Minister orders probe after ex-officer accused of sexual misconduct gets job at naval base
'It shows a lack of social intelligence, common sense, certainly awareness,' says military law expert
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has ordered a review of the rapid release of a former navy commander who was under investigation for sexual misconduct and is now back working as a civilian at the naval base in Halifax.
The move comes days after CBC News first contacted the Department of National Defence (DND) about retired commander Danny Croucher's case.
"When the minister heard of this situation late yesterday afternoon, he was dismayed by the apparent lack of judgment shown," wrote Sajjan's spokesperson Todd Lane in a statement to CBC News.
In June 2020, the navy temporarily removed Croucher from his job as head of the Naval Fleet School (Atlantic) at CFB Halifax, the defence department confirmed. He was removed from his post after a complaint was lodged against Croucher alleging he made inappropriate and harmful comments said to be sexual in nature, multiple sources with knowledge of the case said.
Sources said a subsequent investigation found wrongdoing on Croucher's part. Sources said he was expected to receive a so-called "5-F" — an involuntary release from the military. Instead, multiple sources confirmed Croucher's request for a voluntary release was granted, permitting him to land a civilian job at the base in June.
CBC News has now learned the Canadian Armed Forces is reviewing the case to determine whether it broke its own rules. At the very least, it appears the military flouted the spirit of its own regulations by signing off on Croucher's request to voluntarily leave the navy before his case reached the discipline stage.
"The military acted as if they were above the law and can do as it wishes," said military law expert and retired colonel Michel Drapeau.
"Somebody at national defence headquarters within the directorate of military career administration played ball with this ... Here we are, a senior officer who somehow escaped accountability."
CBC requested comment from Croucher but received no reply. DND said it has confirmed he is declining comment at this time.
Acting chief of defence staff 'extremely troubled'
In June, Croucher crossed over to DND in a new job as a "senior staff officer sustainable management" at the same navy base — CFB Halifax — where he previously served at the Naval Warfare School. His new position appears to come with a lower salary.
The military is also investigating what led to Croucher's release from the military and his hiring at the defence department.
"This matter has just, this week, come to the attention of DND/CAF senior leadership – including the [Acting Chief of Defence Staff] and the [Deputy Minister] — who are both extremely troubled by these developments and have ordered full reviews and investigations into the circumstances," wrote DND spokesperson Daniel Le Bouthillier in a statement to CBC News.
"The results of the review could lead to administrative or disciplinary measures if wrongdoing is found," said the department.
'Someone made it happen'
CBC News asked DND who made this decision to voluntarily release Croucher; the department hasn't answered the question yet. The review of the case is expected to look into who was responsible.
The Queen's Regulations and Orders state that if a "commanding officer" or the "Chief of Defence Staff" signs off on a voluntary release, they must certify it's not to allow the military member to avoid consequences for misconduct.
"For this to happen, someone made it happen," said Drapeau. "Someone facilitated a release on request as opposed to compulsory release as someone failed in duty.
"Somebody got a free pass. It shows a lack of social intelligence, common sense, certainly awareness and respect ... It's almost a daily drip of news stories of senior leadership's failure to be sensitive."
This is the second instance this week of the media learning that a senior military leader caught up in the sexual misconduct crisis quietly started work in a new role.
The vice chief of defence staff apologized late Tuesday night for mishandling Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe's return to work on the sexual misconduct file. Dawe has been on leave since May after CBC revealed he wrote a positive character reference in 2017 for a soldier convicted of sexual assault.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday he was "stunned" and "dismayed" by the handling of Dawe's case and said it's "obvious" that "the military still doesn't get that survivors need to be at the centre."
Charlotte Duval-Lantoine of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said this case shows how deeply rooted the problem of sexual misconduct is within the military.
"There are some discipline issues for which the military doesn't really consider clearly a problem of the ethics and that other people can can get away with some behavioural problems and grossly unethical conduct," she said.
The government has tasked former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour with leading an external review into sexual harassment and misconduct in the military.
With files from Kristen Everson