Conservatives call on Trudeau to fire defence minister over sexual misconduct crisis

The Conservatives are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fire Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, arguing he's lost the confidence of the Armed Forces over the military sexual misconduct crisis.

'The Canadian Armed Forces is literally falling apart before our eyes' — Conservative leader Erin O'Toole

The Conservatives are calling on Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan to step down over his handling of the military's sexual misconduct crisis. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Conservatives are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fire Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, arguing he's lost the confidence of the Armed Forces over the military sexual misconduct crisis.

During a heated exchange in question period today, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole accused Sajjan of mishandling the crisis on a number of occasions over the past six years.

O'Toole said Sajjan failed to get the problem under control by fully implementing the recommendations in a landmark report released in 2015.

O'Toole said if Sajjan respects the institution he once served in uniform, he'll "do the honourable thing and resign." If he doesn't, he said, Trudeau should step in.

"The Canadian Armed Forces is literally falling apart before our eyes," said O'Toole. "When will the prime minister fire his incompetent minister?"

Sajjan said he wouldn't take advice from the Conservatives on military matters because O'Toole's party cut the military budget while in government.

"We know that we have a lot more work to do to make sure we create an inclusive environment in the Canadian Armed Forces and we will get it done," Sajjan said.

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole told the House of Commons today Sajjan has had six years to get the sexual misconduct crisis under control. (Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press)

The call for Sajjan's resignation comes a day after two bombshell developments.

The military's second-in-command. Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, announced his resignation this week after news broke that he'd played golf earlier this month with former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance, who is under investigation over an accusation of sexual misconduct (Vance denies the accusation).

Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau golfed with Canada's former top soldier, Gen. Jonathan Vance, on June 2, despite an ongoing military police investigation. The Canadian Forces Investigative Service investigating Vance reports directly to the military’s provost marshal, over which Rouleau had authority. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin also filed a legal challenge on Monday claiming the decision to publicly terminate his secondment last month as the head of Canada's vaccine rollout was driven by political meddling by Sajjan, among others.

Fortin was removed from the vaccine rollout in mid-May, just days before the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service referred a sexual misconduct investigation to the Quebec prosecution service to decide whether criminal charges should be laid. Fortin denies the sexual misconduct claim.

Former vice chief of defence staff defends Rouleau

In an interview with CBC News' Power and Politics, retired lieutenant-general Guy Thibault, former vice chief of the defence staff, said the current sexual misconduct crisis is a dark period for the Canadian Armed Forces; he compared it to the Somalia scandal of the 1990s.

Thibault told Power and Politics guest host David Common the hurt suffered by military members due to sexual misconduct is "horrific."

Thibault defended Rouleau and said it was unfortunate he resigned over the fallout from the golf game. He said he thought Rouleau acted in good faith by reaching out to Vance to see how he was doing.

"It was simply an opportunity, I think, for Rouleau to connect with Gen. Vance and see how he was doing," he said.

Once Rouleau's decision to meet with Vance became part of the ongoing sexual misconduct crisis, said Thibault, Rouleau "felt he had no choice but to tender his resignation to move on."

"I think that's a sad outcome for his genuine attempts to do something, to do the right thing," he said.

WATCH: Former military deputy chief says misconduct crisis affecting daily operations

Former military 2nd-in-command says sexual misconduct crisis affecting daily operations

2 years ago
Duration 9:20
Former vice-chief of the defence staff Guy Thibault tells Power & Politics that the ongoing sexual misconduct crisis in the military is having an impact on day-to-day operations.

Many victims of sexual misconduct fighting to see their cases thoroughly investigated feel differently. Some told CBC News it was maddening to read about the golf game, which they felt suggested senior military leaders are supporting the accused more than alleged victims.

'Enough is enough,' says Trudeau 

The CBC's Murray Brewster asked Trudeau today when the government would get a handle on the crisis — and whether it threatens to become a matter of national security.

Speaking from Belgium, where the prime minister was wrapping up his first official foreign trip since the pandemic began, Trudeau said the problem of sexual misconduct in the military has gone unaddressed for far too long.

"What we were seeing over these past months is that enough is enough," said Trudeau. "I can assure everyone that the continued capacity of Canada and its military to assure our collective security continues to be a top priority."

Trudeau pointed to his government's decision to task 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.


Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa who focuses on enterprise journalism for television, radio and digital platforms. She earned the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered allegations of sexual misconduct against senior military leaders. Her beats include transport, defence and federal government accountability. You can reach her confidentially by email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca or https://www.cbc.ca/securedrop/

With files from David Common & Murray Brewster