Acting chief of the defence staff addresses 'beyond troubling' culture in Canada's military

Acting chief of the defence staff Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre says elements of Canada's military culture "need, must and will change," as two of the country's former military leaders face misconduct allegations.

Elements of culture 'need, must and will change,' Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre says

Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre listens to speakers during a change of command parade for the Canadian Army in 2019. Eyre released a statement on Saturday stating that elements of the culture in Canada's military must change. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Acting chief of the defence staff Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre says aspects of Canada's military culture "need, must and will change," as two of the country's former military leaders face allegations of sexual misconduct.

"Certain behaviours and attitudes exhibited towards our personnel are beyond troubling," Eyre wrote in a statement to members and families of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) on Saturday.

"None of us should ever tolerate, or condone, behaviour or attitudes that threaten the well-being of our people. The road ahead will not be easy, but we will emerge a stronger, better, and more effective Force."

The House of Commons defence committee is probing accusations of sexual misconduct against former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance after allegations of inappropriate behaviour were first reported by Global News last month. 

Admiral Art McDonald, who succeeded Vance after the top military commander's retirement, voluntarily stepped aside from his post in February as he is investigated by the military's National Investigation Service on unspecified allegations. CBC News has reported that the claim involves a female crew member and an incident a decade ago aboard a warship participating in a northern exercise.

Military police are also investigating claims that Vance had an inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate and, in a separate incident, sent a racy email to another woman of lower rank.

Leaders told to redouble efforts to communicate with staff

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan appointed Eyre as acting chief after McDonald vacated his role. 

In his statement, Eyre noted that "much has been said and written recently about the CAF," before he committed to enact change.

The acting chief also acknowledged that the pressures of military life have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including "large pockets within our organization who are running on overdrive as they underpin our operational and institutional demand."

Eyre encouraged staff to look after one another, reach out for assistance and to know they do not need to suffer alone.

"I expect leaders at all levels to redouble their efforts to communicate, to listen, to really understand and to respond to the individual circumstances of our people," he wrote. 

On Wednesday, former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne told the Commons committee he had warned Sajjan about an allegation against Vance in a 2018 meeting but said the minister refused to look at the evidence provided.

The minister briefly rebutted Walbourne's testimony, saying he disagreed "with parts" of Walbourne's version of events without specifying what he took issue with.

Conservative committee members have now proposed to expand its study of sexual misconduct issues to examine the recent allegations made against McDonald. 

With files from CBC's Murray Brewster