The prime minister’s chief adviser was aware of allegations of “personal misconduct” involving the country’s former top military commander, a House of Commons committee was told today.
The prime minister’s chief adviser was aware of an allegation of “personal misconduct” involving the country’s former top military commander, a House of Commons committee heard today.
The Commons defence committee is looking into who in the Liberal government knew about a claim of sexual misconduct involving retired general Jonathan Vance when it was first raised three years ago by Canada’s former military ombudsman.
Elder Marques, a former senior adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office, testified before committee today that he was first made aware of the allegation through Katie Telford, chief of staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, or perhaps through one of her assistants.
Marques said that, after being made aware of the allegation, he spoke with the now-former chief of staff to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
His testimony is significant because widens the circle of people in Trudeau’s office who knew about the claim against Vance.
A request for an independent review by the Privy Council Office (PCO) of the allegation, brought forward by former watchdog Gary Walbourne, was approved immediately, Marques said.
“I believe everyone acted in good faith, trying to ensure that happened,” he told the four-party committee of MPs.
“Indeed, my recollection is, despite a lack of details surrounding the nature of the allegation, everyone appreciated the potential gravity of the issue.”
Marques said he was told it was an allegation of personal misconduct and automatically assumed it was sexual in nature.
Former PMO senior adviser Elder Marques appeared before the Commons defence committee on Friday. 1:14
The question of when and how the prime minister became aware of the concerns surrounding Vance’s personal life has been raised repeatedly since the sexual misconduct crisis began anew in early February with the publication of allegations against Vance.
Trudeau has said he was aware his staff had concerns but was not aware of specific allegations until they were made public in the media.
“Once I informed the PCO of an allegation, and I received their confirmation that they would be taking further steps, I had no further involvement in this matter,” Marques told MPs today.
“In my view, the proper entities were managing the issue and would follow appropriate procedures. That includes briefing staff in the PMO or the prime minister himself, but at an appropriate time. I have no recollection of personally briefing the prime minister on these issues, nor was I ever made aware of any such briefing.”
Conservatives claim coverup
Conservative MP were not buying Marques claim, however, and issued a statement before today’s committee hearing ended suggesting Marques was trying to cover for the prime minister.
“It is outrageous to believe that everyone around Justin Trudeau was aware of these allegations but the prime minister didn’t know,” said Conservative defence critic James Bezan. “It’s clear that the Trudeau Liberals have been engaging in a coverup and have been misleading Canadians.”
Vance, who is now retired from the military, is under investigation by military police over allegations of inappropriate conduct involving two female subordinates. He’s accused of having a long-standing inappropriate relationship with a junior officer, Maj. Kellie Brennan, and of separately sending a racy email to a junior non-commissioned officer.
The allegation raised by Walbourne was put before the country’s former top civil servant, Michael Wernick. He ordered a PCO official to find out what she could from the former ombudsman.
The review ended up going nowhere because Walbourne refused to cooperate, having given an undertaking of confidentiality to the woman who made the claim against Vance.