Canada

Navy commander apologizes for golfing with former chief of defence staff under military police investigation

The commander of the Royal Canadian Navy has publicly apologized for golfing with former top soldier, retired general Jonathan Vance, who is under a military police investigation over allegations of inappropriate behaviour with female subordinates.

Vice-Admiral Craig Baines says he fully accepts responsibility for his actions

Vice-Admiral Craig Baines, Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, posted a public statement online Sunday night apologizing to all military members and national defence public servants for golfing with former chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The commander of the Royal Canadian Navy has publicly apologized for golfing with former top soldier, retired general Jonathan Vance, who is under a military police investigation over allegations of inappropriate behaviour with female subordinates.

Vice-Admiral Craig Baines issued a written statement Sunday night addressed to all military members and national defence public servants saying he was sorry for his conduct.

Baines confirmed he golfed with Vance and military's second-in-command, Lt.-Gen Mike Rouleau, on June 2 in Ottawa. 

"I fully accept responsibility and accountability for not understanding how such a public display of support sends the wrong signal as to my commitment to lead in resolving our systemic cultural and misconduct issues," Baines wrote. 

"For this, I sincerely apologize."

The apology comes a day after Global News and the Globe and Mail first reported on the meet up between Rouleau, Baines and Vance at Hylands Golf and Country Club in Ottawa, which caters to Canadian Forces personnel and their families.

The public statement is the latest in a series of cases that have seen senior military leaders swept up into the Canadian Armed Forces sexual misconduct crisis. Some survivors of military sexual trauma view Baines' actions and comments as a public show of support for Vance; they have concerns about the impartially of the investigation into Vance's alleged misconduct.

Vance has previously told Global News he denies the allegations.

Second-in-Command has authority over top military police officer

Baines said he will be taking "a few days of personal leave" and Rear-Admiral Chris Sutherland will be temporarily fulfilling his duties while he's off. 

CBC News requested a comment from Rouleau on Saturday night, but he has yet to respond. He is slated to move into a new position as a strategic advisor to the acting chief of defence staff, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre next month. 

As vice-chief of defence staff, Rouleau has authority over the military's provost marshal, which is in charge of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, which is investigating Vance. 

Former chief of defence staff Jonathan Vance is currently under investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service over claims of an inappropriate relationship and a separate allegation of a racy email sent to a subordinate. He told Global News he denies the claims. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Rouleau has the power to direct and issue orders to the Canadian Armed Forces top police officer — the provost marshal.

A recent review by former Supreme Court justice Morris Fish into the military's judicial system recently identified this power as a threat to the independence of military police investigations.

Fish recommended sexual assault and misconduct cases should be turned over to civilians in the interim until the military puts in place more protections for victims. 

Colten Skibinsky, a retired corporal who said he was raped in 2013 at CFB Borden, tweeted Sunday night "senior CAF officers are having difficulty grasping the fact that the country is watching, closely."

"The VCDS playing golf with the accused when he has power over the Military Police, is definitely not telling Canadians and Serving members that this is an impartial investigation," he tweeted.

Sign of support, says former military officer

Leah West, a former armoured officer, Justice Department lawyer and now counter-terrorism expert at Carleton University, tweeted on Sunday the senior leaders who went golfing with Vance should have understood what message it sends to the rank and file during an institutional crisis.

"To be clear, the message carefully chosen here is that the VAdm is publicly supporting Vance."

West previously testified at a parliamentary committee that there is a sexist double-standard in how the military treats allegations against senior male leaders compared to female members.

Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau has authority over the military's provost marshal, which is in charge of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, which is investigating Vance. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was questioned Sunday about what this development meant for the victims involved and whether they can have confidence that they will get due process concerning their cases.

"I know that the minister of defence is following up with the acting chief of staff on this issue," Trudeau told reporters at the G7 summit in Cornwall, U.K. 

The defence minister's office said Harjit Sajjan  was not aware the three individuals went golfing until media inquiries came in. His office called the meet up "troubling and unacceptable" and said it's assessing what the next steps will be.

Vance denies allegations

The woman at the centre of Vance's sexual misconduct case, Maj. Kellie Brennan, delivered bombshell testimony to a parliamentary committee in April. In it, she said Vance considered himself "untouchable" and that he fathered but does not support two of her children. 

In the second case, Vance allegedly sent a racy email almost nine years ago to another woman, who was a junior non-commissioned officer at the time.

Several military leaders under investigation

More than half a dozen military leaders have been swept up in the crisis and a number are under military police investigations for claims of their own behaviour.

In another case, Maj.-General Peter Dawe, the commander of Canada's special forces apologized and was put on leave with pay after a CBC News report in April revealed he wrote a letter in support of a soldier convicted of sexual assault.

The acting chief of defence staff, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, apologized for Dawe's handling of the case that created division in the ranks.

The government has tasked former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour with leading an external review of sexual harassment and misconduct in the military. The Department of National Defence also created a new position of "chief of conduct and professionalism", now held by Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Burke

Reporter

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 & the Canadian Press

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