranks. Now, knowing that for three years the Minister of Defence, the Prime Minister, and both of their respective offices were fully aware of serious misconduct allegations against the nation’s top military leader, one must wonder whether this administration prioritizes its image in the media and public eye over fixing the very real problems that exist within our armed forces.
The truly disappointing part of this situation is the fact that it is only one of many examples of the Trudeau government saying one thing and then doing another. This, furthered by the consistent acts of top cabinet officials to feign surprise when their missteps surface in the media, only to submit to full knowledge of them soon after substantiates their lack of accountability, lack of responsibility, and lack of respect for Canadians.
On a broader level, this so-called institutional crisis within the Canadian Armed Forces perpetuates the nation’s failure at large to restore its respected diplomatic position in the world. Despite the fact that Canada’s military has, for the most part been a peaceful one, the government’s inability to maintain a proactive management of it is telling of the holes that still exist in the military’s administrative structure especially pertaining to the processes surrounding sexual misconduct complaints and investigations.
Although this government may not be aware, its domestic shortcomings do transcend a domestic audience, exhibiting a sluggish and hesitant administration on the global stage. In a time driven by relatively progressive perspectives and policies, the current decision makers in Ottawa seem to have towed this line as vehemently as possible in verbal terms, but have shown exceptionally little action. The times may be changing and despite the rhetoric that the current government has been shovelling out since 2015, Canadians and the international community are beginning to see right past it.
The fears surrounding a pandemic election may overshadow the desire for a more ethically sound and accountable government for now, but it can’t endure such high volume of scandal for much longer in a minority setting. It is still unclear whether or not the Defence Minister’s job is at risk due to his mishandling of allegations against Canada’s former Chief of Defence Staff, but it is certain that there is nothing to gain here for the current government.